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Texas Looks to Knock Off Unbeaten Baylor

The Bears are putting their undefeated record on the line in Austin.

Getty Images - Ron Jenkins

An unbeaten #8 Baylor Bears squad makes the short trip down I-35 into Austin to face the 3-4 Longhorns. The Horns are hoping to derail Baylor’s hopes of running the gauntlet unscathed. However, so far this season it has been the Longhorns that have been derailed.

Baylor enters Saturday 6-0, but the combined record of their FBS opponents is 11-24, with the lone test so far being Oklahoma State. Texas will be by far the most stout road game the Bears will have played, with their only previous two being Rice and Iowa State.

For the Longhorns, Charlie Strong is likely coaching for his job at this point. Texas is coming off a tough road loss in Manhattan last week, where they fell by a field goal against Kansas State, 24-21.

Texas needs to get to at least 7-5, and possibly 8-4, for Strong to earn another season in Austin, if it’s not too late already. Three of the ‘Horns four losses came by one possession or less, but tight losses won’t cut it with those in power at Texas. With the media circus always surrounding the program, Strong and company will have to block out the noise amid rumors and media speculation swirling around about the possibility of a coming Tom Herman era at Texas.

Can this talented burnt orange roster put it together and begin a potential late-season run against Baylor?

Date/Time: 2:30 PM CT, Saturday, October 29, 2016
Forecast: Sunny, High of 88°, 7 mph winds, 0% chance of rain
Betting Line: Baylor -3.5, O/U 72

Baylor Bears (6-0)

Baylor is bringing the 4th-ranked total offense, and 9th-ranked scoring offense in the country into Austin. They are led by quarterback Seth Russell and all-time school rushing leader Shock Linwood.

Seth Russell has been effective most of the season, and is fourth in the Big 12 in Total QBR, despite having only thrown for 1,470 yards. However, the Bears have been buttering their bread on the the ground, and Linwood has exactly 500 yards through the Bears’ first six games.

Keys To The Game for Baylor

Which Ground Game Shows Up? – Here’s the yardage total from Baylor running backs for their last three games: 156 against Kansas, 367 against Iowa State, and 85 against Oklahoma State, respectively. If Saturday’s total is anywhere near 367, Baylor blows out Texas. If it’s closer to 85, that’s a large load that Seth Russell will have to shoulder, making it much tougher on this Baylor offense.

Oklahoma State’s defensive front is easily the best Baylor has faced, and Texas’ will look much closer to OSU’ than to Kansas or Iowa State’s front seven. Can Baylor run the ball effectively against a defensive line with size and talent? The running game has been inconsistent recently, and I have no idea which edition to expect on Saturday.

Turnovers – Turnovers are one of the most fickle and unpredictable aspects of football at any level. In their somewhat ugly win over Oklahoma State, Baylor’s defense forced four Cowboy turnovers. The Bears forced five turnovers while blowing out Kansas. Yet how did Iowa State nearly topple Baylor in Ames? The Cyclones did not give the ball away once. ISU relied on a heavy dose of Mike Warren and a mistake-free day from Joel Lanning to play a pretty clean game and nearly get the upset win.

Texas’ combination of D’Onta Foreman and Shane Buechele could protect the ball equally well. I don’t see Baylor forcing four turnovers again, but if they can grab a couple, they’ll be in excellent position to win the football game.

Handle the Hostile Environment – The fans at Jack Trice stadium in Ames support their Cyclones extremely well, but 11:00 AM games can kill or deaden any college football atmosphere, and let’s face it, Baylor could basically out-talent the Cyclones. A victory at Rice hardly makes anyone a road warrior either. The Bears have yet to see ninety or a hundred thousand fans behind a team that, despite numerous issues and holes this season, sports plenty of blue chip athletes.

Luckily for Baylor, they’re lead by a senior quarterback. Except the toughest road test Russell has faced as a starter in his career was likely last week in Ames. He missed the toughest destinations on the Bears’ schedule in 2015 due to his season-ending neck injury. If the Longhorn fans show out, this could be a bit of a new experience for the signal caller.

Russell always must rebound from a subpar game throwing the football last week. He completed 9 passes on 22 attempts.

Texas Longhorns (3-4)

Texas comes into this game looking to end a tough stretch where they’ve dropped four of their last five games. This ‘Horns offense is led on the ground by D’Onta Foreman, who’s put up 855 yards, 8 TD’s, and an average of 6.1 yards per carry in 2016. Sophomore back Chris Warren has also had a productive year but has missed the last three games with a knee injury and will not play Saturday. Texas will likely rely on looks from Tyrone Swoopes’ package and a carry here and there from freshman RB Kyle Porter to supplement Foreman.

Despite losing some of his early season hype, Shane Buechele has continued a productive season for the Longhorns, adding 1722 yards to his nice 15-5 touchdown to interceptions ratio. That gives him a QB ratiing of 64.2, good for seventh in the conference.

Keys To The Game for Texas

Feed Foreman – In Texas’ lone Big 12 win this season, 27-6 victory over Iowa State, D’Onta Foreman carried the ball 30 times. I think he’ll need to match that workload for Texas to win this ballgame. If Foreman is carrying the offense, that means the clock is ticking with Baylor’s offense off the field and the Longhorn offensive line is wearing down the Bear defense. A high number of opportunities for Foreman would also mean Texas has the lead. If the Longhorns play from behind and Buechele has to throw 35 passes, I don’t see UT keeping up.

Shut Down Shock Linwood – Baylor’s offense might be able to exert their will over lesser opponents, but in their one game against a solid team, Oklahoma State, their ground game was largely held in check. If you throw out Seth Russell’s 65 yards, the rest of the Bear’s offense only managed 71 yards. The Cowboys’ overall defensive performance wasn’t stellar, but they did hold Baylor to 35 points, and that just might be enough for the Longhorn offense to match. Seth Russell and KD Cannon and the rest of Baylor’s pass-catching weapons will put up yards and scores, but if Texas can make the Bears’ offense one-dimensional it will give them a real chance to stay in and win this game.

Defending the Spread Passing Game – Defending spread air attacks, a task that’s proven difficult for the former SEC defensive coordinator at the helm for Texas, is paramount for Big 12 defenses. Unfortunately for Strong and Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, this Texas team has struggled mightily defending wide open pass-heavy schemes.

The Longhorns have been gashed by Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, and California, all spread offenses similar to Baylor’s, to the tune of 48 points per game. Seth Russell and the Bears could have a huge night offensively, and if they do, it’ll be tough for the Longhorn offense to keep pace.

Game Prediction

Baylor features too many weapons on offense for a struggling defense and inconsistent Longhorn offense to keep up with. Don’t be fooled, this game will not be a blowout by any means, but I like Baylor to win and cover the 3.5 point spread. Bears 38, Longhorns 30

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