Showdown in Waco!

Greetings, ‘Horns fans! I’m so glad we had this time together. If you don’t get that reference, well, I feel sorry for you. Mainly because I’m an Old and you get to do things like that when you’re elderly.

Feels like this season just got underway. Time passes all too quickly when you’re focused on making it through each week to get to Saturday (or Thursday sometimes!) in order to get to the Good Stuff. Meaning football, of course! What a journey it’s been. Quite the roller coaster. Fun, but also makes you want to throw up.

Texas is coming off arguably its best game this season. All right, I’ve got to include the Oklahoma game too. So unexpected! So amazing! But the unvarnished stomping the ‘Horns handed to Tech is one to remember. Very balanced and straightforward, even with all the injuries. (Let’s pause to pour one out for Steve Edmond and his LACERATED LIVER.) This week brings probably the biggest challenge Texas has faced, both because of the opposing team, and what’s at stake. Baylor comes into the game looking for at least a share of the Big 12 title, taken at the ‘Horns’ expense. And Texas has to travel to Waco, which is bad enough by itself. That intangible home field advantage goes to the Bears this weekend. And it will be a big one.

In case you haven’t heard, this is the last game ever at Floyd Casey Stadium. Baylor is poised to break a school record for wins. They even had to uncover the seats in the stadium, finally, because people in Waco are attending football games at last. And, let’s not forget, Baylor wants to win at least a share of a conference title for the first time in 19 years. That’s one heck of a dry spell, folks. So the Bears are feelin’ it. Their fans will throw dumb tortillas all over the field. They’ll make the “down horns” sign and also their strange, aggressive paw-hand thing. They will dance to “Jump Around” without irony, in a town where no one is allowed to dance. (House of Pain! What up, 1990s!) This game is as big as a bowl game to the folks in Waco. The oddsmakers know it, too; the Bears are 15.5 point favorites. The over/under is 71.5 points, which is a lot. Bet wisely, as always!

By this point in the season, we’ve all heard about Baylor’s vaunted offense. Lache Seastrunk is as scary a running back as Texas will face. He’s not tall, but he’s solid, and he’s fast. He makes defenders miss. He’s hard to bring down, and if he gets into the backfield, it’s usually lights-out. He’s not the only offensive weapon, but he’s the most potent. Containment of Seastrunk is Job 1 for the Texas D. Is it possible? Well, he’s coming off a groin injury. He’s listed as “questionable,” although he played against TCU (just not at 100%).

Let’s talk about that TCU game for a minute. After the loss against Okie State, Baylor is definitely looking mortal. Three weeks ago I honestly did not think the ‘Horns had much of a chance against the Bears. But today? Yeah, there’s definitely a chance, especially if Texas brings the same kind of game they brought against Tech. TCU did not lose by much—three points. And for much of the game, TCU manhandled the untouchable Bears. The Baylor defense showed signs of weakness. We also learned some things about QB Bryce Petty.

Petty has amassed over 3,500 passing yards. With him under center, Baylor racked up 60- and 70-plus point games in the early part of the season. On paper, they continue to have the most prolific offense among FBS teams. Potent and scary. But in the last couple of weeks, Petty has shown some vulnerabilities. He’s not a scrambling QB, the type that has given Texas fits. (Cf. BYU and Ole Miss.) The read-option threat is still there, and Baylor runs the fastest offense in the country. But Petty isn’t mobile. His big numbers rely on his O-line maintaining the pocket so he can pass at will. Collapse the pocket, and you remove Petty’s options. Texas cannot possibly control every aspect of Baylor’s offense. They’re too good. But the ‘Horns can focus on one area, shut it down, and keep them one-dimensional. For me, that’s the key to victory. Respect Baylor’s offensive weapons, but limit them. Don’t be all things to all people, Texas D! Do what you did against Tech. Let Jeffcoat go all medieval on Petty. Let the (superior) Texas D-line wreak havoc with Briles’ game plan. Step 3: profit!

Fur rills, Step 3 is for the Texas offense to have a clean, well-executed game. No costly or foolish mistakes. Stick with what works. That means the run game. That means that successful wheel route that McCoy can execute well. Don’t be afraid to take it to them early and often.

Once upon a time, when I was in high school and a super-band nerd, I rode to the Texas-Baylor game on my dinosaur to work the sideline crew. The score was carved into rocks that the Pterodactyls carried around. And I got to meet the Baylor mascots. Back in the dark ages, before penicillin, Baylor had two Black Bears. A big one, and a small one. They both smelled bad, but I’m an animal lover and wanted a furry hug from both of them. Their handlers warned me away from the small one—He bites! they said. So I settled for some snuggling into the smelly, smelly, dank fur of the larger bear and loved every minute.

On Saturday, I feel pretty confident that Texas will take both the large bear and the small bear, and shove them back in a cage. But in a nice way, since I’m against that sort of thing. There will be no fajitas made of Bevo-meat. It may be a squeaker, but I think Texas walks in with some swagger, relishing the underdog role for the last time in this regular season, and walks out with a share of the Big 12 title.

Kickoff is 3:30 ET, on Fox. Play malapropism bingo with me! And we will give this season the proper send-off. Keep your horns up, and Hook ‘em! Beat the heck outta Baylor!

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