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 defense and special teams:
Baylor will operate out of a 4-man front, with junior Ira Lewis leading the way at Nose Tackle. Lewis has had a productive season, collecting 2.5 sacks to go along with 5.5 tackles for loss. Sophomore Tyrone Hunt will see the majority of the playing time at defensive tackle and Greg Roberts will get the start at defensive end. Both have yet to record a sack this season and have combined for 5.5 tackles for loss. Senior Brian Nance will start the other end position. So far in 2017, Nance has 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. Matt Rhule and defensive coordinator Phil Snow have moved a lot of guys around on the defensive line, and are still searching for a consistent group.
The Bears have struggled to get to the quarterback this year. While the Texas offensive line is depleted and may be without center Zach Shackelford, it should be able to open up some holes in the running game for the first time since San Jose State. With that being said, Texas will need to continue to help out Derek Kerstetter and Denzel Okafor by having running backs and tight ends help block.
The best players on the Baylor defense are widely considered to be middle linebacker Clay Johnston and senior weak side linebacker Taylor Young. Johnston, a sophomore, leads the team in tackles (52) and tackles for loss (9.0). Young is a two time All-Big 12 member who has 4 tackles for loss and 2 sacks on the season.
The linebacker unit is rounded out by Henry Black, who is listed as the starter at strong side linebacker. Black is a defensive back who has been pressed into duty at linebacker due to to lineup shuffling and ineffective play. Black has seen plenty of time in the secondary this season, recording the defense’s lone interception and adding 11 tackles.
True freshman Harrison Hand and sophomore Grayland Arnold will start at corner. Hand has played quite well for a freshman, ranking 3rd on the team in tackles (32) and adding 8 pass breakups. Arnold saw significant playing time as a true freshman in 2016 before taking over as a full time starter this year.
Senior Taion Sells will start at strong safety and junior Verkedric Vaughn will start at strong safety. Vaughn is a former cornerback who started 4 games last season before moving to safety in preseason camp. The Bears have been shredded through the air for an average of 290 yards per game. Despite the struggles, expect Baylor to implement a similar plan of attack that Iowa State used against the Longhorns, rushing 3 or 4 and dropping the rest of the defenders into coverage. Tim Beck and Tom Herman will have to find a way to run the football to force Baylor to put extra players in the box. With Reggie Hemphill-Mapps very questionable with a knee injury and Collin Johnson seeing a reduction in playing time, it would be a nice time for Dorian Leonard and John Burt to break out.
The return units for Baylor have had a rough year. Trestan Ebner and Trevor White will handle kickoff returns, and neither has recorded a return longer than 29 yards on the season. Tony Nicholson has seen slightly better success returning punts, averaging 13 yards a return on 5 attempts.
Kicker/Punter Connor Martin has had a busy season thus far. The sophomore has already had 16 field goal attempts, making 14, with a long of 46 yards. He also handles the punting duties and is averaging 44.9 yards per punt.