With five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Texas Longhorns holding onto a 23-17 lead against the Baylor Bears on Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, the Bears had the ball their own 37-yard line facing a crucial 3rd and 7.
A punt would allow the Horns the opportunity the drive the ball for a potentially game-winning score, so Baylor dialed up a pass down the sideline targeting speedy wide receiver Chris Platt. With Texas senior cornerback Davante Davis trailing in coverage, junior safety Brandon Jones arrived just as Platt and the football did.
On the broadcast, color analyst Rod Gilmore missed the call, as he often did on the day, arguing that Platt should have run through the football. Problem was, Platt didn’t want to, because he had no interest in taking the full force of a hit from Jones. Fair enough, especially since Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando says Jones can hit 22 miles per hour on their speed trackers.
So the Bears lined to punt, but actually intended to attempt a fake punt — the down and distance was favorable with only seven yards to make and the field position was good enough that a three and out forced by the defense would still keep the Horns out of field-goal range. A run snap to an up man in the formation would be the most likely call. No need to let the punter throw the ball or run for it himself when an up man could at least pick up some yardage.
However, when the Baylor punt unit got onto the field ready to run the fake, head coach Matt Rhule didn’t like what he saw.
There’s six Texas players lined up near the first-down marker, out-numbering the four players at the line of scrimmage. Jones is back as the return man instead of freshman D’Shawn Jamison, a clear indication that the Horns are in “punt safe” mode, protecting against the fake, with Jones intent on fair catching the football unless the punter outkicks his coverage or Texas gets a couple blocks upfield of Jones. Or both.
Notice as well that this unit includes every starter outside the front four in the nickel defense — Caden Sterns, Gary Johnson, Anthony Wheeler, PJ Locke, Kris Boyd, and Davante Davis.
No surprise that head coach Tom Herman and special teams coordinator Craig Naivar chose to use the starting back seven. Dissuading Baylor from even attempting the fake against the group with a clear pre-snap look in that personnel group is the easy call for Texas in that situation and the staff made it.
So the Bears made the easy call to punt the ball away after taking a delay of game penalty instead of running the fake or using one of two remaining timeouts. And hope the defense could get the ball back to the offense.
Here’s a look at what Baylor would have faced on an attempted fake.
So the Texas punt safe unit in the right situation saved the special teams from facing a fake punt in a critical moment of the game and resulted in gaining five yards of field position — that’s an excellent overall outcome for the Horns.
Rhule ultimately made the right decision to trust his defense, and it nearly paid off when freshman kicker Cameron Dicker missed a 51-yard attempt and the offense had multiple chances to win the game on the final three plays.
P.S. Just for some perspective, this is what the Texas return formation looks like with Jamison back receiving the football, from the previous Baylor punt in the fourth quarter.
The first four key blocks happen in the middle of the field, while the gunners and the safety try to get into position to make their own. Galitz didn’t get a particularly good punt off — only 34 yards to the Texas 17-yard line — so Jamison had to make a running fair catch.