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Previewing the Baylor Bears

Dave Aranda brings a Bears team to Austin that has had more games postponed or canceled than it has played this season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 03 Baylor at West Virginia Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After a bye week following their loss to the Oklahoma Sooners, the Texas Longhorns (2-2) return to action against the Baylor Bears (1-1) in Austin. Baylor was forced to shut down football operations three times this year and have had to cancel two games (Louisiana Tech and Houston) while postponing their matchup against Oklahoma State. It’ll be 21 days in between games by the time the Bears arrive at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Here’s a look at how first-year head coach Dave Aranda’s team will stack up against Texas:

What to expect from the Baylor offense

I believe I’m obligated to start this off by mentioning where Charlie Brewer played high school football and where his dad attended college, but I just can’t remember those specifics. Fortunately, I’m sure the ESPN broadcast will remind me within the first .02 seconds of Saturday’s game.

All jokes aside, the senior quarterback has enjoyed a successful career at Baylor but will have to finish it without Matt Rhule, who flipped him from his original commitment to SMU. No disrespect to Brewer, but he isn’t exactly a flashy or electric player. However, he does manage the game well and is able to hurt opponents through the air or on the ground.

This year he’s off to a slow start, only throwing for 371 total yards in two games along with a pair of interceptions. Having football operations shut down multiple times along with a new offensive coordinator in Larry Fedora and the loss of Brewer’s favorite weapon, Denzel Mims, may help explain the lackluster start. His offensive line has struggled as well, but more on that later.

Don’t let that lower your guard, though, because Brewer is still a baller. He’s able to stay in the pocket, progress through his options, and find the open receiver if you give him time.

Brewer only threw for 221 yards in last year’s blowout victory versus Texas, but he played a perfect game and gashed the Horns on the ground for 82 yards.

Even though Fedora has dialed back the designed quarterback run plays for Brewer, he’s still tucking it and running if the opportunity provides itself.

Baylor cranked out some read-option plays against West Virginia but with Brewer’s injury history, Fedora has to be careful how to manage him — Brewer has left both of Baylor’s games with injuries but was able to return a few plays later. His struggles to stay on the field are probably his biggest weakness, alongside his arm strength. There are areas of the field that Brewer simply struggles to reach.

Brewer did toss two interceptions in Baylor’s double-overtime loss (including the one below in 2OT) but easily could’ve had three. He has yet to look in rhythm in Fedora’s offense and is still trying to find his go-to target — junior RJ Sneed leads the team with 11 receptions and is averaging only nine yards per catch. The Bears only gained 256 yards of total offense against the Mountaineers, but were bailed out by West Virginia penalties and turnovers to keep them in the game.

If Brewer is having a hard time against Texas, Fedora will need big games out of running backs Trestan Ebner and John Lovett. West Virginia held the tailbacks to just 46 yards on the ground and did a phenomenal job of not letting Baylor establish the run game early on. Lovett rushed for 56 yards in last year’s win over the Horns on only nine carries, including this 28-yard touchdown.

Poor angles and arm tackles won’t work against Lovett. They don’t really work against anyone, but that’s how Texas tried to tackle too often this season.

Ebner may not get the same amount of carries as Lovett, but he takes advantage if you decide to kick or punt to him, as Kansas learned the hard way.

An Ebner punt or kickoff return can be enough to swing a game, especially against a Texas team that has struggled on special teams. Saturday’s game may very well come down to who does the little things the best such as covering a punt. Herman can’t afford to bail out a Baylor offense but allowing them to score on special teams and Ebner possesses that threat.

Ebner is also a receiving threat — he has five receptions this season after 53 combined in 2018 and 2019.

Weakest link?

Baylor’s offensive line had a rough time protecting Brewer while the West Virginia defensive line wreaked havoc.

The Mountaineers finished with six (!!!) sacks and 11 TFLs, finding success attacking insides the tackles with DT Darius Stills accounting for 2.5 sacks and 3.5 TFLs.

What to expect from the Baylor defense

Rhule wasn’t the only departure from Waco this year, as the Baylor defense lost nine starters. Even with the massive turnover, the Bears defense doesn’t look like they suffered a major dip in performance as originally expected. While the sample size is only two games, Aranda’s team only allows 336 yards per game, ranking 18th in the nation. They held both Kansas and West Virginia to just 14 points in regulation and are led by linebacker Terrel Bernard and safety Jalen Pitre.

Bernard (No. 2) is a fantastic open field tackler and isn’t afraid to meet your running back in a head-on collision. He also might be the smartest player on the field at times, able to identify the play before it begins and sniff out a TFL.

Pitre ( No. 8) is right there with Bernard as the other key playmaker on Aranda’s defense, playing a hybrid linebacker/safety position.

Bernard and Pitre love blowing up plays (Bernard leads the team with 21 tackles with Pitre right behind him with 18), but Aranda also loves to send them on blitzes, too.

Bernard leads the team with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 TFLs while Pitre has 4 TFLs. Of course, live by the blitz, die by the blitz.

Kansas couldn’t figure out how to combat Baylor’s aggressiveness, but West Virginia was able to hurt them with screens and quick passes to the RB’s out of the backfield.

Herman will have to get more out of his team this week than he did last year in Waco, with the Longhorns turning in an abysmal performance in their 24-10 loss. Ehlinger was sacked five times as the stout Baylor defense held him to only 200 yards passing.

Don’t forget Texas didn’t score a touchdown until one second remaining in the game and their three points came at the end of the first half following a 68-yard run by Keaontay Ingramf rom their own 2-yard line. The Horns punted seven times, committed asinine unsportsmanlike penalties, and played like they would have rather been somewhere else.

While the Bears aren’t the same team that played in last years Big 12 title game, there’s no evidence Texas should take any team lightly. A loss to Baylor at home could effectively be the end for Herman in Austin, but a solid showing and victory could be the spark to turn the season around. By the time the game kicks off, it will have been three weeks since Baylor last played. Who knows who will be available for Coach Aranda, but the lack of practice and game-time will help Texas.

Baylor has also committed 20 penalties in just two games and average over 90 yards per game, which is the sixth-worst in the country. For comparison, Texas averages 83 yards of penalties per game. Let’s hope the referees swallow their whistle or else we could be in for another long football game.