This Saturday's game between the Baylor Bears and visiting Texas Longhorns will help mold the landscape of college football in the state of Texas. With the departure of Texas A&M from the Big XII beginning next season, Baylor appears poised to challenge Texas for Lone Star State dominance.
Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz will have his work cut out for him trying to contain Baylor's bona fide Heisman contender Robert Griffin III. Last season, Griffin led the Bears to their first victory over Texas since 1997, and only their second win against the Longhorns since 1992.
1. Containing Robert Griffin III
This one seems impossible, but Texas linebacker Emmanuel Acho said "We don't plan on letting anyone win the Heisman against us." He and his teammates will have the daunting task of slowing down Griffin. Despite missing the entire second half of last week's victory against Texas Tech, "RG3" still has 34 touchdown passes, which ranks fifth nationally. Griffin is only the fourth player in NCAA history to accumulate over 9,000 yards passing and 2,000 yards rushing.
Texas' defense has been nothing short of stellar following a 55-17 beatdown at the hands of bitter rival Oklahoma. The Longhorns' defense leads the Big XII in passing, rushing, scoring, as well as total defense. They rank in the top 10 nationally in rushing, passing, and total defense. First-year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz spent last season at Mississippi State and has experience containing spread quarterbacks, namely Auburn star and defending Heisman Trophy winner, Cam Newton. The Longhorns will need to force turnovers in order to slow down Griffin, but he has taken care of the ball this season, only throwing five interceptions.
2. Texas Must Establish The Ground Game Early
Texas ranks 20th nationally at 211 yards per game rushing. If the Longhorns can control the ball, that will take the pressure off young quarterbacks David Ash and Case McCoy. Baylor's defense allows 36.7 points per contest, so look for Mack Brown to find a way for his offense to control the ball and keep it out of Griffin's hands. Expect to see a large workload for freshman running back Malcolm Brown, who has over 700 yards on the season. This will be crucial as the Longhorns' aerial attack is weak, ranking 96th in the nation at only 178 yards per game.
Baylor's defense has allowed 510 yards per game in conference play, so their performance will be indicative of Baylor's chances to win on Saturday. The Bears' defense surrenders an average of 6 yards per play rushing. That simply will not cut it against a team with athletes the qualities of Texas. The Bears have allowed an average of 37 points in their last four conference games. If Baylor can keep Texas' offense off-schedule, they can really put the pressure on the Longhorns' young quarterback tandem, which should open the door for the Bears to wreak havoc and force some turnovers.
3. Can Art Briles Change The Culture at Baylor?
Baylor head coach Art Briles has turned the Bears into a consistent team in the Big XII. After having a perfect month of November, Baylor is looking to close the regular season on a five-game winning streak. With their victory over Oklahoma last month, Baylor showed the country why they are no longer the doormat in the state of Texas. They snapped a 15-game losing streak to Texas Tech last Saturday with a 66-42 thrashing of the Red Raiders in Cowboys Stadium. With athletes like Robert Griffin III, Briles has an opportunity to bring in better talent never before seen in Waco. If Baylor can begin attracting top-notch recruits, don't be surprised to see the Bears competing for conference championships on a yearly basis.
With Texas A&M leaving the Big XII, that has opened the door for Baylor to contend with Texas as the top program in the state. This Saturday will prove if Griffin and the Bears are ready for the challenge