A signature victory in hand, Baylor defensive tackle Beau Blackshear smiled as he reflected on Saturday’s near-shutout of Texas and its impact on the Big 12 football pecking order.
A 28-7 victory by the seventh-ranked Bears, coupled with No. 25 TCU’s 37-33 upset of No. 4 Oklahoma, means the Bears (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) and Horned Frogs (4-0, 1-0) have thrust themselves into the spotlight for next week’s first-place showdown on a weekend when the focus typically falls on the Texas-OU rivalry.
Blackshear, along with Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, could not help but embrace the irony that Texas (2-3, 1-1) and OU (4-1, 1-1) will play as the lead-in game in next week’s Big 12 football doubleheader (11 a.m., Dallas), before the Bears and Frogs slug it out in Waco at 2:30 p.m.
The undercard bout in the Cotton Bowl, in other words, before the main event between first-place teams from the league’s two private schools.
“The tables have turned, I’d say,” said Blackshear, who blocked a field goal, recovered a fumble and made four tackles. “They say, ‘Baylor’s still Baylor.’ Well, we showed we’re still the Baylor we were last year.”
Those Bears won a Big 12 championship, the school’s first solo league title in 33 years. These Bears, said coach Art Briles, qualify as an improvement over last year’s model, based on defensive and special-teams performances that surfaced Saturday. Baylor won with ease despite a career-low passing performance from Petty (7 of 22, 111 yards), the team’s Heisman Trophy candidate, because its defense pitched a shutout for 58 minutes while the special teams scored one touchdown and set up another.
“We are a better team than last year, and that’s just the bottom line,” said Briles, whose squad is primed to climb in Sunday’s updated polls after losses by four teams ranked ahead of Baylor. “It’s a mature, tough-minded, confident football team that knows how to win.”
And how to do it in multiple ways. That became obvious Saturday, when the Texas defense put the clamps on the Bears’ receivers and confused Petty with a variety of fresh blitzes.
“My head is still spinning,” said Petty, who wound up leaning on the team’s veteran offensive line to open holes for running backs Shock Linwood (28 carries, 148 yards, 1 TD) and Johnny Jefferson (11 carries, 72 yards). Eventually, a Longhorns defense that limited the nation’s most prolific offense to 389 yards (252 below the Bears’ season mark of 641) faded in the second half as the deficit mounted.
Once again, Texas’ defenders got little help from a punchless offense. Quarterback Tyrone Swoopes completed less than half of his passes (16 of 34), threw two interceptions and lost a fumble at the Baylor 1-yard line that turned a 98-yard drive into a points-free march in the final minute of the first half. Asked about his sputtering attack, first-year Texas coach Charlie Strong said: “I don’t know if we say it’s a big mess.”
For now, coach, it is. Few among the 93,727 at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium doubted the significance of Baylor’s first offensive touchdown of the contest, a 30-yard strike from Petty to Antwan Goodley with 7:02 remaining in the third quarter. It doubled an early 7-0 lead, built on Terrell Burt’s 62-yard return of a blocked field goal, and came three plays after a game-turning, 19-yard run on a fake punt by Bears punter Spencer Roth.
Roth’s spur-of-the-moment decision, which marked the first carry of his football career, came after he saw his three personal protectors sprint downfield because there were no Texas rushers. To the surprise of his coach, Roth followed them for a momentum-changing first down.
“Things were just dead. We had nothing going for us, really,” Roth said, reflecting on a quiet Baylor sideline. “After that, things clicked.”
Briles said Roth’s run “changed everything” in a defensive stalemate. Baylor, given fresh energy, cranked out touchdown drives of 75 and 60 yards on its first two possessions of the fourth quarter. Texas, limited to 47 yards on its first 21 plays of the second half, watched a 7-0 halftime deficit climb to 28-0 before mustering a 92-yard march in garbage time that allowed the Longhorns to avoid being shut out in Austin for the first time in 38 years.
But the late score cannot whitewash the fact that Texas has been outscored 69-14 by the collective efforts of Brigham Young and Baylor in its past two home games. Afterward, Strong conceded the obvious.
“We don’t know how to win yet,” he said. “We don’t know how to finish.”
But Baylor does. So does TCU. That is why Petty began shifting his postgame thoughts to next week’s showdown in Waco that suddenly trumps Texas-OU on many fans’ TV agendas.
“There’s a lot of hype around the Longhorns,” Petty said, reflecting on his fourth victory over Texas in five seasons at Baylor. “It speaks a lot for where this program’s at and where it’s come from. Being [in a first-place matchup against TCU], that’s where we want to be. We want to be in the spotlight. We want to be with the best.”
Especially when that relegates the Longhorns and Sooners to the Big 12’s undercard matchup on Texas-OU weekend.