The most interested spectator during the first half of Saturday’s high-stakes, Baylor-Texas showdown in Floyd Casey Stadium will have the worst seat in the house.
Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon will be tracking the action on his iPad in the Bears’ locker room, with no view of the field, until he is allowed to join teammates in the third quarter. But the senior from Waco, one of the Bears’ emotional team leaders and a third-year starter, does not plan to be a quiet observer while serving the suspension he received for a helmet-to-helmet hit on TCU’s Trevone Boykin that drew a targeting penalty in last week’s 41-38 victory in Fort Worth.
“I’ll get riled up just like I’m on the field,” said Dixon, who ranks third on the team in tackles (70) and fourth in pass breakups (6) heading into a matchup between No. 9 Baylor (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) and No. 25 Texas (8-3, 7-1) that will give the winner at least a share of the conference title. “I have faith in the guys that will be out there to make sure the game goes the way that it needs to go before I can join them.”
Much of that will depend on the performance of freshman Orion Stewart, Dixon’s replacement in Saturday’s lineup. Combined with injuries to middle linebacker Bryce Hager (groin) and cornerback K.J. Morton (abdominal strain), Dixon’s absence means the Bears could be without three of their top six tacklers in Saturday’s first half.
That could impact efforts in trying to slow a Texas ground game that produced two 100-yard rushers in last week’s 41-16 victory over Texas Tech and during the Longhorns’ 36-20 victory over No. 17 Oklahoma on Oct. 12.
But the bigger void might be the absence of Dixon’s fiery presence on the Baylor sideline and in defensive huddles, which Dixon will seek to minimize with a pep talk before teammates take the field Saturday (2:30 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4).
“He’s going to help talk us up in the locker room,” Baylor offensive guard Cyril Richardson said. “Even though he may not be on the field, Ahmad will always be a leader for us. We will take what he tells us and keep it with us through the whole game.”
Dixon has been under the microscope since Saturday, when his ejection triggered a postgame rant from TCU coach Gary Patterson after TV replays showed Dixon laughing on the Bears’ sideline and high-fiving Baylor fans as he left the field to boos from TCU partisans.
Patterson made it clear he considers Dixon a dirty player and suggested Baylor coach Art Briles ran a program without class after Briles “came at me” during the game, urging Patterson to leave their differences on the field.
Patterson also alluded to Dixon’s September arrest on a misdemeanor assault charge. The case remains pending in the McLennan County district attorney’s office.
After the incident at TCU, Dixon defended himself on his Twitter account, @MrBU_5ix. He wrote: “For The Record I’ve Never Been A Thug Of Any Sort,” adding that he is “misunderstood by my physical style of play.” Dixon described himself Tuesday as “a very nice guy, always filled with laughs” when he’s off the field but a hard-nosed competitor on game day.
He expressed no remorse about the hit on Boykin, saying it was “just football” and he had no “bad intentions” on the play.
Asked what he’d like to say to fans in the wake of Patterson’s comments, Dixon said: “Don’t let my on-the-field actions determine who you think I am off the field. If you get to know me, I’m a very nice guy. So I feel good about it.”
Baylor coaches, who acknowledged Dixon deserved the penalty he received in the TCU game, took time Tuesday to defend the character of one of their top defenders.
“I’ve had kids that I thought, at times, could be malicious. He’s not one of them,” Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. “He has never been malicious. Regardless of what some of our colleagues say, he’s a good kid. He’s a guy that sparks us.”
Briles described Dixon as “a great representative of our university and our football team,” as well as someone he’d turn to for help in a pinch.
“If my daughter needed something in Dallas and I couldn’t get there, he’d be a guy that I’d call to go help her, 100 percent,” Briles said. “I love him to death. He’s the leader of our football team.”
But he’ll have to lead from a distance Saturday in the first half of a game with extra meaning for Dixon, who broke a verbal commitment to Texas to sign with Baylor.
Texas coach Mack Brown said Dixon’s first-half absence “will not make a difference” in devising the offensive game plan. Texas quarterback Case McCoy stressed that Dixon has his respect.
“I don’t think he’s a dirty player, by any means,” McCoy said. “I think he’s aggressive and he loves the game. He’s a hard-nosed player.”
But Dixon won’t be making any plays until the second half Saturday. Until then, he’ll be the guy in the locker room getting riled up while following the action on his iPad.