By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
Conference play is here for Baylor football, and it begins with a test against a No. 3 Texas team that’s off to its hottest start since 2012. The Bears will be without starting redshirt junior quarterback Blake Shapen for the third-consecutive week, and it comes against a longtime rival that they likely won’t see again for a while.
Head coach Dave Aranda said he’s “not anticipating” Shapen to play, putting redshirt sophomore quarterback Sawyer Robertson back in the driver’s seat. Shapen suffered an MCL sprain in Baylor’s 42-31 loss to Texas State on Sept. 2, and he’ll be questionable for next week’s game at UCF.
The Bears have played the Longhorns 112 times, dating back to 1901. Only Oklahoma and Texas A&M have played Texas (3-0) more times than Baylor (1-2). The Sooners and Longhorns are set to join the SEC in 2024, so this marks the final year of some long-standing rivalries.
Aranda said it would be impossible to ignore the outside emotions of this matchup, as it could be a while before the programs meet again.
“We are going to talk about that [with the team],” Aranda said. “I think as an aside to that, but probably not an aside, is I can’t tell you how many times this offseason it’s been, ‘Hey, Dave, just win [this] one game please.’”
The Longhorns lead the all-time series 80-28-4 against the Bears and own a 31-18-2 record in Waco. Texas won last year’s matchup 38-27 in Austin, and Baylor’s last win over UT came in 2021 when it defended McLane Stadium with a 31-24 victory. Saturday marks the 113th all-time meeting (52nd in Waco) between the two teams.
Senior defensive lineman Gabe Hall, who had a scoop-and-score touchdown against Texas last year, said it’s not too hard to flush out the added intensity of Saturday’s matchup.
“An opponent is an opponent,” Hall said. “You have to treat them all the same. [Our motto is] respect all, fear none. So you treat every opponent the same, you show the same level of respect [and] you prepare the same way.”
The Longhorns are the first top-three team to play in Waco since Oklahoma in 2017. TCU was ranked No. 4 when it knocked off Baylor 29-28 on Nov. 19, 2022. Texas enters the weekend with its highest ranking on either the AP or Coaches polls since being ranked second for the 2009 BCS National Championship Game.
In terms of tackling one of the more high-profile meetings in more than a decade, Aranda said his group has put last weekend’s 30-7 win over FCS-member Long Island behind it. Aranda said the team has to keep its focus on where it’s headed and key in on how to get better.
“I think always coming back to that vision is way important, because I think that’s the goal and that’s where we want to get to — a team that plays with energy, a team that plays with a confidence and an edge,” Aranda said.
Sophomore tight end Kelsey Johnson said energy has been a big emphasis coming off of the win over the Sharks. The Bears had a slow start to that game and held a 16-7 lead at halftime. Johnson said the two-hour severe weather delay that took place during the intermission helped the team figure out what went wrong.
“We tried something new,” Johnson said. “We took the approach of coming out like [it was] a second game. … The way the team had energy, I think we found our identity as specific players and coaches … and what we need to do to start fast.”
The Longhorns are also opening Big 12 play this weekend, and head coach Steve Sarkisian said the team knows what’s coming on Saturday.
“The Big 12 doesn’t care that we’re 3-0,” Sarkisian said. “The Big 12 doesn’t care that we’re ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll. We are 0-0 in Big 12 play, and this week, we have to do everything in our power to try to get to 1-0 in a hostile environment against a really well-coached team, a veteran team.”
Texas has won six of the last eight meetings against Baylor, including a pair of wins in Waco. UT is 19-7 against the green and gold during the Big 12 era, which dates back to 1996.
Sarkisian said it would be difficult to see Texas continue to play nonconference games against old rivals like Baylor, TCU or Texas Tech following this season because you can’t please everyone.
“I recognize these are great rivalries and games that have been played for a long, long time,” Sarkisian said. “If that’s the direction it ends up going into, that’d be great. I think it’s great for the state of Texas. … I do think one of the challenges with that is, [if] you play Baylor, Tech’s upset. You play Tech, [then] TCU’s upset.”
Saturday’s contest is set to kick off at 6:30 p.m. at McLane Stadium. The game will be broadcast on national television (ABC) in front of a sold-out crowd, according to Baylor Athletics. It was also confirmed on Wednesday that Baylor Athletics had the most student tickets distributed in McLane Stadium history.
- Shapen is still out with an MCL sprain, per Aranda.
- Aranda said junior running back Dominic Richardson is doubtful for this week’s game due to a high ankle sprain suffered against No. 12 Utah on Sept. 9.
- Redshirt sophomore safety Devin Lemear is questionable to play against Texas with a dislocated elbow.