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No. 23 Texas vs. Baylor: Five observations and Sunday chat

The Longhorns close out the season on a strong note with a win over Baylor.

Baylor v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The No. 23 Texas Longhorns concluded their regular season on Friday by taking down the Baylor Bears. By doing so the Longhorns gave themselves a shot to still make it to Dallas for a rematch with TCU, but Kansas State took care of business in Manhattan to secure their bid to the Big 12 title game.

Steve Sarkisian and his staff wanted to send their seniors out on a high note on their last ride through DKR and they accomplished that. That is something to be proud of regardless of how the season played out. More importantly this team exorcised more demons by righting another wrong from the previous year if you were keeping track of the Revenge Tour.

This game had a lot of back and forth and at times it felt like it could potentially get away from the Longhorns, but each time they battled back and eventually proved the be the better and more physical team. With how the season has progressed, I think Longhorn fans can take great solace in the fact that this team has evolved into a bunch that will play hard four 60 minutes and will scrap and claw to the bitter end. That is something to be proud of in my opinion.

With that said, let’s get this show on the road one last time and discuss how things unfolded on the field on Friday.

RTDB: Run The Damn Ball

As a former offensive lineman, this is a mantra I will always be able to get behind. On a day when the passing attacks for both teams were limited, it ultimately came down to who had the better rushing attack and that turned out to be the Longhorns.

I said last week following the Kansas game that Baylor would provide a much stiffer test against the run, as they entered the matchup as one of the better run defenses in the country. While they definitely did provide more resistance the results ultimately ended up being the same.

As the game wore on, the Texas offensive line along with Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson really started to take it to the Baylor defensive front. Following Quinn Ewers’ strip sack that resulted in a touchdown, I don’t think Texas put the ball in the air one time and ultimately they didn’t need to because of the results they got. Sarkisian put the game on the backs of the big fellas and his stallions at running back and they rewarded him by absolutely bludgeoning the Bears.

The Longhorns ended the game with 208 rushing yards despite Ewers accounting for -48 yards due to sacks. Robinson put an exclamation point on an All-American campaign by tallying 179 yards and two touchdowns, while Johnson pitched in with 77 yards and two touchdowns of his own. Johnson’s final touchdown in DKR will be played on a loop for years to come after he posterized a Baylor defender on the way to the end zone.

We need the slow-mo replay on this one because it was absolutely gorgeous.

You want to talk about breaking a defense’s spirit? That’s exactly what the Texas run game did to Baylor down the home stretch and they did it without much of a threat of a passing game. It was beautiful to watch.

Texas’ defense was the story in the second half

It was a tale of two halves for the defense after allowing 17 first-half points that included a coverage bust in the secondary. They struggled to keep the Baylor offense behind the sticks early on and the ability to inflict negative plays was fleeting. That script completely flipped once the team made it into the locker room and they made adjustments.

The Bears offense only mustered 56 yards of total offense in the second half and were kept off the scoreboard. The Texas defense’s ability to inflict negative plays increased and that caused more of the game to be put on Blake Shapen’s arm and that isn’t where Baylor wanted to be. Once Baylor got behind and had to throw it more, their offensive balance was thrown out of whack and Texas became more aggressive at attacking Shapen with pressures. Senior linebacker DeMarvion Overshown had one of his best games in a Longhorn uniform and his final snap in DKR could have potentially put Shapen in the hospital if he hadn’t pulled off the way he did.

Baylor had been perfect on fourth-down attempts to that point, but Texas had taken them well out of their comfort zone at that point and pulled them out into deeper water. This unit was leaps and bounds better in 2022 and they finished the season on a high note by taking the Bears apart in the 2nd half.

Baylor ended the day with only 280 yards of total offense. Shapen was an inefficient 18-of-36 for 179 yards and the Baylor run game barely cracked 100 yards as a unit and averaged 2.6 yards per carry.

My hat is off to Coach PK and his staff. The arrow is pointing up heading into 2023 and they will retain a very talented nucleus heading into next year.

