Non-conference play has concluded and the Big 12 slate begins for Texas Saturday night in Waco against Baylor. The Bears have had a rocky start to the season, dropping contests to Texas State and Utah before defeating lowly Long Island from the FCS ranks for their first win of the season. Dave Aranda has had a rough stretch in Waco since winning the Big 12 in 2021. He is 7-9 since then. There are very few Matt Rhule players left on the roster, and that has not been a good thing for the green and gold.
Blake Shapen injured his knee in the opening game against Texas State and missed the next two games. Dave Aranda said he is doubtful for Saturday’s matchup, leaving redshirt sophomore Sawyer Robertson as the man behind center. The Mississippi State transfer has looked shaky so far in his extended action, completing 45% of his passes with only 1 touchdown compared to 3 interceptions. Utah picked him off twice, including a bad throw over the middle late in the 4th quarter that set up the go-ahead touchdown. Robertson does have a strong arm and can push the ball down the field, but the consistency has not been there. He is a capable runner (9 rushes for 47 yards).
Oklahoma State transfer Dominic Richardson entered the year as the lead running back but he is also banged up and questionable for Saturday’s contest. If he can’t go, Richard Reese and Dawson Pendergrass will carry the load. Reese had a good freshman season in 2022 and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry. At receiver, Arkansas transfer Ketron Jackson lead the team in receptions at 10. Hal Presley and Monaray Baldwin are two other names to know.
The Baylor offensive line lost a ton of production and experience in the offseason and it has shown. The only returning starter for the Bears was G Gavin Byers. The brotherly duo of Clark and Campbell Barrington transferred in from BYU to take over at center and LT, respectively. The unit has struggled mightily with penalties in the first 3 games.
Texas State did whatever they wanted to against the Baylor defense in week 1 in a shocking upset. Dave Aranda is a defensive guy and will surely have his fingerprints all over the gameplan on Saturday. Aranda’s defense sacked Quinn Ewers 5 times in Austin last year.
Gabe Hall and TJ Franklin anchor the defensive line for Baylor at the two DE positions. Both have been at Baylor forever and may never run out of eligibility. The Bears did lose NT Siaki Ika to the NFL in the offseason and have struggled to replace him. Middle linebacker Dillon Doyle also departed as a multi-year starter and was replaced by Liberty transfer Mike Smith. Fellow LB Matt Jones has played a ton of football and is a solid player.
The backend of the Baylor defense is shaky. Starting safety Devin Lemear is another guy who is banged up and questionable for Saturday. If he can’t go, it would be a major blow to the Baylor defense. The secondary will never be mistaken for what Matt Rhule was trotting out 4 or 5 years ago.
Conventional wisdom says that surely Baylor will be ready to go in this one considering the circumstances surrounding the game (national TV, Texas coming to town, sold out crowd). With that being said, if they trot out there and play like they did against Texas State or Long Island, Texas should and will cruise to a victory.
The margin for error is slim for Baylor. It’s hard to envision an upset without multiple Quinn Ewers turnovers and some defensive lapses. Texas has shown a tendency to play down or up to their competition level, so we will see what teams shows up in Waco Saturday night.