With an early start time Saturday on the road against a winless Baylor team, Texas coach Tom Herman had every right to think his team might sleepwalk through this game.
As it turned out, the Longhorns woke up in plenty of time, and Shane Buechele threw for a touchdown and ran for another to lead Texas to a 38-7 victory.
“I was shocked,” Herman said. “We had a 5:45 wake-up call. There were no dopey-eyed guys, there was no wipe the sleep out of their eyes, any of that stuff. They were intense and ready to go from the word jump.”
DeShon Elliot intercepted Baylor quarterback Zach Smith and returned it 43 yards for a score in the first minute of the game, and the Longhorns never trailed. It was Elliot’s national-leading sixth interception of the season and the second he returned for a score.
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It was also the beginning of a defensive performance for Texas (4-4, 3-2 Big 12) in which it forced three turnovers and limited Baylor to 249 yards of total offense – 3.3 yards per play.
“They’re carrying us right now,” Herman said. “If there’s one side of the ball I would like to carry us, it’s that side. That’s number one on our plan to win is play great defense. We’re doing that pretty well right now.”
Buechele’s touchdown pass was a 15-yard strike to Lil’Jordan Humphrey early in the second quarter to cap a 90-yard drive. Up to that point, Texas had 65 yards of total offense and had squandered a chance when a field goal was blocked after a fumble set the Longhorns up at the Baylor 16. His rushing score came later in the second quarter on a zone-read keeper one play after Baylor punter Connor Martin dropped a snap and fell on it at his own 28. That made it a 21-7 Texas lead at halftime.
“I think it helps our confidence when we can go fast and call plays, and throw it out there and they’ll give 5 yards, it helps a lot with our offense,” Buechele said. “[Baylor] played us tough today. They played unbelievable, but it was really good to see our running backs and offensive line do what they did.”
Buechele was 27 of 34 for 256 yards and an interception, and Toneil Carter and Daniel Young scored rushing touchdowns of 19 and 31 yards, respectively, in the fourth quarter to put the game away.
Smith and freshman Charlie Brewer rotated in at quarterback throughout for the Bears (0-8, 0-5), but neither could get them moving. Brewer was 17 for 27 for 181 yards, while Smith added 37 yards on a 4-of-11 day.
“Give credit to the University of Texas. They played a good football game,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said. “Defensively, I thought they were spectacular. I thought Shane Buechele was a difference-maker on a day he really needed to be one, so credit to him.”
Texas: The Longhorns’ defensive effort afforded their offense the edge in field position all day. Their average starting spot was their own 46, and they began four drives in Baylor territory. Those resulted in 17 points. The defense also got off the field, as Baylor was 4 for 18 on third down and 1 for 5 on fourth down.
Baylor: The Bears had cause for optimism after last week’s 38-36 loss to then-No. 23 West Virginia, but never got things going offensively. They were especially anemic in the running game and finished with 31 yards on 37 carries. Brewer’s scrambling gave the Bears life in the fourth quarter last week, but he was hemmed in for minus-9 yards on 13 carries.
Even after the spark Brewer provided the Bears last week in a near comeback from 25 points down against West Virginia, Smith was named the starter again this week. But Brewer was inserted in the second series, after Smith’s high pass was intercepted and taken back for a score on the first drive.
“We thought we’d play Zach the first drive and do some more traditional things,” Rhule said. “We wanted to try and make some throws down the field that his arm can make, and then we thought the second series we’d come out in the three-back option stuff with Charlie. We were hoping Zach would take us down the field and score and we could keep him out there, but we wanted to change things up with the option backs.”
Herman has made it clear he isn’t a fan of kicking short field goals, and that certainly didn’t change after Joshua Rowland had a 27-yarder blocked in the first quarter. But late in the third, Herman called on his kicker again for an 18-yarder, which Rowland made.
“I thought it was important to give us a three-possession lead,” Herman said. “I was pretty certain at that point we were going to be able to hold up defensively, and wanted to make sure we came away with points and push that lead up to the three-possession mark.”
Texas: Continues a stretch in which it plays three of four games on the road, taking on No. 4 TCU.
Baylor: Travels to meet Kansas, which entered Saturday’s game with Kansas State winless in the Big 12.
TEX—Elliott 43 interception return (Rowland kick), 14:06
TEX—Humphrey 15 pass from Buechele (Rowland kick), 9:42
BAY—Lovett 2 run (Martin kick), 8:38
TEX—Buechele 28 run (Rowland kick), 3:51
TEX—FG Rowland 18, 5:55
TEX—Carter 19 run (Rowland kick), 14:55
TEX—D.Young 31 run (Rowland kick), 1:57
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Texas, Carter 15-70, D.Young 7-60, Buechele 9-42, Warren 2-3, Humphrey 1-0, (Team) 1-(minus 4). Baylor, T.Williams 7-29, Z.Smith 2-10, Ebner 2-7, Hasty 5-7, Okeke 2-3, Lovett 5-2, Ch.Brewer 13-(minus 9), (Team) 1-(minus 18).
PASSING—Texas, Warren 0-1-0-0, Humphrey 0-1-0-0, Buechele 27-34-1-256. Baylor, Z.Smith 4-11-1-37, Ch.Brewer 17-27-0-181.
RECEIVING—Texas, C.Johnson 6-36, Humphrey 5-55, Joe 4-53, Leonard 3-25, D.Young 2-23, Ca.Brewer 2-18, Foreman 2-12, Burt 1-25, Carter 1-7, Warren 1-2. Baylor, Mims 4-42, White 4-28, Nicholson 3-38, Hasty 3-13, B.Lynch 2-51, M.Jones 2-23, Ebner 2-12, Clements 1-11.
MISSED FIELD GOALS—Texas, Rowland 27.