AUSTIN, Texas - After a tough first year in Waco navigating a losing season amid the pandemic, Baylor coach Dave Aranda has the No. 16 Bears right where he found them: fighting for the top of the Big 12 standings.
Just down the road, first-year Texas coach Steve Sarkisian also has his team right where it was handed to him: in the middle of the pack and still looking for that breakthrough victory.
Sarkisian could get it Saturday with a road win against a ranked team that would at least keep the Longhorns in the league title chase. Or Baylor (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) could bury Texas (4-3, 2-2) and round out a miserable October for the Longhorns.
Aranda wants Baylor fans to turn out for an early 11 a.m. local kickoff, although it’s not likely that he needs to ask very hard. This will be Texas’ first trip to Waco since announcing it will leave the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference, giving Bears fans a chance to rip the Longhorns.
"The engagement, showing the passion ... it has been growing," Aranda said. "What an exciting game, I think this for us (is) an opportunity to take that next step."
Baylor played for the Big 12 title in 2019, then fell hard to a 2-7 finish in 2020 during a pandemic-impacted season that was tough on a lot of programs. A win Saturday keeps Baylor at least tied for second in the Big 12.
"We have a lot of guys that were on that (2019) team," Baylor linebacker Terrel Bernard said. "We’re all fully 100% committed to coach Aranda and what he’s instilling and what he wants from us. And I think it’s finally coming to fruition."
Texas has lost consecutive games with fourth-quarter collapses against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Sarkisian has been working hard to sell his team on the idea they are not out of it yet.
And Texas remains dangerous in any game behind tailback Bijan Robinson. He leads the Big 12 in rushing (924 yards) and touchdowns (13).
"We think we can play better than we’ve played all year, and we’ll see what happens," Sarkisian said. "Then we can talk about what was the defining moment or what was the story of the season."
Baylor’s go-to is a powerful run game that saw Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner combine for nearly 300 yards in a win over BYU. On the other side, Texas has surrendered an average of 296 yards rushing in its three losses. Texas at least returns linebacker and defensive playmaker D’Marvion Overshown from concussion protocols. He left the Oct. 16 game against Oklahoma State in the first half.
Casey Thompson had his first poor game as a starter against Oklahoma State when he threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a momentum-changing touchdown. Texas managed only one yard of offense in the fourth quarter in that game. Gerry Bohanon, meanwhile, keeps gaining confidence every week. He’s thrown 12 touchdowns for Baylor against one interception this season.
FAST START ...
Texas struggles late, but the Longhorns do start fast. Over the last five games, Texas has outscored opponents 82-23 in the first quarter. That includes four touchdowns on the opening drive. But the Longhorns have been outscored 55-20 in the fourth quarter over that same stretch.
"There is a wave you have to withstand" at the start, Aranda said.
... BAD FINISH
The Longhorns have been outscored 55-20 in the fourth quarter over the last five games. Sarkisian said he’s spent a lot of time the last two weeks coaching up the mental toughness part of the game to help the Longhorns believe they can win late and not get discouraged. Texas players watched "Free Solo," a 2018 documentary about rock climber Alex Honnold’s free climb the El Capitan formation at Yosemite National Park.
Baylor linebacker Dillon Doyle is the first player in program history to record a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a sack in the same game, which he did in the win over BYU.