Amid a charged atmosphere at McLane Stadium last week, the Bears (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) gave up a 25-point lead to the Oklahoma Sooners and lost their undefeated record in the process. Earlier that day, Texas (6-4, 4-3) fell to the Iowa State Cyclones on a field goal at the gun.
Now the two teams are meeting in a game in which the loser's hopes of playing for a conference title will take a critical hit. Keep an eye on these critical factors in this matchup.
Texas at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Baylor -5.5
When Texas Has the Ball
The Longhorns have an inside running game and horizontal passing attack that work in tandem. If one fails, it becomes much easier to contain the other. For example, after adjusting for sacks, UT rushed for 59 yards on 24 attempts against Iowa State, which works out to an average of roughly 2.5 yards per carry. The Texas passing game produced a meager 6.4 yards per throw versus the Cyclones, more than a full yard below the national average. It didn't help that receiver Collin Johnson, the team's best deep threat, missed the game with a leg injury.
Like ISU, Baylor plays the run exceedingly well. If the Longhorns can't figure out a way to establish the ground game against the Bears, they have little hope of doing much damage through the air. That might mean getting quarterback Sam Ehlinger even more involved in the running game than usual.
The Bears probably don't need to do much outside of their usual defensive game plan to keep UT in check. If they can consistently put the Horns in 3rd-and-long situations, defensive coordinator Phil Snow can put his array of blitz packages to work.
When Baylor Has the Ball
Baylor's offense came out smoking versus Oklahoma, but it reverted to its previously lackluster form soon enough. The Bears put 31 points on the board in the first two quarters and produced a goose egg in the second half. Which version will UT see on Saturday afternoon?
Baylor leaned on quarterback Charlie Brewer for most of its production against OU. In addition to completing 18 of his 29 passes for 194 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, Brewer led the Bears in rushing with a sack-adjusted total of 79 yards on 14 carries. Once the Sooners bottled up Brewer on the ground after halftime, the BU offense stalled out.
Watch for the Bears to attack with quick-hitting passes that mitigate the shaky play of their offensive line and simultaneously take advantage of horrendous tackling in the secondary by the Longhorns. UT will need a disciplined effort out of its defensive backs to prevent Baylor from stringing together methodical drives.
On paper, this matchup looks fairly even. Baylor's offensive stagnation in the second half last week raises questions about the ability of the Bears to exploit UT's inconsistent defense. Meanwhile, UT's erratic running game raises the possibility of Baylor rendering the Longhorns one-dimensional on offense.
That leads the bigger question looming over this game: Which team bounces back? Oddly enough, the fact that Texas has already faced its fair share of disappointment this season suggests the Longhorns may own the psychological edge in this particular instance. Keep in mind that the home crowd in Waco could be feeling a hangover effect of their own after last week's disappointment.
As such, this is setting up to be a potential rock fight, a trend that is becoming increasingly common in the Big 12. The final margin probably won't exceed a field goal, and the loser will need to do some soul-searching in the final week to avoid a third consecutive loss.
Prediction: Baylor 24, Texas 23
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.