Texas fans who mentally checked out after the loss to Oklahoma State should reconsider. The house lights are flickering and the third act is always can’t-miss theater.
The final scene in this spellbinding drama known as the Longhorns’ season could go any direction. And it all plays out in Waco in what will be the final game at Baylor’s 64-year-old Floyd Casey Stadium.
In Saturday’s regular-season finale, Texas could win at least a share of the Big 12 title or even the whole thing outright if Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State earlier in the day.
Depending on how it all plays out, the Longhorns (8-3 overall, 7-1 in the Big 12) could earn a trip to the Fiesta Bowl or maybe the Cotton with a win. But a loss likely drops them to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and would heighten the Mack Brown should go/should stay storyline.
Several Texas players said after Thursday’s win over Texas Tech that they cannot trump the Baylor game up to be bigger than life. But the seniors want to “hang numbers” on the walls, signifying the year they won a Big 12 title. That this is even a possibility here in December is amazing in itself, considering where the Longhorns were in mid-September.
“There’s no reason to hold back,” senior left guard Trey Hopkins said. “This is all it comes down to right here.”
Junior running back Joe Bergeron said: “With it right there, it’s in our grasp. We’re going to play our butts off and go out there and win it.”
Texas did its part with a 41-16 win over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving. Then on Saturday, Baylor (10-1, 7-1) knocked off TCU, 41-38. Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) was off this weekend. Thus, we have a three-way tie for first place in the standings.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State play their annual Bedlam Series rivalry game at 11 a.m. Saturday in Stillwater, Okla. So when Texas and Baylor kick off at 2:30, the Longhorns will know whether it’s a winner-take-all affair for the Big 12 title.
If OSU beats Oklahoma, the Cowboys will likely earn the league’s BCS automatic bid to the Fiesta Bowl. If OSU loses, the Texas-Baylor winner goes to the Fiesta. In that scenario, the Cowboys would probably land in the Cotton Bowl. If the Longhorns lose, they conceivably fall to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
This is exactly the type of drama that the Big 12 hoped for when it eliminated the conference championship game after becoming a 10-team league. The SEC, Pac-12 and Big Ten conferences will also be clamoring for national attention this weekend with their own championship game events.
The Longhorns should focus squarely on the Bears, a group wanting revenge for coming up short in last year’s 56-50 shootout at Royal-Memorial Stadium.
There will be heightened pressure on Baylor to win its last game at Floyd Casey Stadium; the Bears’ new stadium, about halfway finished with construction, will open for the 2014 season. And players will want to win for Baylor coach Art Briles, who lost his brother Eddie unexpectedly last week.
Briles will no doubt spend time this week examining Texas’ defensive wrinkles against Texas Tech. The Longhorns used what they call a “spinner” package, where defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat played as a standup linebacker. He lined up in multiple spots to keep the Red Raiders guessing with their protection schemes. Jeffcoat had three of the Longhorns’ nine sacks.
Cedric Reed, Malcom Brown and Caleb Bluiett were down at the line of scrimmage, Jackson and Dalton Santos lined up as linebackers and Texas used six defensive backs.
Baylor and Tech both have similar high-flying offensive attacks. Could this be the same scheme be used against the Bears?
“Yeah, it could be,” defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said with a wry smile.
It could be a fun week leading up to Saturday, too.
“It’s a relief after losing that (Oklahoma State) game knowing we still have our goals ahead of us,” cornerback Duke Thomas said. “We’re going to fight and finish hard.”
Texas at 9-Baylor, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, FOX, 1300, 98.1
Linemen happy for RBs: Running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron got all the attention for their gaudy totals against Texas Tech. And that was just fine with the offensive line.
Left guard Trey Hopkins joked after the game that fans never see how many pancake blocks they have on the video board. But when two running backs rush for more than 100 yards each, “Those big numbers, you get to quantify your work,” Hopkins said.
Texas’ linemen feel like they can line up and run over just about anyone at the moment. Ball control and clock management will be key to keeping Baylor’s offense off the field.
LB corps gets even thinner: Linebacker Steve Edmond (lacerated liver) has been ruled out for the Baylor game and Kendall Thompson (head) is still being evaluated. That leaves Texas woefully thin at the position. It may force defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to get creative with Jackson Jeffcoat and his blitz calls.
It helped that Duke Thomas showed himself to be a threat coming off a corner blitz against Tech; he sacked Baker Mayfield. It was Thomas’ first sack of the season. Fellow cornerback Quandre Diggs, normally the nickel back, also has 2.5 sacks this season.
Shipley on special teams: Receiver Jaxon Shipley handled punt return duties against Texas Tech since Daje Johnson was out serving a one-game suspension. Shipley returned four punts for 52 yards, including a 27-yarder. It’s unclear whether Shipley will continue those chores this week when Johnson returns as expected.
Unfortunately for Shipley, he did not have a catch against Tech, thus snapping a streak of 33 consecutive games with a reception. It was the third-longest streak in school history.
Honoring Dodds: The Texas band honored retired athletic director DeLoss Dodds during halftime against Texas Tech by spelling out “DELOSS” on the field. They then played “The Eyes of Texas.” New men’s athletic director Steve Patterson was not there; he had flown back to Arizona to spend Thanksgiving with his family. But on Thursday, he tweeted “Big win by the Horns. Happy TDay to all.”
— Brian Davis
With 4.5 sacks in his final two games, Jackson Jeffcoat can vault into the top five in school history in career sacks. He’s currently tied for eighth with Aaron Humphrey (1996-99) with 24.5 sacks. … Expect to hear a lot this week about Baylor’s big-play ability. But Texas has scored 12 touchdowns this season on plays of 45 yards or longer. … Baylor officials had previously announced they would remove the tarp covering the south end zone to sell more tickets at Floyd Casey Stadium. The game was announced as a sellout in early October.