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Three thoughts as Texas travels to No. 13 Baylor

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The Longhorns will face a tough team in a hostile environment on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Texas at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Longhorns will travel to Waco on Saturday to face off against the No. 13 Baylor Bears.

McClane Stadium never presents a warm welcome to the conference foes, who are separated by just 100 miles and complicating the challenge is a Baylor defense that ranks No. 13 in the country in FEI according to footballoutsiders.com.

Baylor has the best defense Texas has faced all year, and it’s not even close — the Bears play tough against the run and limit big plays, forcing teams to produce long, sustained drives in order to put points on the board. The Bears rank ninth in the country in turnover rate (17.8 percent) and fifth in the country with a 4.7 percent explosive drive rate.

The Bears do allow opponents to pick up yardage, ranking 71st in the country in drives that allow at least one first down or score a touchdown and ranking 31st in the country in percentage of available yards allowed. Offenses only score a touchdown against the Bears 17.6 percent of the time, however, ranking 17th in the country.

Here are three thoughts heading into the game on Saturday.

Hand it off

Baylor allows an average passer rating of 116.9, better than anyone Texas has faced this year, including LSU. In games where Sam Ehlinger’s rush attempts plus pass attempts are greater than 50, Texas is 1-4, with the only win coming against Kansas. In order to limit the wear and tear on their quarterback, and set him up for success in the passing game, the Longhorns are going to need to find a way to create room for their running backs and use them consistently.

Texas has had some success in 11 personnel while using an H-back as a lead blocker or blocking the backside end on the zone slice play. This formation was largely absent from the Iowa State game, but it could be something for Texas to get back to if it wants to revive their run game. Regardless, if Texas cannot find a way to move the ball on the ground against Baylor, it could be in for a long day.

Sound fundamentals

All year, the Texas defense has struggled to play with sound fundamentals, resulting in missed assignments. In turn, the Longhorns have given up explosive drives 16 percent of the time, ranking 81th in the nation. Last week, Texas was able to limit Iowa State to one explosive drive and only 23 points. It will need to be just as effective against Baylor in order to compete on Saturday afternoon.

The Bears have the No. 36-ranked offense in the country according to FEI. Charlie Brewer can get it done with both his legs and his arm, but the biggest weapon the Bears have is their ability to make the explosive play — the Bears rank 11th in the nation with an explosive drive rate of 11 percent. The Longhorns will need limit their mistakes defensively in order to force Baylor into long drives in order to be successful on Saturday.

Force fumbles

As previously mentioned, the Baylor defense excels at forcing turnovers. The Bears have struggled offensively with the turnover, ranking 57th in the nation with a turnover rate of 10.6 percent. Brewer has only thrown five interceptions on the season, but the Bears have lost nine fumbles on the year. Despite losing those nine fumbles, the Bears have been lucky, as they rank 109th in the country averaging 1.7 fumbles per game (or a total of 17 fumbles on the year). If Texas can take advantage and recover a couple of Baylor miscues on Saturday, it could turn the tables in this game, and help Texas escape with a road win against a ranked opponent.