Big 12: Case McCoy

Big 12 games of the year: No. 3

January, 23, 2014
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We’ve been counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12, and here's No. 3. One of the most competitive games of the year went down to the wire in Morgantown, W.Va.

No. 3: Nov. 9, Texas 47, West Virginia 40 (OT)

This back-and-forth thriller featured big plays from both teams and seven combined touchdowns after halftime.

What happened: Texas made the plays when it needed them. West Virginia did not.

On fourth-and-7 at the West Virginia 47, Case McCoy found Jaxon Shipley for a 9-yard gain. Five plays later, Anthony Fera tied the game at 40 with 13 seconds left, sending this one to overtime.

In overtime, McCoy was clutch again with a third-down conversion to Marcus Johnson followed by a two-yard touchdown pass to Alex De La Torre on third-and-goal. It was the Texas defense’s turn on WVU’s overtime possession, as it tightened its resolve after a 20-yard run by Mario Alford to start the possession. WVU gained one yard in the next four plays, capped by Steve Edmond’s interception to end the game and send the Longhorns back to Austin with their Big 12 title hopes intact.

Player of the game: UT defensive end Cedric Reed. Several Longhorns defenders had exceptional games, but Reed was relentless. He finished with seven tackles, including two tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. Not a bad day’s work.

Stat of the game: 6. WVU allowed six sacks and had six fumbles (losing three). UT’s defense was opportunistic and aggressive throughout the game, as its defensive line was all over Mountaineers quarterback Paul Millard after knocking Clint Trickett out of the game.

Quotable: “When one of us gets a sack, that means the other guys are doing their job. We just knew we had to put pressure on these guys and disrupt them.” -- Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat.

The rest of the list:

Big 12 games of the year: No. 6

January, 22, 2014
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We’ve been counting down the 10 best games of the year in the Big 12. Here's No. 6, a true nail-biter that nobody saw coming.


No. 6: Oct. 3 -- Texas 31, Iowa State 30

In a Thursday night game neither team will soon forget, Texas came oh-so-close to fumbling away a loss in Ames but escaped with a one-point victory over Iowa State that was far closer than the score suggests.

What happened: A game with twists and turns -- from a Hail Mary before halftime to a 97-yard pass and a whole bunch in between -- came down to one goal-line battle and one controversial play.

On first-and-goal at the 3, Johnathan Gray ran up the middle and, at some point, lost the football. Iowa State linebacker Jeremiah George scooped it up and ran off, believing he’d secured victory. Instead, game officials called Gray down at the 2, reviewed the play from five camera angles and determined no undisputable evidence of a fumble could be found.

Texas kept possession and scored two plays later on a Case McCoy dive to go ahead 31-30. Jackson Jeffcoat sealed the win with a last-second interception and the Longhorns improved to 3-2 by the slimmest of margins.

McCoy needed a career-high 45 pass attempts -- and a good bit of luck -- to pull off this win. Just as things were starting to look bleak, he lobbed a 44-yard touchdown pass to John Harris with time expiring in the second quarter, giving Texas a 17-13 lead.

The teams traded a few scores from there, highlighted by Quenton Bundrage’s 97-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and ISU led by 6 with 3:40 left. Texas answered with a 12-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a game-winning score and a very unhappy Paul Rhoads.

Player of the game: Lots of possible choices, including a few Cyclones, but Gray had an important performance. He started the day off with a 45-yard touchdown run but was fairly underused from there, finishing with 89 rushing yards on 16 carries. He did chip in two key runs on the final drive before the controversy began.

Stat of the game: With the win, Texas improved to 10-1 against Iowa State.

Quotable: “I've got the privilege as the head coach of this football program to face my players, win or lose, and look them in the eye and [tell them] how proud I am of the work they put forth, the effort they gave. And to make a play on the 1-yard line, with their backs against the wall -- clear to everybody -- and have it taken away from them … that's hard to express. You don't just put an arm around a guy and tell him it's OK when that happens to him. I'm so proud of the effort my kids gave to win this football game tonight." -- Rhoads, during his postgame comments

Quotable, part II: "I've got pretty good eyesight. The view I had of that gigantic screen in the north end zone showed a player that was not down and our guy with the football." -- Rhoads

The rest of the list:

Season report card: Texas

January, 13, 2014
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As bad as things got for Texas in 2013 -- and they did get bad -- the Longhorns played for a Big 12 championship on the final day of the regular season after rallying following a horrible nonconference slate. Nonetheless, 8-5 isn’t going to get it done in Austin, Texas.

Offense: C

The Longhorns offense was average in pretty much every area except running the ball. UT was third in the Big 12 with 196.2 rushing yards per game thanks to a deep group of ball-carriers. Johnathan Gray is one of the Big 12’s top running backs and his injury against West Virginia was a bigger loss than most realize as the Longhorns lost three of their final four games after his injury. They had won six straight games before Gray was hurt. Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron are solid runners in their own right and give the Longhorns quality running back depth.

UT’s quarterback play was terrific at times, like the Red River Rivalry win over Oklahoma, and horrible at other times, like the Longhorns' blowout losses to Baylor and Oregon. Case McCoy brought confidence and moxie but was too confident at times and hurt his team with some of this poor decision-making and throws. Outside of Jaxon Shipley, UT’s receivers struggled to be consistent and explosive for much of the season.

The Longhorns' offensive line was solid, allowing a sack just 3.6 percent of the time quarterbacks dropped back to pass, ranking second in the Big 12, and paving the way for their bevy of running backs.

Defense: C

Much like the offense, the defense wasn’t great at much of anything with the exception of getting to the quarterback. Texas finished first in the Big 12 with 39 sacks thanks to 23 combined sacks from Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat (13) and his opposite defensive end Cedric Reed (10).

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Will Smith
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsJohnathan Gray and the Longhorns finished the 2013 season 8-5 after losing to Oregon in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
The defensive line was great at times and subpar at other times. The lack of consistency killed the team and made the entire defense just as inconsistent. When its defensive front played well, however, the defense was much tougher to handle. Safety Adrian Phillips, linebacker Dalton Santos and linebacker Steve Edmond all finished among the top five on the squad in tackles and were active defenders. But the Longhorns didn’t seem to have many difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball.