Also, if you think I’m forgetting to mention Jaylan Ford I am not. More on him in a bit.

Pass protection was an issue for Texas

It all can’t be rosy, so this is where I am going to talk about the offensive line’s struggle in pass protection. Throughout the season, Kyle Flood’s group as a whole were better in pass pro than they were as run blockers, but they easily had their worst game in that regard against Baylor on Friday.

The interior offensive line in particular (Conner, Majors, Hutson, Campbell) struggled mightily for a stretch to protect Ewers and resulted in a season-high five sacks (unless I’m misremembering) though a couple of those could be attributed to Ewers himself. The inability to protect the quarterback got to the point that Sarkisian exclusively leaned on the run game down the home stretch and while the results were good, it is something that can potentially bite you since you are having to become one dimensional.

My heart went out to DJ Campbell when he had to suddenly replace Cole Hutson after his injury because you could tell that Dave Aranda immediately targeted the freshman guard with a pressure that resulted in a sack. I’ve been in that position before as a player and it is incredibly hard to come off the bench cold in that situation. Thankfully for the young man he acquitted himself nicely down the home stretch once that was behind him. He deserves some kudos for that and I can’t wait to see how he progresses in the spring.

I’ll also tip my hat to Aranda while I am here, because you can tell that he had a plan for how to attack the Texas offensive line’s pass protection based on film study. I said before the game that you could bet that Aranda would have his guys ready to go and that was a textbook example of what I was talking about.

Thankfully for the Texas offensive line, they will have one more chance in a bowl game and plenty of prep time to right things and go out on a better note.

Jaylan Ford is the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year

Alright, now let’s talk about No. 41 in burnt orange and white. How about we start with one of the biggest plays of the game.

Ford’s development has been one of the top storylines all year for this Texas team. He didn’t even appear in the stat line against Louisiana-Monroe in week one. From then on he put together an absolutely stellar season that warrants All-American considerations.

Ford notched 109 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, two sacks, four interceptions, two pass deflections, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. You can call me what you want, but I don’t see another defensive player in the Big 12 with a stronger case for Defensive Player of the Year.

He deserves a ton of postseason accolades and credit Texas linebackers coach Jeff Choate, who some treated as an afterthought and were ready to cast off. Ford is the kind of player that Coach PK can build around for 2023, so you bet they are going to do what they can to keep him in the fold for his senior season.

From a recruiting standpoint, if the Texas staff haven’t put a cutup of Ford’s season in Anthony Hill’s inbox by now, then they are doing it wrong. If Hill wants to stay close to home, then Ford’s development arc is a fantastic pitch heading into December.

When adversity struck Texas didn’t fold

This is has been a bit of a theme all season, but it was once again on display yesterday so I wanted to touch on it to finish us up here. This team has hit plenty of adversity throughout the season and it has often showed up in different ways. Regardless of what form it took the team never tapped out, didn’t hang their heads, and they didn’t let things go from bad to worse.

We saw that happen a lot in 2022, but it was not nearly as prevalent this year even when things weren’t going their way. They never checked out mentally and they always found a way to rally the troops to get back up off the mat.

On Friday, things begin to sputter at a couple different points in the game, but both times this team rallied back together. The strip sack resulting in a Baylor touchdown looked like the spot where things could come undone, but instead the defense took apart the Baylor offense and the Texas run game absolutely took over to put the game away.

It hasn’t always been pretty and they haven’t always played complimentary football. But when it has come together, this team has shown why their trend line is heading in the right direction and that they clearly took a step forward this season after a disaster of a year in 2021.

Texas was a few plays away from being a 10-game winner this year and they almost did it with inconsistent quarterback play. I’ll be watching that position with great curiosity heading into the spring because I think things can only trend up as Ewers gets more comfortable.

I had this team at 8-4 with 9-3 being the best-case scenario. They were not far off from exceeded both predictions.

How is everyone feeling with the regular season now complete?