Texas (3-4, 2-2) will travel up I-35 to Waco on Saturday to face Baylor (0-7, 0-4). The Bears are coming off a 38-36 loss to West Virginia and are still searching for their first win of the season. The Longhorns hope to get back on track and keep their bowl hopes alive. Let’s take a look at what Baylor has on offense:
The Bears have had 3 different quarterbacks take meaningful snaps so far this season. Arizona transfer Anu Solomon opened the season as the starter, but was replaced by Zach Smith, who had starting experience from his 2016 freshman campaign. Smith was not 100% last week and was replaced by true freshman Charlie Brewer. Brewer finished the night 8 for 13 with 109 yards and 2 touchdowns, adding 10 carries for 48 yards. The former Lake Travis product brings a running dimension to the offense that Smith lacks.
In his weekly news conference, Head Coach Matt Rhule said that if the game was played tomorrow, Smith would be the starting quarterback. Smith has thrown for 1,421 yards and 8 touchdowns with 6 interceptions on the year. He has a tremendous arm and was recruited by Art Briles to run the Veer and Shoot offense. Rhule has brought a more traditional offense to Waco and it has taken Smith some time to adjust, as his 53.5% completion percentage shows.
Texas will most likely see Brewer and Smith both take snaps at QB on Saturday. As any coach would, Rhule has not totally tipped his hand on who is going to receive the start, but Brewer’s ability to run is something Baylor will attempt to utilize and see if Texas can handle.
Baylor has struggled to run the football this year. Four different running backs have received carries, with freshman John Lovett leading the team in rushing yards (403). Lovett suffered a minor toe injury last week, but is expected to play on Saturday. Junior Terrance Williams is actually listed atop of the depth chart, but has seen a significant decrease in production compared to his solid sophomore season that saw him earn Honorable Mention All-Big 12. Williams only has 155 rushing yards in 2017, and was almost kicked off the team a few weeks ago before being given a second chance by players and coaches.
Sophomore JaMycal Hasty and freshman Trestan Ebner have also received carries, with Ebner having his best game of the season last week against West Virginia, with 3 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown while also catching 5 passes for 109 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Baylor coaching staff seems to be content on having a youth movement and letting the underclassmen get experience, which could mean a lot of carries for Ebner and Lovett. Regardless of who is in the backfield, Texas needs to be solid in defending running backs out of the backfield, as Baylor loves to use them in the passing game.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
If there is one player that Texas can not afford to let beat them, it’s Denzel Mims. The sophomore has 34 catches for 685 yards and 7 touchdowns on the season. Mims has great speed and ball skills, but there is surely some confidence in the secondary for Texas after holding James Washington in check the entire game last week. Freshman Gavin Holmes saw significant playing time against West Virginia and is listed as the starter opposite of Mims. Holmes has only hauled in 6 passes for 84 yards, but was praised by Rhule after the game. Tony Nicholson starts at inside receiver and has 28 catches for 239 yards.
The receiving unit suffered a big blow when junior Chris Platt suffered a season ending injury. Baylor is still trying to find some consistency outside of Mims, and they are having to rely on a number of underclassmen for production. This is a favorable matchup for Texas and if Kris Boyd continues to show the improvement that he showed last week, the Longhorns should be able to slow down the passing attack.
Junior tight end Jordan Feuerbacher was a preseason All-Big 12 member after being named second team All-Big 12 in 2016. Feuerbacher has caught 2 passes for 25 yards, but has been an effective blocker and uses his 6’4 271 pound frame well.
Similar to Texas, the Bears have had their struggles along the offensive line. The unit has allowed an average of 3.14 sacks per game, ranking them 115 out of 129 FBS schools. Junior left tackle Mo Porter is a former junior college standout has perhaps been the most consistent player along the line. Freshman and former Texas commit Xavier Newman starts at left guard and has experienced some growing pains as a freshman. Former tight end Sam Tecklenberg started the season at guard before being moved to center to make room for Newman. The right side of the offensive line offers the most experience. Right guard Blake Blackmar and right tackle Patrick Lawrence both have 20 starts of experience.
It is no secret that depth has hurt Baylor along the offensive line. The Bears are only averaging 3.8 yards per carry and have struggled running the ball against many of the teams they have faced so far. This is a unit that Poona Ford, Charles Omenihu and Malcolm Roach should be able to handle. 3 and 4 man rushes getting home for Texas would benefit the defense greatly and help get extra defenders on Mims and running backs coming out of the backfield.