In UT’s five losses the defense allowed 36.4 points per game, 497 yards per game, 6.3 yards per play, and 2.4 points per drive. Ugly numbers for a team with the talent the Longhorns possessed. Injuries played a role in the defense’s struggles but talent wasn’t the issue as it was clear the unit improved when Greg Robinson took over and simplified the system.

Special Teams: B-

Anthony Fera was the clear bright spot among an average group of special teams units. He handled the place kicking and punting and did both well for the Longhorns. Daje Johnson was a scary threat on kickoff and punt returns with his speed but didn’t rank among the Big 12’s best in either category.

Overall: B-

The Longhorns won eight games and competed for a Big 12 championship during a season that will be remembered for its faults. They could have, and should have, been better but they did dominate an OU team that defeated Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl and had one of the Big 12’s most impressive stretches of the season during their six-game win streak. It was a disappointing season but it wasn’t the complete disaster that some would like to believe.

Valero Alamo Bowl: Three thoughts

December, 31, 2013
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The Mack Brown era ended with a thud on Monday, as Texas fell to Oregon 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Here are three initial thoughts from the game:

1. This is why Brown had to leave: It was a bummer that Brown’s last game had to go this way. But the truth is, too many games like this the past four years are why Brown had to resign in the first place. The Longhorns played hard and played tough. But Oregon’s elite talent simply outclassed Texas’ elite emotion. There was nothing stunning about Monday’s result. Frankly, Oregon could have won this game by a larger margin had it not continually self-destructed in the red zone. This is who Texas has been since the 2009 national championship game. And it’s why the time for a change had come.

2. Texas’ QB woes have got to be solved: The first order of business for Brown’s replacement will be finding an answer at quarterback. That won’t be easy. The Longhorns are in woeful shape at the position, underscored by Monday’s showing. Senior Case McCoy threw for more interception yards to the other team for the second straight game than he did yards to Texas receivers. McCoy was pulled for true freshman Tyrone Swoopes, who didn’t fare any better with one completion in six attempts. Poor quarterback play is the biggest factor in Texas’ demise the past four years. And the cupboard isn’t exactly full in 2014, either. David Ash’s football future remains in question after all his concussion issues. Swoopes is athletic with a big arm, but he has to show a lot more to prove he’s the long-term answer. Who knows, maybe the solution is Jerrod Heard, the No. 6 dual-threat QB recruit in the country, who will be in Austin next fall. Either way, that will be something Texas’ new coach will have to address. And until it is addressed, the Longhorns will have a difficult time returning to the lofty perches of the Vince Young and Colt McCoy days.

3. The eyes of Texas now all turn to the coaching search: Now that Brown’s final game has come and gone, the attention on Texas’ coaching search will ramp up another notch. Texas athletic director Steve Patterson said Monday he wants to have a coach in place within two weeks. Which direction will Patterson go? The Longhorns have reportedly vetted Louisville’s Charlie Strong, Baylor’s Art Briles, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. Any one of those four coaches would be capable of success in Austin. But this is an important hire for the Longhorns. And one that not only will define Patterson’s tenure, but chart the course of Texas football for the next decade.

Instant Analysis: Oregon 30, Texas 7

December, 30, 2013
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SAN ANTONIO -- No. 10 Oregon beats Texas 30-7 in the Valero Alamo Bowl. A few thoughts on the game:

It was over when: Oregon safety Derrick Malone picked off a Case McCoy pass over the middle midway through the fourth quarter, then went 39 yards for the score. The Ducks went up 30-7 on McCoy’s second pick-six of the night.

Game ball goes to: Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who was masterful both on the ground and through the air, throwing for 253 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 133. A month off to heal a nagging knee injury did him plenty of good.

Stat of the game: McCoy finished with 48 passing yards and no touchdowns. The two passes he completed to Oregon defenders were returned for a total of 75 yards and two touchdowns.

Unsung hero: Oregon safety Avery Patterson, who gave the Ducks a 7-0 lead just 68 seconds into the game when he picked off a McCoy pass and scored on a 37-yard return. The senior added nine tackles in his final game.

Best call: The Ducks’ first score on offense came when Mariota, with Jackson Jeffcoat fast approaching, flipped to Josh Huff on a shovel pass and he found the end zone from 16 yards out. Huff finished with 104 receiving yards and a school-record 1,140 in 2013.

What Oregon learned: If Mariota makes good on his promise to return in 2014, Oregon should once again have a preseason top-10 team and plenty of firepower to make a run at a college football playoff bid.

What Texas learned: Nothing it didn’t already know, really. Its Case McCoy-led offense can pound the rock but couldn’t keep up with elite teams and capitalize on opportunities. The Longhorns couldn’t give Mack Brown a satisfying sendoff. Now it’s time to find his successor.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Valero Alamo Bowl, click here.

Three keys for Texas in Alamo Bowl

December, 30, 2013
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The Mack Brown era at Texas comes to a close Monday night during the Valero Alamo Bowl (5:45 p.m. CT, ESPN). Pac-12 power Oregon provides a stern test for the Longhorns as UT tries to send Brown out with a win.

Here are three keys for Texas:

Success on the ground. In Oregon’s two losses, to Arizona and Stanford, the Ducks allowed 289 rushing yards per game. In the Ducks' 10 wins, they allowed 139.4 rushing yards per contest. The Longhorns have a talented backfield with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, so Texas could try to take the Ducks’ explosive offense out of the game by ramming the ball down the throat of their West Coast opponent, much like Stanford did. UT’s chances of success can’t rest solely on the shoulders of Case McCoy.

Slow the Ducks' tempo. Few offenses can operate as quickly and efficiently as the Ducks. Oregon finished among the top five nationally in points per game, yards per game and yards per play. Texas must figure out a way to slow their offense. The best way would be getting consistent pressure on Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota, so Big 12 co-defensive player of the year Jackson Jeffcoat will need to show why he earned that honor.

