Texas D vs. Baylor Fire Bolt
Winner take all
By Joe O'Connell, 12:44PM, Thu. Dec. 1, 2011
Texas fans nibbled on Thanksgiving turkey and expected the worst. The Aggies could taste this win. They wanted to end the rivalry with forever bragging rights as they shuffled off to the SEC and leave the Longhorns with the beer-soaked, early-morning regret that is the Big 12.
My die-hard UT fanatic brother-in-law feared a blowout. “It’ll be close,” I said. He shook his head with a grin that spoke of my naiveté. You know what happened next.
Aggies complained of a bad call, of the injury that kept Cyrus Gray out of the game. But the truth is the Texas defense finally rose to the level necessary to offset the befuddled Burnt Orange offense. Special teams did, too. We’re talking points off of turnovers. Quandre Diggs’ 81-yard punt return. A defense that battered the Aggies and their seasoned quarterback Ryan Tannehill, capped by a Kenny Vaccaro interception that led to a rare touchdown.
The rag doll named Case McCoy did the rest with a gutsy gallop into the Texas A&M defenders, who smacked him this way and that as he struggled for any yards they’d cede. Enough to get Texas in field-goal position. It worked. Justin Tucker made up for a night of horrendous punts by finessing the ball through the uprights from 40 yards out as time ran out.
In College Station you can find billboards still up in summer heralding the last win over the t-sips. In Austin, we marvel at the strange traditions: the overalled cheerleaders with their odd gang signs, the incessant “howdy,” the constant standing and swaying at Kyle Field. That cute little dog they worship. We’ll miss every bit of it.
So a rebuilding Texas team has a solid foundation. Sometimes the best offense is a swarming defense. It secured the Horns a winning season with the Aggie win. Is that D enough to avoid a season-ending loss to the razzle-dazzle resurgent Baylor Bears? Maybe. That answer is all you get from the Longhorns this confusing year in which a different UT seems to pop up each week. The D has been the one consistency, and it’s getting better.
Robert Griffin III has 34 touchdown passes that average almost 36 yards apiece. He’s a magician, a con man, a sizzling fire bolt who’ll scorch you with his feet if he can’t do it through the air (he’s rushed for more than 600 yards this season). But Texas can handle fire bolts. Just ask Kansas State's Collin Klein, who couldn’t run the ball against Texas and can thank the wildcat defense for preserving a 17-13 butt-ugly win.
Manny Diaz was hired as Texas’ defensive coordinator to get results. So far he’s doing it. The A&M game was either a fluke or a turning point from a job well done to the creation of a turnover machine. If it’s the former, Texas loses to Baylor. The latter has a solid chance.
The Bears have the consistent receivers Texas has never found. Kendall Wright is a hummingbird with 95 catches and 14 touchdowns. Add to his flock a combined 20 touchdowns from Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese, and Lanear Sampson. And if that doesn’t work, Terrance Ganaway is a hoss who can run the ball pretty well, too.
Texas managed just enough offense to survive against the Aggies. Signs are even more positive with a weak Baylor rush defense that could allow the Longhorn running game to come back from the dead, as in 86 ground yards against A&M.
And Waco is a hospitable place for Longhorn fans who often fill as many seats as the green-clad semi-faithful. If the Aggies have an obsession with beating the Horns, the Bears are just pleased to be invited to the party. And this year they’re very proud hosts.
So, my brother-in-law asks, what’s your prediction this week? Perhaps a blowout this time, but I’m not so sure which team will pull it off. That’s been the mantra this season for Texas: Meet an enigma in training. Don’t take anything you see on face value. Wait for Saturday. All secrets will be revealed.