Baylor vs. Texas: Three storylines to follow into game day in Austin

Former Baylor linebacker Jordan Williams tackles Texas sophomore running back Roschon Johnson with the help of a teammate during Baylor's 24-10 win over the Longhorns on Nov. 23, 2019. Lariat File Photo

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

Knowing Who They Are

It’s October and the Bears have only seen the field twice this fall. You’d think that after dealing with all the trouble COVID-19 has brought, Baylor football would feel deflated or concerned about not having set in stone what its identity is this season.

But they’re not.

Despite the pandemic and the new coaching staff, the mentality of Baylor football hasn’t changed from that of the squad that won 11 games last year.

“I think it’s the same mindset, to go 1-0 each week,” senior quarterback Charlie Brewer said to the media on Wednesday. “I think your mindset doesn’t really change game to game. I think it’s kind of the same goals, kind of the same mindset going into each game.”

The Bears may not have much to show for the season, but that doesn’t mean they lack knowledge of who they are as a program. Even during his time as LSU’s defensive coordinator, Baylor head coach Dave Aranda could tell what the identity of his new team would be and has worked to build on the “What’s next?” foundation that Matt Rhule and company left behind.

“I think we need to play the brand,” Aranda said in his Monday press conference. “We talk about being the toughest, hardest working, most-competitive team, and to put that on tape. We talked about this with the staff today. I saw that when I would watch Baylor play in the past. There are friends of mine that called after our first game and mentioned that they saw that when they watched our team play. There is no greater compliment as a coach when you ID our team is this, and someone from the outside sees your team and calls you that. There is no greater compliment than that. So, I think if we do that, then a lot of things will take care of itself.”

The QB Battle That Never Ends

Will people ever get tired of comparing Charlie Brewer and Sam Ehlinger? The story of two quarterbacks from Austin, who have gone on to become rival leaders and hard-nosed competitors at storied college programs, continues, it seems.

“Yeah, we’ve been playing against each other, I guess, probably since Pop Warner. So, getting to know him throughout the years, he’s a really good guy, obviously a really good football player,” Brewer said of Ehlinger. “He lives with one of my best buds from back home, Cade Brewer. So, kind of keep in contact every once in a while. But, it’s always competitive — I think we’re both competitors and I think we’re both ready to go compete this weekend.”

It’s evident that the Baylor defense might have its hands full with a shifty Ehlinger. Five of the Longhorns’ seven rushing touchdowns this season have come at the hands, or feet, of their quarterback. Ehlinger also leads Texas in rushing with 242 net yards.

“One of the things that strikes me about the offense is the amount of motion,” Aranda said. “I feel there’s more motion in this year’s offense than previous … So that ball comes out faster than I remember coming out when we (LSU) was preparing for him last year … I think when they get into certain parts of the game when they need a play, it goes to him. Our ability to play team defense vs. that I think is key.”

But it’s not like the Bears haven’t been able to contain Ehlinger in the past. When the Longhorns made the trip up to Waco last year, Baylor’s defense recorded five sacks, an interception and held Texas to a field goal and a 4-yard rushing touchdown.

Through two games, it’s safe to say the Bears’ defense has a likely chance of holding up well against the Longhorns.

Got to Stop Beating Ourselves Up

One of the biggest problems plaguing Baylor’s offense has been the penalties. And while some have been ludicrous (unsportsmanlike conduct for flexing, really?) others have been completely avoidable.

While the Bears were able to clean things up in the second half against the Jayhawks after recording eight faults for 95 yards in the opening half of the season, they weren’t so efficient in the loss to West Virginia. Baylor lost 102 yards of offense on 12 penalties against the Mountaineers.

“We had too many penalties, and that resulted in third-and-extra-long — way more than we’d like to be in,” Brewer said. “So, that kind of limited some things offensively that we can do. And that starts with me. I’ve got to make sure our guys are ready to go. I need to be sharp and just kind of lead those guys and put ourselves in better positions to kind of open up the field a little more.”

If Baylor can limit those penalties and pick up its run game as well as get some pass options open against a shaky Texas defense that has been less than impressive, there’s no telling the success they could have. A part of that according to Aranda is also getting the tight ends more involved, like they did with Ben Sims against West Virginia.

“The thought there is just in 11 personnel, being a multiple 11 personnel team, is you would want someone that can be attached to the core, attached to the five O-linemen, and have combo blocks with them, can pass protect versus a defensive end if need be, and can also flex out and be fleet enough afoot as a receiver to run through or run by a re-route, make a play in space, make somebody miss if need be. Or, drop a shoulder on a guy, if need be,” Aranda said. “First of all, that’s the job requirement right there. [Ben Sims is] a guy that can do all of it.”

The Bears seem to have the keys to success in their back pocket despite having limited practice time due to their issues with COVID-19. It’s just a matter of putting them to the test against the Longhorns. If they manage to get there (knocking on wood that they do).

Baylor faces Texas at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin. The game will be broadcast on ESPN with Mark Jones on play-by-play, Dusty Dvoracek as the color analyst and Allyson Williams on the field. You can also listen to the Baylor Sports Network and ESPN Central Texas radio broadcasts with John Morris, “The Voice of the Bears,” on play-by-play, J.J. Joe as the analyst and Ricky Thompson on the sideline.