Big plays. UT’s destiny in this game depends on big plays, both creating them and preventing them. Texas must limit an Oregon offense which had 27.7 percent of its plays go for 10 yards or more, second in the FBS. Ducks running back De'Anthony Thomas is a big-play machine and the rest of the attack is full of speed and athletes. Fortunately for UT, the Longhorns match better than most teams with their athletes on both sides of the ball. Only 16.9 of UT's plays went for 10 yards or more so if the Longhorns find a way to have more explosive plays than Oregon their chances of winning will skyrocket.

Stats that matter: Texas season review

December, 13, 2013
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Each week this season, we dug into the numbers to break down three stats that mattered for Texas. Now it’s time to step back and review five that defined the Longhorns’ 2013 campaign.

1. 45

Once David Ash went down, Texas bought in big to a new identity as a physical offense powered by the run game. The Longhorns’ commitment to that philosophy was obvious in Big 12 play.

[+] EnlargeLonghorn Defense
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsWhile Texas' defense certainly faltered at times, the Longhorns were one of the best at rushing the passer.
Since its Big 12 opener against Kansas State, Texas ranked in the top 30 in FBS in rushing yards and yards per rush. That’s because Texas was rushing the ball an average of 45 times per game, a rate that ranked 14th nationally.

The Longhorns were one of only 11 teams to surpass 150 rushing yards in eight conference games, a feat matched by no other Big 12 program. They ran the ball on first down nearly 70 percent of the time for a total of 888 rushing yards.

Credit a veteran offensive line that played at a steady, solid level and a talented trio of backs, but a lot more people deserve praise for that too. This isn’t the identity Texas expected to accept in 2013, but once it emerged it was embraced.

2. Sixth

When Greg Robinson arrived in Austin, Texas’ defense was ranked No. 115 in the nation in total defense and No. 121 in rush defense through two games. The BYU game numbers were so outrageous that there was really nowhere to go but up for Robinson and this Longhorns’ defensive staff.

By Big 12 standards, Texas was statistically fairly average. In Robinson’s 10 games, the Longhorns ranked No. 6 in the league in scoring, total and rushing defense. They were the Big 12’s best in one key category: Sacks. Texas ranked among the 10 best nationally in that department with 37.

Texas’ final-season stats also show a marked improvement from 2012 in three areas: Scoring defense, yards per play and yards per attempt. If Oregon puts up 431 total yards in the Valero Alamo Bowl, though, Texas' defense will surpass the 2012 unit for most yards allowed per game in a season in school history.

3. 85

Texas’ four losses came by a total of 85 points, the closest of the bunch a 19-point loss in Provo. When you’re losing by an average margin of three touchdowns, you’ve got issues.

Add it all up and you could argue the offense was more to blame: In losses, Texas was 21-of-68 on third-down conversions (30.9 percent) and scored touchdowns on seven drives and went three-and-out on 17. The Longhorns’ 1.16 points per drive in losses ranked No. 96 in FBS. You can’t score fewer than 17 points per game against four of your toughest opponents and win, plain and simple.

But here’s something else to consider: The Texas defense’s ratio of turnovers forced to touchdowns allowed was 20-17. That’s good. In losses? 4-16. When a game started slipping away, the Longhorns rarely got game-changing plays from their defense.

4. 114th

This is no surprise, really, but a narrative has started to emerge in the past week from Mack Brown’s backers: Texas couldn’t win more games because of its quarterback. While it’s undeniable that Case McCoy’s worst game came with the Big 12 title on the line in Waco, what do the numbers say?

First off, McCoy was never going to be the downfield passer Texas coaches needed when drawing up their new spread offense. His yards per attempt average of 6.04 ranked a brutal No. 114 in FBS. He had zero 300-yard games. This wasn’t that unexpected.

What was expected is that he could play caretaker, and he did so with success most of the season. McCoy went 5-0 in games when Texas rushed for more than 175 yards. Of his nine starts, only three came against top-40 scoring defenses.

McCoy was better than serviceable in most starts. He was fantastic against OU. And he struggled mightily against the elite defenses of OSU and Baylor. Isn’t that pretty much what most expected?

5. 6-0

Can’t sum up this season without talking about the six-game win streak to start Big 12 play. Sure, only two of those wins came against teams that went on to become bowl-eligible, but to embark on that kind of a run after starting 1-2 was simply unexpected, especially when those two bowl teams -- Kansas State and Oklahoma -- have had Texas’ number for a while.

During that streak, the Longhorns averaged 35 points per game, gave up 21, had a top-25 defense in yardage allowed, a turnovers margin of plus-7 and a kicker who went 12-for-13 on his field goal attempts.

Texas was one of only 16 teams in FBS this season that managed to reel off six or more conference wins in a row this season. Funny thing is, Brown has now done that five times in the past decade.

Texas coach Brown has a decision to make

December, 8, 2013
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WACO, Texas -- For the second year in a row, Texas players watched and walked away. Another team celebrated a Big 12 championship after beating the Longhorns. Another team got to party at home.

Last year, Kansas State. This time, Baylor. Both headed off to the Fiesta Bowl while Texas is left to wonder where this is all going.

This time, coach Mack Brown had to address and assess the future. He didn't convey much worry about where he fit into the Longhorns' future.

"Just got to keep playing, keep winning," Brown said. "We had our chance to get in the Big 12 championship this year. Guys will go out recruiting tomorrow. Go back to work, try to win the bowl game, get your ninth win and go back to spring practice. We've got spring practice in February, so it happens fast."

[+] EnlargeShawn Oakman
Jerome Miron/USA TODAY SportsTexas couldn't capitalize on first-half opportunities Saturday, such as this blocked field goal attempt.
Back to business as usual. He'll try not to dwell too much on what slipped out of Texas' grasp in this game, but it's hard to ignore. Oklahoma gave Texas a chance to win the Big 12 on Saturday. Baylor gave Texas a first half to win the Big 12. The Longhorns didn't take it.

