Baylor vs Texas, Or: Why Culture Matters
For the past few years I have held a pet theory: there are some schools where the program matters more than the coach. Two happen to reside in our own state: Texas and Texas A&M. Both, I believe, suffer from an entrenched sense of entitlement and superiority far disproportionate to their recent results. This leads to (some of) their fans taking pride in ancillary “results,” such as program revenue or crowd size.
Importantly, I do not think this is just a phenomenon of their fans, but seeps into the programs themselves. Perhaps I am way off the mark, but I think that your average player who goes to UT or A&M might have to fight harder to shed the solipsistic attitude that naturally results for many high school football stars—particularly for the caliber of recruit that they are signing. Football is the consummate team game, so even a few egocentric players can make the establishment of a team-first culture impossible.
Tom Herman and Matt Rhule each had to fight to establish their culture. But in a singular sense, Rhule had an advantage: Baylor’s culture had been burned to the ground. Much of its administration had changed. The team lacked leadership and existed in a state purgatory, ripe for a rescue. Do not get me wrong: Rhule did not have an easier job on his hands than Herman did—far from it. But specifically with respect to establishing a culture, Rhule walked into a collapsed building and, after hauling away the debris, could begin work on a new foundation, while Herman discovered a grand palace whose trophy room is conspicuously bereft of recent inclusions.
Herman’s hiring received the plaudits of national media, while Rhule’s elicited much confusion from those same along with frantic google searches from Baylor fans. But three years into their tenures, Rhule has decidedly established the superior culture. The difference between Rhule’s year one team vs year three is obvious; for Herman it is much less discernible. There is little question that Rhule is now recognized as the better coach. Texas fans being covetous of Baylor’s coach drove them crazy once before. It may soon do so again.
Baylor Will Be Ready
After such an emotionally draining loss, it is natural to worry whether a team has enough mental juice to get ready for their next opponent. Thankfully, the schedule ends the way it does and Baylor receives Texas this week and travels to Kansas next week. If it were reversed I’d be much more concerned.
There is one truism that many Texas fans revel in that is actually true: they tend to get your best shot. When Texas players and fans visit your stadium they exude the feeling of a Royal perfunctorily surveying His lands. From the supercilious smirk of its head coach to the casual attitude emitted by many of its players, Texas football—with its massive fanbase, insane revenue, and consistent top 10 recruiting classes—seems to embody the attitude, “I am better than you, but I deserve to be if not.”
Naturally, this haughty attitude can bring out the best of its opponent. I have no doubt that as Texas swaggers into McLane this coming Saturday, Baylor will be ready as ever to add another loss to Texas’ ledger.
*Disclaimer: If any of my friends who went to UT read this, I am sorry. But this is true:
A funny reality in my life is that every University of Texas graduate I have ever met, or am friends with, has been totally great and even self-deprecating w/r/t their fandom. But I'm from a small town, so most of the UT fans I know are not graduates and quite obnoxious.— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) November 19, 2019
What to Watch For
Here’s a smattering of things I’ll be watching for that I think are most crucial to the outcome:
- Can Baylor Get Off the Field On 3rd down? Texas’ offense is 6th in the country with a 3rd down conversion rate of 50.7%. Baylor’s defense is 89th in the country giving up 42% of 3rd downs. Baylor could not get off the field in the second half of the OU game, and its inability to do so nearly lost it the TCU game.
- Can Baylor Reliably Cover Devin Duvernay Out of the Slot? This is highly related to the above point. Duvernay has been an extremely reliable chain mover for Texas this year. He’s quick and tough, so even if well covered he can gain the necessary yardage. Baylor played a ton of man behind blitzes against OU. I’d like to see more conservative zones played against Texas.
- Can Baylor Eliminate Texas’ Power QB Running Game? Texas’ offense wants work around a central idea: from the same personnel (so that you can’t sub guys off the field) they want to be able to both sling the ball around the field and run you over with the QB run game. If Baylor can basically eliminate the QB run game with toughness and sound play from their DL and LBs, they can put more of their resources towards stopping the pass.
- Can Baylor Find One Match-Up On Offense They Can Dominate? Think of playing defense like plugging holes on a ship. If one man can stay at each hole, no water comes in. But if one man has to leave his post to help another, the water starts to flow. Texas’ defense has been vulnerable this year and often in different areas as they’ve cycled through a bunch of injured guys. Baylor needs to hunt for the match-up that can make the first man leave his post which will allow the rest of the offense to open up. Does Texas go overboard trying to shut down Denzel Mims? Look for Thornton or Fleeks. Does Texas finally sit back and play very conservative coverage? Look for Baylor to find one or two run plays they can have consistent success with.
- How Does Baylor Handle the Texas Blitz? Texas, stupidly, blitzes a lot. The problem isn’t just the number of blitzes, but that they are so predictable. Baylor has struggled in pass protection this year. How they choose to handle Texas’ predictable blitzes will have a large impact on the game.
Baylor is better than Texas this year, but Texas is not bad. Baylor will likely give up some frustratingly long drives in which Texas converts multiple 3rd downs. But ultimately I think Baylor’s defense is too good and Texas’ defense makes a few too many ghastly mistakes. I think this game starts off slow as Texas comes out in conservative coverage, Baylor starts to run the ball consistently, and then Baylor hits big plays in the passing game. This is the game where Thornton or Fleeks return. Give me Baylor 31 — Texas 23.