By Jeffrey Swindoll
The score line of Baylor’s 28-7 win over UT last week seemed slim for Baylor fans who have grown accustomed to wins by more than 30 points, but head coach Art Briles is sure the Bears are a more improved side than last year.
“The offensive staff has done a great job of keeping us at a level where we are not one-dimensional,” Briles said. “Coach Bennett and the defensive staff has done a great job of elevating that side of the ball with their style of play and the personnel on the field. I do think that we are getting closer to being the complete team that you always want to be. It’s something that we strive for and will continue to strive for.”
For the first time since December 2013, the Bears’ offense did not score a touchdown in the first half. As head coach of a football team that averaged over 56 points per game going in, Briles understands that winning the games is the most important thing. Briles can cite Saturday as a testament to the entire team.
“We understand that as an offensive football team that we can’t play at a certain level all the time,” Briles said. “You just can’t do it, but you do it as well as you can as long as you can. When you get into a situation where things aren’t going as smoothly as they were previously, you find a way to win.”
One undeniable takeaway from the Texas game is that senior quarterback Bryce Petty struggled and was simply not his usual self. Petty completed 7 of 22 passes and threw just over 100 yards against the Longhorns, much different than Petty’s stats from last season. Petty completed 62 percent of his passes and averaged 323 passing yards per game in 2013. Petty still threw 2 touchdowns and was inches away from getting a rushing touchdown in the second quarter in a 21-point win over the Longhorns.
“It was just the ultimate team win,” Petty said. “It’s not just one or two people, like maybe before, that had to play extremely well for us to have a good game. Everybody is really good on this team now, so we kind of have each other’s backs. Like I said, I didn’t play real well Saturday, but again, the team played outstanding.”
The Longhorns chose to game plan against the Bears’ pass. Texas succeeded in quieting Baylor’s receivers for the most part, virtually removing all but two big plays for the Bears that both resulted in touchdowns. The diminishment in passing yards for the Bears was in part due to Petty’s inaccuracy that day, but the Bears didn’t get as much passing yards also because running the ball was just the better option that day.
“I know a couple of my friends were just freaking out, thinking it was the worst thing in the world,” senior offensive tackle Troy Baker said. “It wasn’t pretty, but that’s okay because we kept it in line and went and got a win. It was a 21-point win. It’s nice when you can put up 70 points, but we know realistically we’re not going to be able to do that every week.”
The Bears’ offensive line started to see the Longhorn’s run defense wearing down in the first half, and in the second half that really became even more evident, Drango said. One of the Bears’ touchdown drives came from the offensive line manhandling the line of scrimmage in front of sophomore running back Shock Linwood and redshirt freshman Johnny Jefferson. Starting from their own 39-yard line, the Bears ran the ball 9 straight times to make it 21-0 in the fourth quarter.
“The offensive line did a great job without question,” Briles said. “The other day first downs were like touchdowns, if you had a 14 point lead.”
Ultimately, Briles considers the 2014 Bears a better team than the 2013 Bears, saying there is overall more maturity, improvement and skill from the team this year. The Texas win showed the different ways the team can win. The UT game was a testament for a much-improved Baylor program that can beat teams with more than just the arm of the quarterback and the speed of the receivers like in past years.
“I think we are a better team than last year and that’s just the bottom line,” Briles said. “We are not where we need to be or have to be to have a chance to win the conference again, but I do think we are a better football team than we were a year ago at this time.”