The game, the day, the season -- all opportunities missed. And Brown acknowledged that, to some extent. He opened his postgame press conference by running through the laundry list of costly mistakes.

What he didn't want to speak to, though, was whether he has decided if he wants to come back and give it another go in 2014.

"I'm not talking about any of that tonight," Brown said. "I'm in the same position I was when I've been asked the other 15 times. We'll talk about the team tonight."

The hard, complicated question isn't whether Mack Brown should come back. It's this: Why would he want to?

That Texas got this far was admirable, considering all the injuries and hurdles. It was truly a crazy, unpredictable season, all the way down to the final quarter of this game.

But does Brown want to do this all over again? Why would he sign up for another season of this?

If Texas president Bill Powers and athletic director Steve Patterson give Brown another season, it's hard to envision a 2014 campaign that won't be just as rough and challenging as this one, if not more so.

The schedule next season is awfully similar, with the marquee non-conference game a showdown with UCLA at AT&T Stadium next September. Lose that game -- to a Bruins program that went 9-3 this season, has serious momentum and began Mack's misery in 2010 -- or stumble against BYU, and we'll go right back down this road again.

Week after week of scrutiny and distractions and fires to put out. A fan base growing more discontent and apathetic each Saturday. Who wants to coach in that culture?

Brown already will be tagged and tarred as the coach on the hottest hot seat this offseason if he returns. The national chatter that he's running out of time will undermine his efforts in recruiting. The doubters can cause the same kind of prove-yourself mentality that doomed former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.

That's not to say he can't win next year. That's not to say that, if Texas struggles early, Brown can't unleash another masterful performance of crisis management and coax his players to go on another run.

But he has coached 50 games since the BCS championship game against Alabama. Texas is now 30-20 in the last four years and one game above .500 (18-17) in Big 12 games. Brown restructured after 2010 around two coordinators who now are gone. If things go downhill from here, is he really interested in rebuilding his rebuild?

Texas lineman Trey Hopkins said Brown still has the full support of the locker room. His players aren't bailing on him. But 10 senior starters will graduate. David Ash will have to lead the offense after missing 10½ games this season with a concussion.

And if you want to go deeper, recognize the hole Texas could be in if Ash has issues. Case McCoy is gone. Tyrone Swoopes wasn't entrusted to contribute much as a freshman. ESPN 300 commit Jerrod Heard can't enroll early for spring ball. Jalen Overstreet moved to running back. Bringing in an experienced transfer quarterback seems like a must now.

Brown will do this kind of math, calculating whether Texas can win with what returns. He wants to win and win big.

He thought the Longhorns could do that this year, and in all fairness, it has been a hell of a season. If Brown had been on this job only a few years, he'd get the injury mulligan that Will Muschamp received at Florida. Heck, he still might. Brown's team fought and overcame and came up short.

Just as important, though, the guy wants some respect. Brown put up with an awful lot this season. He put his pride on the line and tried to shoot down all the speculation as best he could. But at a certain point, when is it no longer worthwhile?

Forget legacy and statues and ego for a moment. Signing up for another year of this carnival would make any coach miserable over time.

Brown will travel to New York this week with Powers and Patterson for the College Football Hall of Fame inductions. At some point, there will be a discussion about the future.

But Brown has a decision of his own to make. He has to search his feelings. Even if he's given the choice, does he really want to do this again?

Five things Texas, Baylor must do to win

December, 6, 2013
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Breaking down five things Texas and Baylor must do to emerge victorious in Waco, Texas, on Saturday. Here are the keys to the game:

Five things: No. 25 Texas Longhorns

1. Be the more physical team: This was the most important reason why Texas upset Oklahoma. It wasn’t scheme, it was attitude. That’s applicable to both sides of the ball, but it’s especially important up front with an offensive line that must get rolling to power Texas’ essential run game. As Major Applewhite put it after OU, the key was “playing you’re a** off.” The Longhorns did that against Texas Tech and need more of the same on Saturday.

2. Limit big plays: In the blowout loss at Oklahoma State, Baylor put up 453 yards on 83 plays. Half of those yards came on seven plays. The Bears gained 30-plus on just two. That’s about as good as you could’ve asked for, defensively, if you’re the Pokes. A strong defensive showing can fall apart with just a few busts, like permitting an easy 50-yarder for Antwan Goodley or joining the many who have let Lache Seastrunk dash 80 yards. Weather permitting, Texas must get a few big plays of its own from speedsters Mike Davis, Marcus Johnson and/or Daje Johnson.

3. Turnover battle: Texas is 96-6 in the Mack Brown era when it wins the turnover battle, including 5-1 this season. TCU could’ve pulled off a huge upset in Fort Worth last week if not for the fact that Baylor’s defense created three touchdowns, two on pick-sixes. The Bears were minus-3 against Oklahoma State. Considering the weather expected for this game, there’s a good chance turnovers decide this game.

4. Challenge Petty: Baylor QB Bryce Petty has been sacked 10 times in his last four games. Texas notched nine sacks in its last game. But it’s not just about takedowns. When a defense gets physical with Baylor’s receivers, Petty’s timing in the pocket can get thrown off and he starts overthrowing. If Jackson Jeffcoat plays his “spinner” role again, can he and the Texas defensive line cause problems for the All-Big 12 quarterback?

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJackson Jeffcoat and Texas' defensive front must hold up and get pressure on Baylor's Bryce Petty.
5. Hang in there: Could Texas have taken Oklahoma State four quarters if not for a pick-six in the final minute of the first half? We’ll never know. Unsatisfied with taking a 21-10 deficit into halftime, the Longhorns got greedy and it cost them. A game this big requires taking shots, but they have to be smart. Baylor can fire off a few scores quickly; it’s what this team does. How will Texas make adjustments and answer?

