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Baylor QB Bryce Petty to provide another major test for Texas D

The run of Heisman contender quarterbacks continues after one game off.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

First it was BYU Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill, then it was UCLA Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley.

Now it's Baylor Bears quarterback Bryce Petty.

The run of talent signal-callers going against the Texas Longhorns defense continues on Saturday as the Bears make the short trip down I-35 to take on the Horns.

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford compared Hill to Tim Tebow and Hundley to Cam Newton, so there was no chance that he would get through his weekly media availability without being asked for a Petty comparison.

Fresh off watching Baylor film that included the Fiesta Bowl last season against Central Florida, Bedford tabbed former Golden Knights quarterback Blake Bortles as the passer most like Petty he has seen.

"Not as tall but athletically runs like him, can buy time with his feet; physically a good runner," Bedford said. "Last year, I think he had 14 touchdowns. He led this conference in touchdowns in the run game last season, so he's a major, major concern. He can make all the throws -- deep throws, intermediate throws. He has nice touch on the ball from the backside of the backfield. I think that kid is a special player I really do."

The diverse skill set of Petty is part of what makes it so difficult to stop the current version of the Baylor offense, which didn't have the same type of run threat in 2012 when Nick Florence was the quarterback.

But Petty isn't a high-volume ball-carrier in the Baylor offense, as he had only four games last season in which he attempted 10 or more runs. He's most dangerous pulling the ball on a zone read when the defense starts crashing too hard on the running back or in the red zone, where his 230-pound frame can allow him to drag defenders into the end zone.

Much more concerning for the Texas defense is figuring out a way to stop him as a passer.

Only one team in the country has more interceptions than the nine by the Horns at the moment. Incidentally enough, that team is Louisville, Strong's former team, but the point here is that the turnovers are coming in bunches for Texas through the air.

On Saturday, that isn't likely to happen. Petty has attempted 518 passes at the college level and only four of them have found the hands of opposing defenders, an interception rate of .8% for his career. A rate of 1.5% is pretty elite, so Petty is essentially half as likely to throw an interception as most elite quarterbacks.

The structure of the Baylor offense certainly makes it easier for Petty, especially with the packaged plays and POP passes that put defenders into run/pass conflicts and open up space for the Baylor wide receivers -- in stretching defenses horizontally and vertically while still maintaining a commitment to a physical running game, the Bears make use of the entire field as well as any team in college football.

So there is rarely a need for Petty to force the ball into small windows.

He also operates from a clean pocket most of the time. Attempting to put pressure on Petty by sending more defenders than Baylor can block isn't an especially effective strategy.

"The ball is out that fast just like a three-step drop," Bedford said. "I don't know how you get to the guy. We were looking at video this morning and all I can do is shake my head. We might as well not rush anybody and just drop everybody because hopefully he gets tired of holding the football and takes a knee."

No opponent has gotten to Petty this season -- he hasn't been sacked yet, despite attempting 101 passes, an impressive statistic that only one other school in the country can boast. Some of that may be a result of the competition level, however, as the Bears gave up 22 sacks last season, including 17 sacks of Petty.

Without putting significant pressure on Petty, though, it's difficult to force the type of under-pressure throws that often result in interceptions.

In a game where the Horns desperately need to force turnovers to stay in the game, the odds of Petty throwing an interception aren't high. And many forced fumbles happen when quarterbacks get hit in the pocket, but that hasn't been happening much either. Texas also hasn't been good in that department this season, forcing only two fumbles through four games.

The Bears, on the flip side, have forced five in four games.

Texas senior cornerback Quandre Diggs has played Petty before and has done the film study on the Baylor quarterback. He came away as impressed as Bedford.

"He can make all the throws," Diggs said. "Also, he's a great competitor. You can see it each and every game he goes out and plays. He competes. He wants to be the best. You can only respect a guy like that and just going out and just watching him on film, you know that he has that offense down. He can make each and every throw, and he knows exactly where his receivers are going to be."

A member of the 2009 class, Petty spent a gray shirt season at Baylor before going on scholarship in the 2010 season and redshirting, meaning that with the two seasons he spent in Waco without using eligibility makes him similar to BYU players who go on a mission and then return, except Petty has been around the program that entire time.

The result is a 23-year-old quarterback who has a complete mastery of the system that head coach Art Briles runs.

And the only real criticism about him from Baylor fans is that he can sometimes be too cautious with the football and not willing to take risks when there are open receivers, but a narrow window to fit the ball into.

Projecting Petty to the next level, there are a few more concerns about his ability -- his lack of elite arm strength, some sloppy footwork that decreases his ability to impart velocity onto the football on NFL-type throws outside the hashes and deep down the field, and his overall ability to read defenses.

In college, in a Baylor offensive system that minimizes those weaknesses and showcases his strengths, those flaws rarely come to light as a guy completing more than 65% of his passes in 2014 and averaging more than nine yards per attempt.

There's a reason Bedford jokingly talked about waving the white flag on Wednesday and a lot of it has to do with Petty's prowess leading the Baylor attack.