Thoughts from the hip after the most important win over the Bears Mack Brown has had in his career.
It was a somewhat anticlimactic end to a shootout to have the Longhorns line up in the victory formation for the game's final plays, and the odd timeout call byextended things a little bit longer in a game that went nearly four hours, but the predominant feeling in the stadium when the final horn sounded seemed to be relief.
Relief from having to deal with another loss, another week dissecting all the negatives. Relief from finding out how much a third straight loss to Baylor would ratchet up the heat on Brown.
For now, it's nice to enjoy the first win in several weeks with a game against Kansas in Lawrence looming that will finally provide a relief from playing some of the best offenses in the country after a brutal five-game stretch in that regard.
Harsin got the ball to his playmakers
If the primary complaint about co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin after the game last week was about not getting the ball in the hands of running backs DJ Monroe and Daje Johnson, Harsin put those concerns to rest for this week, opening the game with a handoff to Johnson that went for 84 yards and a touchdown only seconds into the game after Brown made the rare decision of opting to take the ball after winning the toss.
Johnson's other six carries went for only six yards total, but his two catches for both productive seven-yard gains, and Monroe saw much more often than he has recently and got three touches for nine yards.
Even against a poor defense, the majority of the touches for the two didn't get big plays, but they're dangerous enough to force defenses to account for them and Johnson looked close to breaking several of his other runs that netted positive yardage.
The wrinkle of using the Diamond formation with senior tight end Barrett Matthews as a lead blocker was another nice move by Harsin that was effective and an admission that some of his strategies for running the football against West Virginia and Oklahoma weren't overly effective.
New ways to give up touchdowns
There's not a lot new to say about the Texas defense, but they did find some new ways to give up touchdowns.
Pretty much all of the long passing touchdowns have featured missed tackles by the secondary, but touchdown that went to senior wide receiver Terrance Williams featured sophomore cornerback Quandre Diggs slipping after biting on a double move and junior safety Adrian Phillips too late getting over in support.
Then, when the Longhorns finally showed some ability to stop Baylor quarterback Nick Florence on the zone read after being gashed multiple times in the first half, Florence fumbled into the endzone early in the second half, with the ball recovered in the endzone by the Bears.
Joe Bergeron just scores touchdowns
After struggling to average more than three yards per carry the last three games, the sophomore back finally broke out against the porous defense with his best performance since his shoulder injury against Ole Miss.
The physical back had been running rather tentatively and without decisiveness, trying to bounce everything outside and generally looking out of sorts, sparking some concerns that he was playing through pain.
Maybe it was just Baylor, but Bergeron looked healthy, sharking five touchdowns overall and taking 19 carries for 117 yards in what was his best performance of the season.
Also, freshman Johnathan Gray scored his first touchdown as a Longhorn, putting a slick little move on a defender in the open field, one of eight carries that went for 56 yards total. It should just be the first of many, he just may have to do them from distance, because Bergeron is going to take them otherwise.
Holding Baylor to field goals
Traditionalists may not like the idea that defending the redzone is a bigger key against the offenses in the Big 12 than simply getting stops or forcing three-and-outs, both of which are extremely difficult to achieve, even for defenses playing at a higher level than the Longhorns are currently
It won the game against Oklahoma State and several stops won the game against Baylor, too.
Holding the Bears to field goals before the half in a classic bend-but-don't-totally-break situation when Baylor moved the ball down the field about 70 yards with ease without even having to use their final timeout was a huge, but the two stops in the second half were even bigger and Art Briles did Texas a favor settling for a field goal on a 4th and 4 from the Texas 27 in a game that was always going to be decided by touchdowns.
The Texas defense benefited from holding calls that essentially stalled both of those drives in the second half, but, hey, a win is a win, and the standards are pretty low for the defense at this point.
The issues surrounding the defense have been broken down ad nauseam here and other places, so there's not much point in re-hashing many of them, like the fact that Texas basically has two levels of defense -- the line and the secondary -- but the problems that the defense has aligning before the snap is frustrating.
The Baylor defense is one of the worst in the country for a BCS school and may be the worst, but at least they don't have problems getting lined up all the time.
It's not clear what the issue is with the communication from the sideline to the field, it just looks really bad for Manny Diaz as his defense hemorrhages points.
David Ash's wrist is fine
For about a day after the Oklahoma game last week, it seemed as if Ash had broken his wrist, culminating in the report from Orangebloods on Sunday evening that he had indeed fractured it. On Monday, however, Brown revealed that it was just a bruise and that he had practiced on Sunday.
With what appeared to only be a wrap on it underneath his play wristband, Ash didn't suffer any noticeable ill effects, scrambling on one play late and taking a hit on that side of his body after it appeared that he passed up an opportunity earlier in the game.
He finished the game an efficient 19 of 31 for 274 and one touchdown that Bergeron didn't have a chance to steal.
No throw was more important than his 67-yard bomb to junior wide receiver Mike Davis in the third quarter after Baylor had narrowed the Texas lead to 42-40 on a field goal. Bergeron scored a touchdown on the next play and the Longhorns were able to hold the lead, eventually for good.
It was an aggressive playcall from Harsin in a big spot and both Ash and Davis come through.