Five things: No. 9 Baylor Bears

1. Establish run game: Baylor leaned heavily on a now-healthy Seastrunk early last week, giving him 19 first-half carries and a career-high 24. Seastrunk, Glasco Martin and Shock Linwood need to pound the middle of a Texas front that, from an experience standpoint, is basically down to two linebackers and two defensive tackles. Keep an eye on the QB run game, too. It remains Texas’ greatest weakness as a defense, and Petty has rushed for 161 yards (excluding sacks) in his last four games.

2. Scoring explosion: In six games this season, the Bears scored at least 21 points in the first quarter. This Texas offense needs to control the tempo and would have a hard time keeping up if Baylor comes out firing and lights up the scoreboard early. But remember: Against Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU, Baylor scored a combined 20 first-quarter points. The good defenses haven’t made it easy.

3. Make McCoy beat you: It’s a phrase that has probably been uttered by every Big 12 defensive coordinator Texas has faced. And yet, the Longhorns are 7-1 in the league. McCoy has a 10-9 TD-INT ratio, which hasn’t burned him much, with the exception of a three-interception day against OSU. McCoy has had some big moments in 2013 and vows he’s a different quarterback than the gunslinger that threw four picks in Waco two years ago. Still, if Baylor can stop the run consistently and force McCoy to win the game with his arm, the Bears will like their chances.

4. Second-and-long, 3-and-out: No Big 12 team has forced more 3-and-outs than Baylor this season. Texas’ offense has the second-fewest in Big 12 play. Something’s got to give. With how heavily Texas relies on the run, getting into second-and-long and third-and-long will mean lots of advantageous situations for a banged-up Bear defense.

5. Depth needed: We talked the depth up plenty when Baylor was rolling. The injuries that have piled up and finally took a toll against Oklahoma State. The Bears gritted out a close one with TCU despite missing several starters, but once again, the second-stringers will need to step up big when called upon.

Longhorns bounce back to set up big game

November, 29, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- There's no better cure for a 25-point loss than responding with a 25-point victory.

That's not some old Darrell Royal saying or an axiom that coaches have been known to share. It's just a fact. And just when we thought we had Texas and its troubles figured out, this team fought to live another week.

The Longhorns who won six conference games in a row showed up again, keeping their Big 12 championship hopes alive with a 41-16 victory over Texas Tech on Thanksgiving night.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bergeron, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayJoe Bergeron, wearing No. 32 in honor of injured Johnathan Gray, had 102 yards and a touchdown.
"Proud of our team. Proud of the way they fought," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said. "A lot of guys are banged up. End of the year. At least they've given themselves an opportunity to go to Waco and play for a championship."

There was plenty of talk in the past two weeks that Oklahoma State finally exposed Texas and its various flaws, that the six Big 12 wins that came before it were somehow less meaningful or some kind of mirage.

If the meltdown against the Cowboys revealed Texas' thin margin for error, Thursday's victory reminded how good Texas can be when it achieves everything it sets out to do.

Brown wanted a slowed-paced game, not a shootout. Texas had to control the tempo. Check.

He wanted to pound Texas Tech's recently awful run defense. Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown both surpassed 100 yards. Check.

He hoped Texas' defense could force erratic play by the Red Raiders' young quarterbacks. The Longhorns netted nine sacks, including three each from Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed. Check.

"It's not a pretty brand of ball. It's not very stylish," Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite said. "But it's what we had to do."

Thursday's performance was about as close to a defensive masterpiece as Texas could have hoped for. The Red Raiders' No. 1 ranked pass offense finished with 5.8 yards per attempt. They went 5-for-18 on third downs. Tech's leading rusher on the night? Punter Ryan Erxleben, who dashed 51 yards for the first score of the night. Texas' special teams gave up that score. Its defense allowed one touchdown the rest of the night.

"It was a good game. I don't know if it was better or not. I guess you guys make those decisions," defensive coordinator Greg Robinson said. "We played real well here against a good offense."

But since so many will discount the result, pointing out that Texas Tech lost five in a row after starting 7-0, let's cut to the chase: If this is Texas, if these are the real Longhorns going forward, can they do enough to beat No. 9 Baylor?

Ask Brown whether his team played up to its formula for victory against Tech and he'll rattle off the things his team didn't do. Texas turned the ball over twice. Other than placekicker Anthony Fera, a Groza Award finalist who's now 19-for-20 this season, the Longhorns are still a mess in several areas of special teams.

His players were no different. They see a need for improvement. They won't celebrate this win much this weekend. They know what they're up against next.

Preparing for Baylor will require that kind of perfectionist attention to detail. Like Texas, the Bears showed their vulnerabilities against Oklahoma State. They're not at all unbeatable. But they have the respect of their next opponent.

"We fully assume Baylor will win [against TCU] and be right there," quarterback Case McCoy said. "It'll be a game that, as a senior class, we want to go out with a chance to put numbers on these walls and have a Big 12 championship."

The Longhorns made their senior night count. They made the next game matter. They're not done yet.

"We're still in the race," Jeffcoat said. "We had to win this one. This was a must-win. And we have to win the next one."

Texas seniors endured tough run, rebuild

November, 28, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- When Mack Brown introduced his latest recruiting class on signing day of 2010, he did so with great pride.

“I've been asked over the last couple of days, ‘Is this the best class that we've ever had?’” Brown said that day. “We feel like it definitely has the potential to be, because from top to bottom it covers every position and that's a very difficult thing to do.”

On Thursday, seven of those signees will take the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium one final time. Senior Night has a tendency to elicit mixed emotions, a bittersweet cocktail of pride, sadness and sentimentality.

It’s hard to assess this Texas class with anything else but mixed emotions. You wonder if they feel the same. After all, this four-year run was not what these seniors signed up for or expected back in February 2010.

Of the 13 scholarship seniors being honored during Texas’ Thanksgiving home finale against Texas Tech, more than half came from the 2010 class that ranked No. 2 nationally. They signed after Texas won 13 games and played for a national title. The senior class that departed after 2009 went 45-8 in their four seasons.

Today’s seniors made their debuts for a 2010 team that was No. 5 in the preseason AP poll. Expectations were as high as ever. Brown seemed poised to chase another championship.

