After coming up agonizingly short the last two games, Texas finds itself in a must-win situation against Baylor. The Longhorns (3-4, 2-2 Big 12) are still searching for their first signature win under head coach Tom Herman after falling at home in overtime to Oklahoma State last week. All four of Texas’ losses this season have been by 10 points or less with the last two (Oklahoma State, Oklahoma) coming by a total of eight.
Close losses aside, the reality for Herman’s Horns is that they must win three of their final five games to even qualify for a bowl game. Considering there are games at TCU and West Virginia as well as home vs. Texas Tech remaining, Texas cannot afford to come up short again, especially against Baylor.
The Bears (0-7, 0-4) are still searching for their first win under head coach Matt Rhule, although they have had their share of close calls too. The season started with a painful three-point home loss to Liberty, a program that is making the transition to the FBS ranks, followed by a 17-10 defeat to UTSA from Conference USA. Baylor was blown out two weeks ago by Oklahoma State (59-16) but gave Oklahoma a fight back on Sept. 23 before losing 49-41 and really put a scare into West Virginia last week.
The Mountaineers entered the fourth quarter with a 38-13 lead only to watch the Bears score three touchdowns and a field goal to have a shot at tying the game on a two-point conversion with just 17 seconds remaining. However, true freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer was sacked on the two-point try as Baylor fell 38-36, adding yet another chapter to a disappointing season.
But as poorly as things have gone for the Bears, a win at home over Texas on Saturday could prove to be quite the momentum swing... for both teams.
Texas at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 28 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Texas -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Sam Ehlinger’s status
Even though Texas has lost its past two games, Ehlinger (above, right) has provided a spark to the offense. The true freshman, dual-threat signal-caller has made plays with both his arm and his legs, as he’s averaging 336 total yards of offense in the five games he’s played, He starred in the win over Kansas State two weeks ago with 546 total yards and followed that up with 428 in the comeback attempt against Oklahoma. But he was held to just 283 yards last week against Oklahoma State and threw an interception in overtime that cost his Longhorns a chance at tying the game and sealed the 13-10 road win for the Cowboys.
More importantly, Ehlinger apparently suffered a head injury at some point in the game. While he was able to finish, he's been in the concussion protocol and didn't practice Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. Ehlinger’s status is something to watch leading into this game. If he’s unable to go, sophomore Shane Buechele will get the start. If Ehlinger is cleared to play, what bears watching against Baylor is his decision-making. In five games, Ehlinger has turned the ball over six times (four INTs, two fumbles lost) and all but one of those has come in a game Texas has lost.
2. Where’s the rush(ing)?
While Ehlinger has been a bright spot for the Longhorns’ offense, the running game has been anything but. Texas managed just 42 rushing yards on 33 carries last week against Oklahoma State. Chris Warren led the way with a whopping 33 yards on 12 carries, and his longest run went for just 15 yards. For the season, the Longhorns are seventh in the Big 12 at 151.4 rushing yards per game, but are averaging just 122 in conference games. In fact, take out the 406 yards against San Jose State and Texas is averaging 109 rushing yards per game against Power 5 teams.
But misery loves company, as Baylor is behind Texas at 134 rushing yards per game. The Bears are averaging less than four yards per carry (3.9) and have just seven rushing touchdowns in as many games. Freshman John Lovett provided a spark early, but he had just 20 yards on seven carries last week against West Virginia. And chances are, things won’t get any better against the Longhorns either, who enter this game third in the conference against the run (120.9 ypg). Oklahoma State had 146 rushing yards last week but needed 51 carries (2.9 ypc) to get there.
On the other side, Baylor is last in the Big 12 and 113th in the nation in rushing defense at 223.5 yards per game allowed. The Bears are coming off of one of their better performances, holding West Virginia to 118 yards on 29 carries (4.1 ypc) but their overall body of work in this area isn’t strong. The question is can Texas take advantage of this apparent weakness? The Longhorns’ track record says otherwise.
3. Does Baylor have a QB change Brew(er)ing?
Entering the season, the expectation was that Charlie Brewer, a true freshman quarterback from Austin prep powerhouse Lake Travis, would redshirt with Arizona transfer Anu Solomon and sophomore Zach Smith ahead of him on the depth chart. However, Solomon was benched in the second game and has since been sidelined because of concussion-like symptoms, which resulted in Brewer getting his redshirt pulled and seeing his first action on Sept. 30 against Kansas State.
But Brewer played sparingly against both the Wildcats and the following week against the Cowboys as Smith took over as the starter. But last week with Smith battling the flu, Brewer entered the fourth quarter with the Bears trailing West Virginia 38-13. The true freshman proceeded to orchestrate four scoring drives and had an opportunity to tie the game late, but was sacked on the two-point conversion. Brewer completed eight of his 13 pass attempts for 109 yards and two touchdowns as he and running back Treston Ebner (109 receiving yards, 2 TDs plus a 40-yard TD run), another freshman, fueled the furious comeback.
Was it enough to earn Brewer his first collegiate start? We’ll see but even if he doesn’t get the nod, one has to figure Smith will have a short leash. After all, just ask Texas the impact a true freshman quarterback can have on a team.
Entering the season, few would have predicted that Texas and Baylor would have a combined three wins by late October. But that’s the situation these two teams are in as it has been one struggle after another for first-year head coaches Tom Herman and Matt Rhule. Herman’s Longhorns at least have a shot at bowl eligibility, but must beat Rhule’s Bears on the road to keep those hopes alive.
After getting blown out by Oklahoma State two weeks ago, Baylor rebounded nicely and almost pulled off a ridiculous comeback against West Virginia. However, Texas is no stranger to close losses either and its defense is playing considerably better right now. It may not be pretty but Herman’s Horns get the job done in Waco to keep their bowl chances afloat.