By Jeffrey Swindoll
Over Thanksgiving break, No. 7 Baylor football gave Baylor Nation something to be thankful for. The Bears escaped the jaws of defeat against Texas Tech in a 48-46 shootout to keep playoff hopes and a shot at winning back-to-back Big 12 Championships very much alive.
Although they are in the driver’s seat of the Big 12 Conference title race, the Bears (10-1, 7-1) have plenty of problems to sort out after a tight game against the Red Raiders (4-8, 2-7).
The score line ended close, but the Bears could have put the Red Raiders away after a 25-point lead halfway in the third quarter. Texas Tech stormed back, going on a huge run to pull within two points of the Bears. If it were not for a failed two-point conversion attempt, the game would have been tied with less than two minutes to play.
“We play to a certain standard and we didn’t play to that standard,” junior defensive lineman Shawn Oakman said. “We didn’t dodge anything. We just didn’t do what we needed to. When you’re playing a team that has nothing to lose in their last game, they are going to try and do anything and everything to make you lose. It’s simple things that we could have done that we didn’t do.”
Despite the Bears recovering three Texas Tech fumbles in the first half, the Red Raiders still managed to come within two points in the end. The Bears were facing a non-bowl eligible, two-win Texas Tech team on Saturday. The Red Raiders treated their game against the Bears on Saturday as a pseudo-bowl game. They pulled out all the stops, running both a fake punt and an onside kick.
Senior quarterback Bryce Petty had to leave the game with a head injury in the third quarter after a collision with a Texas Tech pass rusher. Sophomore quarterback Seth Russell replaced the 2013 Big 12 Player of the Year immediately after Petty walked off the field on his own power.
Russell connected an impressive 27-yard pass to senior receiver Levi Norwood shortly after entering the game, but the Bears struggled to get in a flow from that point on.
“We had to dial back a few things [after Petty’s injury],” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “Seth is extremely talented, but, you know, do we want to set him back there and him go through some progressions that he does in practice in a game of this magnitude where we need to make first downs? It was a fine line to walk on how aggressive we felt like we could be with [Russell].”
On top of Petty’s concussion, sophomore running back Devin Chafin left the game earlier than expected with a dislocated elbow in the first quarter. Chafin had just gotten back from an injury and was Baylor’s go-to running back for red-zone and short-yardage situations.
“[Chafin]’s kind of been a workhorse the last few weeks for us. So I don’t know what his prognosis is. I would think, three weeks or so, but we’ll see. It definitely affects us in the run game a little bit.”
It was all Texas Tech after Russell’s touchdown pass to Norwood. The Red Raiders had their way with Baylor’s secondary. Texas Tech freshman quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 598 yards, six touchdowns and was only sacked once. Mahomes completed 30 of his 56 attempted passes.
“We just got to be better,” Briles said. “A lot of those plays were in the open field where it’s one-on-one. They made the play and we didn’t. Pressure on the QB comes to mind. I thought [Mahomes] did a good job of evading pressure and then throwing the ball up and letting his guys make plays. So, it’s really simple. You’ve got to make plays in space.”
A win against Texas Tech, though it was narrow, still does the trick for the Bears. With a win over Kansas State this Saturday, the Bears would win the Big 12 Conference for the second year in a row. The Bears will have to eliminate the number of mistakes they make against a Kansas State team that is known for making few or no critical mistakes in games.
“[Kansas State] has about as sound of a defense as you could ever find,” Petty said. “They don’t make mistakes or very rarely do. Offensive, defense and special teams, Coach [Bill] Snyder does a great job with that ball club. For us it is all about execution. We have to make sure all our T’s are crossed and our I’s are dotted. Preparation is a huge key this week. We can’t take them lightly at all and I know they are not taking us lightly.”
Baylor will face off against Kansas State at 6:45 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium. The game will be preceded by ESPN’s College GameDay, the network’s flagship college football coverage.