By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer
Coming off a heartbreaking 34-31 loss to Oklahoma last week, the No. 13 Bears look ahead and stay focused as they host Texas to close out its home schedule. Tied for first place in the Big 12, a win against the Longhorns will help clinch a spot in the 2019 Dr Pepper Big 12 Championship game in early December.
The Bears will have to snap a 0-4 streak against Texas, with their last win in Waco coming in 2013, to advance to the championship matchup. That same 2013 victory against the Longhorns marked Baylor’s first-ever Big 12 championship, and now the Bears have the opportunity to do it again after learning from falling short in their Big 12 showdown against the Sooners.
“They learned, number one, what we can be,” head coach Matt Rhule said. “For the first half, we looked like not just a top 10, but a top five team in the country. Secondly, I think the second half showed us what we have to do and I think we’ve instilled a winning mindset.”
As Rhule knows there’s always room for growth and change, and that development begins with shifting their attention “completely” to the week ahead of them.
“The only thing that is going to beat us this week is Texas,” Rhule said. “That’s the message from our guys is, they were playing a really good team, a team we haven’t beaten in several years. […] From Sunday morning on (snaps fingers) it’s been Texas.”
Defensively throughout the season, the Baylor unit has been able to hold its ground. The Bears opened the season with a goal of 40 sacks. Now entering game 11, Rhule’s team is just seven shy. Baylor has totaled at least three sacks in eight of 10 games this year. Not only has getting to the quarterback been successful, but the No. 2-rationally ranked defensive unit has forced a turnover in 12 consecutive gamesdating back to 2018.
“I give all the credit to the D-line,” junior cornerback Grayland Arnold said. “They are giving pressure from guys like James Lynch, B-Roy [Bravvion Roy]. They are getting after the quarterback. Especially with just three-down linemen. That is tough, and they still find a way.”
The Longhorns, on the other hand, struggled with defensive injuries early. With the return of All-American sophomore safety Caden Sterns who’s tallied up 42 tackles in six games and with the help of sophomore Demarvion Overshown, who transitioned from a safety to linebacker and defensive end, the biggest focus for Baylor is to establish yards on the ground.
“I think for us the tale over the last two years against them has been our inability to run the ball versus their pressure and protecting the quarterback,” Rhule said. “We’ve gotten open at times, but we haven’t really been able to get much going.”
Sophomore offensive lineman Connor Galvin agreed, saying the biggest challenge is holding Texas’ defensive line.
“It starts up front. If we establish the run, we’ll be able to pass the ball,” Galvin said. “Establishing the run — that’s our goal every week. But their D-line has really good players. So I feel like if we establish the run at the start of the game, it’ll open up our pass game, which will help us win the game.”
On passing offense, it’s all about getting the two opposing quarterback leaders rolling. The Longhorns come to McLane led by junior Sam Ehlinger, who nears 3,000 passing yards on the season and has some long-dated ties to Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer.
Both Austin natives, the two quarterbacks played at rival high schools and have deep-rooted experience against one another. Interestingly enough, Rhule believes the two are similar in the way that they drive their offenses.
“They are both really good quarterbacks — they both can run. They both are accurate. […] They are both fearless,” Rhule said. “[Sam] is courageous. He throws his body around, he runs the football; he does whatever his team needs to move it — and I don’t know what the stats are right now, but a lot of the time he is their leading rusher and that’s really who Charlie is as well.”
Falling short of the Bears motto of “making one more play” than their opponents last week, the key to success according to sophomore wide receiver Tyquan Thornton is finishing drives.
“When the hat is on your head, you’ve got to make the play,” Thornton said. “When the ball is in the air, you’ve got to take it. That’s the only way you can beat Texas.”
The final home game also will hosts a goodbye to the teams’ seniors. The Bears will honor 19 players reaching the end of their final year of collegiate football during pregame. Baylor will kick off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium. The game will be broadcast on FS1.