By Adam Gibson | Sports Writer
Baylor football faces its second Top 10 ranked opponent, No. 9 Texas at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Austin.
Both Texas and Baylor are coming off close wins that were determined by field goals with seconds left on the clock. The difference between the two was that the Longhorns’ field goal upset then-No. 7 Oklahoma for its third win over a ranked opponent in six games. Baylor head coach Matt Rhule said all focus has to be on the Longhorns and going into Darrell K. Royal Stadium ready to play one of the hottest teams in college football.
“We’ll turn our attention now to the University of Texas. They were obviously extremely impressive on Saturday beating the University of Oklahoma,” Rhule said. “They’re playing really, really well right now, and we have a lot of respect for them and their players and their coaching staff and know it will be a great opportunity for us. So we’re excited, we’re about ready to get to work.”
In the win over the Sooners, Texas sophomore quarterback Sam Ehlinger had 314 yards passing for two touchdowns, but the more impressive stat line is the ground game for Ehlinger where he racked up 72 yards rushing for three touchdowns. He has the dual-threat ability that can make the defenses job for Baylor much more difficult. Last week, the Bears had three sacks for a total loss of 27 yards. They did, however, give up 319 rushing yards to the Wildcats. Baylor sophomore defensive end James Lynch now has four sacks this season and said that was one of the aspects of the game the defense wanted to get better at and they improved on that last week.
“As the season goes on it’s still the same goal,” Lynch said. “We’ve got to keep building on it and we have a long way to go but we’ve got a lot of work to do. All of the defensive line, everybody on the defense and if we do what we’re supposed to we can get there.”
The Baylor defense struggled to contain Oklahoma dual-threat senior quarterback Kyler Murray, allowing him to get 432 yards passing for six touchdowns to go with 45 yards rushing and another touchdown. The longest touchdown pass for Murray was 86 yards. Last week the longest rush the Bears gave up was a 55 yard rush to Kansas State sophomore quarterback Skylar Thompson. Rhule said giving up less big plays has to do with every player on defense and each level on the field.
“I think we have to play a little bit better on our second and third levels. I think our D-line is getting off and playing aggressively and playing violently and getting off blocks,” Rhule said. “I think we had like four or five sacks in the game, we created turnovers. So we’re doing some things better than we have. It’s just those devastating . . . the runs are what kill you … We just have to play better. But it’s not any one guy, it’s not any one thing. And to me, I think it can be corrected, and it needs to be corrected moving forward.”
On the other side of the ball, the Baylor offense seemed to finally click and pull the rushing game together for 261 yards, mainly behind sophomore running back Trestan Ebner who recorded 106 of those yards for his first career game with over 100 yards on the ground. Junior offensive lineman Johncarlo Valentin said the run game getting so many yards felt great for the offensive line and is something the line has been working on.
“We strive for that. That’s one of our goals,” Valentin said. “We strive for explosive plays and just being able to do what we do, which is run the ball, score touchdowns and be able to get down the field. We take pride in that, especially as the offensive line group because that shows other teams, other universities, that we are going to do what we are going to do, which is run the ball.”
Another piece of the game Baylor has struggled with this season is penalties. Against Oklahoma, the Bears had seven penalties for 80 yards after getting 13 penalties for 141 yards the week prior in the win against Kansas. In the last game, that problem seemed to be fixed as they committed just two penalties for 10 yards for the fewest penalties in a game since 2012 Holiday Bowl win over UCLA.
As it heads into the game this weekend, Baylor faces a team it hasn’t defeated since 2014, losing last year’s matchup 38-7 at McLane Stadium where the Longhorns held the Bears to only 249 yards of offense. Rhule and the Bears will look to change that narrative this weekend.