Greetings, ‘Horns fans! Are you still riding high off the 23-0 waxing of Kansas last weekend? What? No? OK, fair enough. We have to take the good and bad and mix them together like Play-Doh and take whatever we get.
First things first. Texas won. It was a shut-out. Those don’t come along every day, even if the opposing team’s coach is fired directly after the game. It’s something noteworthy. Also noteworthy? Texas appears to have a bad habit of playing up, or down, to their opponents’ potential. The UCLA game—definitely played “up.” Kansas game—reality check. They played “down” to Kansas’s potential.
Let’s be honest. Can we be honest? Relationships are built on honesty. Kansas beat itself. If a few of their red-zone plays had gone as expected, the score could be vastly different. While that’s true for any game, Texas is not exactly knocking out opponents and keeping them down. Kansas left a load of points on the field, but so did Texas. Swoopes is improving, and shows tons of promise, but the offensive playbook is limited by lack of experience. The bottom line is that experience comes through contests on the field, and the Texas offense is made up of newborns. Every week is another set of snaps under their belts. They will improve. John Harris is having a breakout senior year. He’s spent a lot of time on the sidelines, so it’s great to see him shine so brightly. Shipley continues to impress. Hope lives on.
However! The offensive line is made of melting brie. They are unable to hold opponents’ defenses. Swoopes was flushed out of the pocket frequently, either because he had a defender bearing down on him or believed he did. And running lanes! My kingdom for a running lane. If the O Line doesn’t open holes for Gray and Brown, the running game will not get off the ground. And Texas really, really wants to get the running game off the ground.
The defense had a good showing, but there is still the mystery of The Malaise That Ate the Third Quarter. What are they doing at halftime? Eating heavy foods? Taking NyQuil? Jordan Hicks continues to be both the anchor and the star of the defense. Terrestrial and celestial, all in one. Let’s not overlook the terrific effort it took to create a shutout. Kansas ran 82 plays without a single point to show for it. Texas snagged four turnovers. Defensive pass protection has been terrific to this point. Here comes the big “but.” The defensive scheme seems to be built around pass protection, with primarily three men on the line. Run protection schemes have more players up front. How will this play out against higher caliber QBs?
Which brings us to Baylor. There is a bright spot, a clear benefit to Texas, playing this game at home. Thank goodness for small favors. The Bears come into the contest favored by 13.5-16 points, depending on who’s doing the prognostication. UCLA was a test, and Texas absolutely rose to that challenge. We’ve already discussed the Three Minutes That Changed History (and stole defeat from the jaws of victory). What will happen on Saturday? Will Texas play “up?” That’s a long, long way to go, my friends.
To be fair, Baylor had a cupcake schedule thus far. Their out of conference (or OOC, in the lingo) opponents were Buffalo, Northwestern State, and SMU. TEXAS PLAYED UCLA AND ALMOST WON. Baylor has likely not faced a defense like Texas’s this year. But Texas hasn’t faced a QB like Bryce Petty. The fifth-year senior QB is a Heisman candidate, for good reason. He can run, he can throw, he can manage the game. He’s the leader of the offense. And he hasn’t been sacked this season. That’s right: ZERO SACKS.
Baylor’s defense gave up 339 yards to Iowa State. If Texas can get the running game going—or any effective offense, really—they stand a good change of putting some points on the board. Baylor has vulnerabilities. There are rumors that Daje Johnson may be back this week. Texas’s excellent offensive coaching staff had another week with these players to work on containment and opening running lanes. Running your route. Making the catch if the ball gets anywhere near you.
This game will be a nail-biter, for sure. This week and next week equal a crucible where the Texas team will face the fire of two very good opponents. I’m not greedy here. It’s not time yet to get all swagger-y. Week by week improvement. Play with heart. Learn from mistakes. Let the coaches develop you. Fans should be realistic here. This process will not be speedy, but it will be proper. Every week it’s the same message—this team is being rebuilt. Well, it’s true! They will be better, stronger, faster.
This week we may have to hold hands and cry our burnt orange tears together. Who knows what will happen? There may be an upset to end all upsets. Whatever the outcome, it will be OK. We deserve a well-played game from a team giving its best, and the rest is gravy. For those of us without tickets, the game will be broadcast on ABC, to the joy of eyeballs everywhere. Game time is 3:30 Eastern. Hey! You folks in Central Texas! Y’all get yourselves out to the stadium! Cheer as loud as you can! And keep your horns held high. Hook ‘em!
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