After completing its second bye week of the season, Baylor football is now gearing up for the meat of its Big 12 schedule over the next six weeks. The Bears currently sit at 6-0 overall, 3-0 in the conference and are ranked eighth in the latest Associated Press Poll and sixth in the Coaches Poll.
If the Bears are to continue their rise through the rankings and inch closer to a conference championship and potential birth in the College Football playoff, they will have to prove they can win on the road. First up on the Bears’ agenda is Saturday’s matchup with the Texas Longhorns in Austin.
Texas’ season started promisingly when they upset then No. 10 ranked Notre Dame 50-47 in overtime. The Longhorns have faltered, dropping four of their last six games, and will enter the contest with Baylor 3-4 overall, 1-3 in the Big 12. The Longhorns lost last week to Kansas State 24-21.
Despite the Longhorns’ recent struggles, the Bears are prepared for their best effort in what is sure to be a hostile environment at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
“We’re going against a very talented football team … on the road. Road games are tough, and we saw that this last weekend for every team in the country,” said acting head coach Jim Grobe. “It’s going to take a lot of focus. We’re playing a very talented, well-coached football team in Texas.”
Senior quarterback Seth Russell said he knows that road environments are part of the game, and as a result, it requires an unwavering team focus to find success in these environments.
“Every away game is going to be a hostile environment because you have fans that don’t want you to win, and you have to block that out. We’ve done a good job so far,” Russell said. “Being with Texas, being a rivalry game, we expect it to be a little bit more intense. We’re going to have to focus to win the game.”
The raucous crowd won’t be the only challenge the Bears will have to overcome if they want to leave Austin with a win. Baylor’s defense will have to play well in order to limit the success of freshman quarterback Shane Buechele and junior running back D’onta Foreman.
Buechele enters the game completing 65 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,722 yards and 15 touchdowns for the Longhorns. As good as his numbers are, it is his composure that draws Grobe’s attention.
“[Buechele] is fabulous. I love watching him play. Not really excited to go against him because he’s really talented and a very accurate quarterback,” Grobe said. “The thing that impresses me is that he’s got the deep throws and all the accuracy on the underneath throws, but the thing that impresses me more than anything is his composure.”
Buechele presents a challenge for the Bears’ defense not only with his throwing ability, but also with his running ability.
“He can hurt you with his feet when he needs to run the football,” Grobe said. “I’m amazed that a young guy can be that mature and make some of the plays that he’s making. He’s a great challenge for our defense.”
Baylor will also be forced to confront the strong rushing attack from Foreman. He will enter the game averaging almost 150 yards per game and has scored eight touchdowns for the Longhorns this season. At 249 pounds, he is a tough, physical runner with underrated speed and big play capability.
“You have to make him work to find the creases, and the thing about him that is so impressive is he has great balance and deceptive foot speed. He gets out on the edge and outruns people to the perimeter,” Grobe said. “You have a big running back that is not only physical, but he’s very athletic. You have to understand that he is going to have some good plays. I think a key is to get a lot of guys to the football and not rely on one guy to make the tackle each time.”
Baylor’s defense will be challenged, as they enter the contest with the No. 1 defense in the Big 12, but they have met and excelled at every challenge this season. The defense is allowing just over 17 points per game and 320 yards per game.
Two key players for the Bears defense are senior cornerback Ryan Reid and junior nickel back Travon Blanchard, who was recently listed as a semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top defensive back.
“He’s [Ryan Reid] a fighter. He’s not the biggest guy on the field, but he’s going to play like the biggest guy on the field,” Russell said. “He’s got a lot of heart, and he’s not going to give up.”
Baylor’s offense will look to remain sharp as they head to Austin with an average of 550 yards of total offense per contest. Much of that is a byproduct of the rushing attack of running backs senior Shock Linwood, sophomore Terence Williams and redshirt freshman JaMychal Hasty balanced with the aerial attack of Russell and his receivers.
“They have a high-powered offense. They’re good on defense as well. They’re around the top 15 in most categories,” said Texas offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert at his Oct. 25 press conference. “You have to be on your A-game, go out and be productive. You have go out and execute and play at a high level.”
Baylor may even try to throw some wrinkles at the athletic Texas defense as they have had an extra week to scheme against the Longhorns.
“We’ve been able to take another week to scheme a little bit, bring in some things we might not have done the last few game and open the playbook up a little more,” Russell said.
Baylor will look to avenge their 23-17 loss to the Longhorns last season, a loss that prevented Baylor from representing the Big 12 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, and the game will be aired on ABC.