Instead, this class ended up inheriting the task of helping lead a rebuilding project, one that still isn’t complete. They hope this is their legacy, that their efforts will get this Longhorn program back on track.

[+] EnlargeJackson Jeffcoat
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJackson Jeffcoat calls his Texas career a roller coaster ride.
“To their credit, they would tell you they haven’t accomplished what teams at Texas would want to have accomplished as seniors,” Brown said.

The fourth-year seniors enter Thursday night’s home finale against Texas Tech with a career record of 29-19. If the Red Raiders pull the upset, this group will drop to 17-17 in Big 12 games.

They haven’t been particularly successful at DKR, either, with a record of 13-11 at home in the past four years. They’ve won six conference home games and lost nine.

Most of these seniors been playing from the very beginning. Guard Mason Walters, a 2009 signee who redshirted, and receiver Mike Davis were starters on the 5-7 team of 2010. Defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat, cornerback Carrington Byndom and guard Trey Hopkins are three-year starters. All together, this senior class has combined for 266 starts.

It's a group that, to this point, has endured an awful lot. The first losing season of Brown’s tenure. A coaching staff shakeup. The end of the Texas A&M rivalry. One win and three losses to Oklahoma. No Big 12 championships. No BCS bowl games.

“It's been a roller-coaster ride, ups and downs,” Jeffcoat said. “I think I'm better for that.”

Jeffcoat signed to play for then-defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Case McCoy has been tutored by three different quarterback coaches and playcallers. These Texas seniors received an education in embracing change.

“A lot of things have gone good, a lot of things have gone bad,” McCoy said. “That's part of the game, that's part of life. One thing I know in this game and in life, you’ve got to battle. You can't give up. That's why I love this team. I love the way they're playing. I love their hearts because we haven't given up.”

They know they had Texas-sized standards to live up to in their careers. When a program bottoms out the way the Longhorns did in 2010, everything achieved since has been in the commitment to getting back on top.

There have been high points along the way, but it all seemed to be building toward 2013. Brown believed Texas had a chance to win every game this season. That didn’t work out.

To the seniors’ credit, he said, they didn’t fold after starting off 1-2 this year. They didn’t give in and they rallied to win six in a row.

“They were very, very strong-willed in stepping up with their leadership and telling the other guys, ‘This is our last time now, we’re going to make this work,’” Brown said. “I’m really proud of them. I’m proud of the way they’ve handled adversity, proud of the way they fought through it.”

And Jeffcoat believes the legacy of these seniors is unfinished. They’ll earn a share of the Big 12 title, and perhaps more, if they win out. Three games left means three more chances to get the Longhorns back in the right direction.

“I think we definitely have that opportunity,” McCoy said. “We have the opportunity right now to put our final stamp on it and put it where we need to go.”

Texas’ seniors have had a rough journey. As the end nears, though, they still believe their story can have a happy ending. And they seem to have few regrets.

“If I had to choose all over again,” Jeffcoat said, “I’d come to Texas.”

Big 12 predictions: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
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What an epic disaster last week was.

First, the Sooners blitzed K-State, destroying my first pick. Then Oklahoma State annihilated Baylor, annihilating my second pick. And before the end of the night, the Iowa State Cyclones made me look ridiculous for taking the Jayhawks.

As a result, I went 0-3 for the week. To add insult to injury, Wingnut Drew went 2-1. Now, I trail you guest pickers for the season. Maybe one of you should just take over the blog.

Alas, I fear you all would miss me too much. So I’m going to give it another go.

This week’s guest picker submission, Shelley from Lubbock, Texas:

I grew up watching the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Oilers (yep, I’m old) and West Texas high school football under the Friday night lights. But I love college football the most. Now, I work in the billing office at Texas Tech. After eight years of watching Tech athletes grow and succeed on and off the field, I have become a Red Raider, despite my Aggie roots. Guns Up!

To the Week 14 picks:

SEASON RECORD

Trotter last week: 0-3 (.000)

Guest picker (Wingnut Drew) last week: 2-1 (.667)

Trotter overall: 52-18 (.743)

Guest picker overall: 40-13 (.754)

THURSDAY

Texas 37, Texas Tech 31: There are only four teams in college football whose turnover differentials are negative-11 or worse: Southern Miss, California, Eastern Michigan and Texas Tech. Southern Miss, Cal and EMU have combined to win three games. So, it’s actually pretty remarkable the Red Raiders have seven wins, given how poor their ball security has been. Turnovers, however, will doom the Red Raiders in Austin, as Texas takes better care of the ball and exploits Tech’s depleted defensive front with Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron. Sorry, Shelley.

Shelley’s pick: The Red Raiders jump to a big lead, forcing Texas to play catch-up, which means playing fast, which means throwing the ball … and we all know Case McCoy’s arm can handle only so many passes in one game. Seeing the Longhorns lose on Thanksgiving is better than pecan pie. Tech, 35-17

SATURDAY

Kansas State 44, Kansas 13: One step forward, two steps back. The Jayhawks finally looked like they were breaking out after a landmark victory over West Virginia that ended a 27-game conference losing streak. Instead, Kansas looked like the old Kansas while getting obliterated in Ames. Tyler Lockett has another huge afternoon hauling in passes downfield, Daniel Sams and John Hubert pound the Jayhawks defensive line and the Wildcats run their Sunflower State winning streak to five on their way to the National University Holiday Bowl.

Shelley’s pick: “The Sunflower Showdown” is the worst rivalry name ever. It sounds like a gardening reality show on HGTV. Sadly, the game will probably be as entertaining as a gardening show. K-State, 45-17

Baylor 41, TCU 23: The Horned Frogs aren’t going to a bowl. So they’ve turned QB Casey Pachall’s final college start into a de facto bowl game. That, combined with a slight Baylor hangover, actually keeps this game interesting in the fourth quarter.

