This game features a pair of quarterbacks coming off of their toughest weeks of the season. David Ash threw for a season-low 113 yards Saturday against Oklahoma and was intercepted twice, but that was the first dent in an otherwise impressive season. On the year, Ash has completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 1,389 yards and has thrown 11 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. Baylor’s Nick Florence is also having a nice year, compiling 1,874 yards through the air along with 18 touchdowns, but he has been plagued by turnovers, throwing nine picks in five games and four in his last contest. He is also completing nearly eight percent fewer of his passes than Ash. This inefficiency has held the Bears back at times against top-flight defenses.
The Longhorns struggled to run the ball against Oklahoma, but overall the strength of this Texas team is its ability to move the ball on the ground. Three Texas runners have rushed for at least 245 yards through six games, with Joe Bergeron leading the way with 301 yards and nine scores on the ground. The Bears are also capable of running the ball, but Baylor relies far more heavily on the pass. Only one Baylor back has accumulated more than 200 yards rushing thus far and as a team the Bears only average 4.3 yards per carry. This pales in comparison to the Longhorns, who average 4.8 yards per rush attempt.
Much of the reason Nick Florence has been able to step in and shoulder the load for the Bears is the effectiveness of the Baylor wide receivers. A trio of Bears’ receivers have hauled in at least 23 passes, and they have scored a combined 19 times through the air. The Baylor receiving corps is led by senior Terrence Williams, who leads the team with 37 catches, 830 yards and eight touchdowns. While the Texas wideouts have done a nice job this year, Mike Davis’ team-leading 24 catches and 352 yards would rank no better than third for the Bears.
Although it is coming off of its worst performance of the year, the Texas offensive line has been a solid unit for most of the season. Through five games the Longhorns had one of the nation’s most efficient offenses, and this was due to its balance in running and passing the ball. Even after its woeful offensive performance against Oklahoma, Texas is averaging 4.8 yards per rush, and David Ash is averaging 8.32 yards per pass. The veteran offensive line has done a nice job of opening holes for the Longhorns’ stable of running backs as well as setting up screens for receivers for Ash to pass to. Baylor has put up gaudy offensive statistics in several games this year, but it has completed a lower percentage of passes and rushed for a lower average than have the Longhorns.
One week after its most explosive game of the season against West Virginia, the Texas defensive line did not make much of an impact Saturday against Oklahoma. That said, Alex Okafor is still among the best defensive ends in the Big 12 and rounds out a talented Texas defensive line. The loss of Jackson Jeffcoat hurts Texas, but younger players like Reggie Wilson, Cedric Reed and Toshiro Davis will be called on to fill the void. The Bears have struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks all season, as they allow more than 370 yards passing per game. Overall, Texas’ 14 sacks trumps Baylor’s eight sacks, but the ability to affect the passing game even without bringing down the quarterback is what gives the Longhorns the edge.
Every week a new running back seems to torch the Longhorns’ defense. Texas has been unable to stop the run all season, allowing 209.2 rushing yards per game. This is a direct result of poor tackling as opposing runners have made a living on big gains once they get past the Texas defensive line. Texas’ linebackers have been a large part of the defense’s inability to stop the run and it has been evident that the unit misses Jordan Hicks dearly. Baylor middle linebacker Bryce Hager is third nationally with 12.2 tackles per game.
Even after allowing strong performances by opposing quarterbacks in three straight games, the Longhorns enter this game in better shape than Baylor as far as stopping the pass. Texas has limited opponents to 240.5 passing yards per game and 11 touchdowns through six games, while the Bears have given up an average of 372.4 passing yards and 18 touchdowns through the air in five games. Moreover, the Longhorns’ secondary has intercepted eight passes compared to six picks by Baylor. The fact that Baylor had to convert offensive players to fill holes in its defensive backfield should be proof positive the Bears’ secondary is reeling.
The Longhorns have been able to create better field position than has Baylor, as they have been more explosive on both kick and punt returns. Texas has returned kickoffs for an average of 24.9 yards and punts for 16.2 yards, while Baylor has averaged totals of 19.8 yards and 11.9 yards, respectively. Both teams have had their share of struggles on field goal attempts, with Texas kickers going 4-of-9 with a pair of missed extra points and Baylor going 5-for-9 in field goal tries. That said, Texas punter Alex King’s ability to provide the offense with manageable field position makes their special teams unit just a bit stronger than the Bears’.