While postseason hopes are now a distant memory for head coach Charlie Strong’s 4-7 Texas Longhorns, Saturday’s season finale in Waco against the No. 12 Baylor Bears is far from a meaningless game.
But while Texas will have a golden opportunity to build some momentum and confidence heading into a vital 2016 offseason, they’ll enter Waco as tremendous underdogs and with numerous obstacles to overcome.
No task looms larger than that Texas will face with clawing to overcome a slew of injuries against the nation’s most potent offense, both in terms of points and yards. It’s unclear how much action, if any, redshirt freshman quarterback Jerrod Heard will see after being cleared to play following a concussion suffered last week against Texas Tech.
The Longhorns backfield is still considerably banged up, too, as senior Johnathan Gray will be limited and sophomore running back D’Onta Foreman is out, as is freshman Kirk Johnson. Suffice it to say that being pitted against an offense that has compiled 616 yards and 50.8 points per game this season isn’t exactly the most ideal time to feature an offense littered with key injuries.
Things don’t get much easier on the defensive end, with star freshman linebacker Malik Jefferson and junior safety Dylan Haines set to miss the season finale, as well as senior linebacker Peter Jinkens, who tore his ACL against Texas Tech on Thanksgiving.
Couple those injuries with Texas being tasked with slowing down Baylor’s explosive weapons in Corey Coleman (20 touchdown receptions easily lead the nation) and running back Shock Linwood (averaging 118 yards per game on the ground) and things don’t look favorable for Texas.
But there is one key weakness in the Bears’ high-powered offense that could allow a close game -- Baylor is reliant upon its third-string quarterback Chris Johnson. The one-time wide receiver was handed the reins to the offense when Baylor’s backup QB, Jarrett Stidham, too, went down with a season-ending injury. Since then, Johnson has completed only 12-of-34 passes for 200 yards.
If the Texas front seven can put the clamps on Linwood and Baylor’s rushing attack early, forcing Johnson to make plays with his arm to win may quite possibly yield the results Strong and his Longhorns desperately need to end the season.
From there, it’s just up to junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes and freshman running back Chris Warren, who is fresh off a historic outing against Texas Tech, to put up the points necessary to escape McLane Stadium with a win.
How to watch, listen, and stream
TV: ESPN. 11 a.m. CT
Radio: The Longhorn IMG Radio Network, and participating affiliates
Online Streaming: WatchESPN (video), TexasSports.com (audio)
Weather: 52 degrees at kickoff, sunny with 0% precipitation
Odds: Baylor (-20.5)