Shelley’s pick: Baylor is going to take out its frustration on those poor Horned Frogs. It's going to be ugly in Fort Worth. Baylor, 63-17

West Virginia 27, Iowa State 21: West Virginia QB Clint Trickett called Iowa State "the greatest 2-9 football team in the history of football." After falling at Kansas, it's probably wise for West Virginia to respect any and every opponent. But the Mountaineers have been a different team in Morgantown than on the road. Just ask Mike Gundy.

Shelley’s pick: Both of these teams would really love a reset button. Iowa State gets my vote in this one purely because the Cyclones have momentum in their favor after crushing KU last week. Iowa State, 24-14

McCoy still Longhorns' best bet at QB

November, 22, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Mack Brown doesn’t enjoy postgame press conferences. If he could skip them, he probably would. It’s not that he has disdain for the reporters and their questions -- well, OK, that could be part of it -- he just doesn’t like the answers he gives.

He’s fresh off the field and out of the locker room speech. His adrenaline is usually at a high, win or lose. He thinks the setting leads to too many hastily thought-out answers, to the occasional comment he ends up regretting in hindsight on Sunday.

So after Texas’ 38-13 loss to Oklahoma State, Brown changed up his routine. On six occasions, he responded to questions by saying he needed to review the game film first. He didn’t want to force an answer.

[+] EnlargeCase McCoy
AP Photo/Michael ThomasTexas QB Case McCoy said he plans to learn from his struggles (3 INTs, 0 TDs) against Oklahoma State.
Several of those questions involved Texas’ quarterback situation. When asked to describe the mistakes Case McCoy made against the Cowboys, Brown held back.

“We'll have to look at it on video,” he said.

So Brown was asked again. What about the interception for a touchdown McCoy threw to Justin Gilbert?

“We'll have to look at all of them on video,” Brown said. “For me to sit here and analyze what he did without looking at anybody else, the route or anybody else would be unfair to him.”

With Texas on a bye week, Brown hasn’t had a chance to reveal his findings to reporters. But there isn’t much that needs to be said at this point in the season: Case McCoy is Texas’ quarterback and, right now, it’s only legitimate option at quarterback.

McCoy is coming off the worst start of his senior season, at least by raw QBR standards. His stat line -- 26-39, 221 yards, no TDs, three INTs -- drew a QBR of 29.8. The quality of OSU’s defense improved that number to 65.4 in opponent-adjusted QBR, his second-worst start behind the Kansas game.

The only number that mattered on Saturday was his three interceptions, each one costly. He’s now thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in 2013, all nine turnovers coming in Texas’ last five games. He won six straight games, but those miscues aren't the results the Longhorns expect from their game manager.

Texas’ offensive futility in the second half against OSU -- six drives, 3 points -- has some clamoring for more playing time for true freshman Tyrone Swoopes, who has appeared in three games since burning his redshirt. He’s put up 18 passing yards and 40 rushing yards, with all of his appearances coming in the final minutes of ballgames.

Brown didn’t offer up a postgame answer on his Swoopes-related plans, but the philosophy on his usage hasn’t changed much. He still has a lot to learn. He’s not ready.

And neither is David Ash, who appeared on the sidelines last weekend for the first time in two months. He wore a hat and sunglasses. He’s not in playing shape. He’s not yet capable of a full week of practice, much less a game.

As long as Texas is chasing a Big 12 championship, McCoy gives Brown his best shot at winning. And teammates have bought in to that plan.

“We are all a family in this thing, and I know what Case did out there,” guard Trey Hopkins said. “I know he is the quarterback that we are backing, and I know he is still the guy we are backing.”

McCoy’s response to his poor showing against Oklahoma State was similar to his coach’s. He’s reviewing the tape, learning from it and moving on.

“All we can do is go back to the film room and go back to work,” McCoy said. “What we did, we dug ourselves in a hole. We had bad field position from the get go and just got behind, and with an offense like that and we weren't playing well, that's something we've just got to get fixed because we've got two more offenses in the next couple of weeks that can score points too.

“So me, personally, I have to get things fixed, and we have to be able to score points.”

Games against Texas Tech and Baylor could demand lots of points. Both could develop into high-scoring shootouts. The Longhorns might have to ask a lot of their game manager, and they can’t afford turnovers. McCoy knows that.

“It’s on me,” he said. “My team knows it’s on me, and we’re going to get it fixed and go win.”

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 12 in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsKansas and coach Charlie Weis were finally able to celebrate a Big 12 win on Saturday, ending a 27-game conference losing skid.
Team of the week: Oklahoma State was dominant in its 38-13 victory at Texas. But team of the week honors go to Kansas, which finally snapped a 27-game Big 12 losing streak with a 31-19 victory over West Virginia. The Jayhawks snapped the streak with authority, too, leading the Mountaineers 31-7 at one point in the fourth quarter. Kansas had been showing mild improvement throughout the season but couldn’t string together a performance over the course of an entire game. Saturday, Charlie Weis’ bunch finally did just that, giving the Jayhawks something tangible to build off moving forward.

Disappointment of the week: The Longhorns had a chance to set up a de facto Big 12 title game with Baylor in the regular-season finale. Instead, Oklahoma State handed Texas its biggest home loss of the Mack Brown era. The Cowboys completely shut down the Texas offense, including quarterback Case McCoy, who threw three interceptions. Texas is still technically alive in the Big 12 title race. But Brown has a better chance of being the coach in Austin next year than Texas does of winning the Big 12 championship.

Big (offensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf, Kansas running back James Sims and Baylor receiver Levi Norwood.

Chelf delivered the second-highest adjusted QBR (97.3) of the weekend in college football while leading Oklahoma State to its biggest win of the season. He threw for 197 yards and ran for another 95 while accounting for four touchdowns.

Sims was phenomenal against West Virginia, with 211 yards and three touchdowns on 22 carries. His 68-yard scoring run 28 seconds before halftime proved to be the pivotal play in the game. Sims (914 yards) trails only West Virginia’s Charles Sims (946 yards) for the Big 12 rushing title.

Norwood picked up where Tevin Reese left off. With Reese out with a dislocated wrist, Norwood exploded against Texas Tech with 156 yards receiving. Norwood also had touchdown receptions of 40 and 58 yards and a 58-yard punt-return touchdown.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Kansas linebacker Ben Goodman.

Gilbert had maybe the finest game of his career, picking off McCoy twice. Gilbert leads the Big 12 with six interceptions.

Goodman halted a potential West Virginia scoring drive in the third quarter. He picked off quarterback Paul Millard at the line of scrimmage, then rumbled 54 yards to the Mountaineers' 14-yard line. Sims capitalized on the turnover with a 2-yard touchdown that put the Jayhawks up 24-7.

Special-teams players of the week: Kansas State kicker Jack Cantele and Oklahoma returner Jalen Saunders.

Cantele had never attempted a game-winning field goal before. But when the time came, he delivered, nailing a 41-yard kick with three seconds remaining to lift the Wildcats to a 33-31 win over TCU. Cantele converted his other three field-goal attempts, too, and the Wildcats needed every one of them.

With Iowa State leading OU 10-3 in the second quarter, Saunders broke off a 91-yard punt return TD to tie the game. The Sooners scored 45 unanswered points the rest of the way to rout the Cyclones.

Play of the week: Late in the second quarter of Oklahoma State's victory at Texas, Gilbert intercepted a McCoy pass intended for Kendall Sanders (who decommitted from Oklahoma State to sign with the Longhorns) and then raced 43 yards for his second pick-six of the season. The play put the Cowboys up 28-10 just 18 seconds before halftime, and Oklahoma State was firmly in control the rest of the way.

Stat of the week: Baylor now has six 60-point games this season. The only other FBS team with more than two is Ohio State, which has three.

Quote of the week: “I've warned them, this is different than the Big East. The days of just showing up and playing [are over].” -- West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, after his team became bowl-ineligible after a loss to Kansas

Cowboys prove they're ready for Baylor

November, 17, 2013
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AUSTIN, Texas -- Mike Gundy didn’t own up to it, but his Oklahoma State players couldn’t hide the truth.

Gundy did some dancing on Saturday night. He busted out his famous moves in the locker room after the Cowboys’ 38-13 victory at No. 24 Texas.

It didn't take long for the video find its way to the Internet and not surprisingly, it looks similar to the one from after his 2011 win at Texas A&M.

“He only has one dance,” linebacker Shaun Lewis said. “So, I mean, it’s good to see him do it.”

Gundy had plenty to celebrate. Oklahoma State went on the road and whipped a Longhorns team that was 6-0 in the Big 12 by 25 points, on a day when OSU’s conference titles hopes would be dead with a loss.

[+] EnlargeClint Chelf
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsClint Chelf (10), Desmond Roland and Oklahoma State had plenty to celebrate in their win over Texas.
And that win sets up a whale of a game in Stillwater, Okla., next weekend between the Cowboys, winners of six in a row, and a 9-0 Baylor team that routed Texas Tech 63-34 and should move to No. 4 in the BCS standings following Stanford’s loss.

And even though the Bears were dominant as usual, the question must now be raised after what we witnessed Saturday: Can Oklahoma State win the Big 12?

“I certainly think we’ve got as good chance as anybody,” Gundy said. “We’re in playoff football right now. You’ve got to win the next one to get to the next one.

“If you’d have asked me that six weeks ago and I would’ve said we had as good a chance as anybody, you guys probably would’ve got up and walked out. And justifiably so.”

Why even Gundy marvels at about his team’s turnaround is the fact that, as he puts it, a college football team only gets two real, full practices each week. In the days following the Pokes’ 30-21 loss at West Virginia, his staff recognized that hurdle. You can’t change a season in one week.

All you can do with eight practices in one month is commit to gradual, daily improvement. OSU scraped out close wins over Kansas State and TCU. A solution to its offensive woes emerged in the duo of Clint Chelf and Desmond Roland.

And that Cowboys defense just keeps getting better. This unit, led by defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, knew the formula for attacking Texas. Put extra help in the box. Slow down a Johnathan Gray-less run game. Dare Case McCoy to beat you through the air. Get the edge early and raise the pressure.

“That’s what we wanted to do when we were coming out of the locker room,” cornerback Justin Gilbert said. “We said ‘Let’s shut them up early and let’s play together.’”

The result: The Longhorns scored a season-low 13 points. McCoy threw three interceptions, two to Gilbert. Texas ran for 21 yards on seven carries in the third quarter while trying to rally.

“Coach Spencer came up with a great plan,” said linebacker Caleb Lavey, who snagged McCoy’s second interception.

But we knew Texas was offensively flawed. Is Oklahoma State ready for the Baylor juggernaut?

The Bears spotted Texas Tech a 20-7 lead in the first quarter Saturday night. Then Levi Norwood ran back a punt for a score, Baylor took a 21-20 lead to end the first and never trailed the rest of the night. They scored in five plays or less on five of their first six touchdowns.

Texas Tech briefly put up a valiant fight. But Baylor just keeps rolling

“They’re on the verge of what you would call a great college football team,” Gundy said.

And it seems this Oklahoma State team is on the verge of something special. They’ve played at Boone Pickens Stadium only four times this season. They close out the year on their home turf against Baylor and Oklahoma.

Texas, by the way, isn’t out of the picture but got a startling reality check. A six-game streak to begin Big 12 play had the Longhorns dreaming of running the table and of Mack Brown silencing all his critics.

OSU humbled them with relative ease. Now they need to knock of Texas Tech and Baylor and get a little help from the Pokes -- like, say, a loss to the Bears -- to win the league.

The Longhorns no longer control their own destiny. Oklahoma State does. Baylor does. They put all on the line next Saturday.

“These are the ones that you live for,” Lavey said.

The preparation begins Sunday. The Cowboys know about the hype surrounding Baylor. And they know they can give the Bears a ballgame.

“We definitely want to knock those guys off, especially at home,” Gilbert said. “It’ll be a delightful moment. Aren’t they undefeated? That’ll be tremendous.”

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