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NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Baylor

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Baylor Survived, Now It’s Time To Thrive

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

SURVIVE

I think we all know that Baylor did not play up to their potential yesterday. Texas Tech isn’t a bad team, but they definitely are not on Baylor’s caliber this year. But College Football, more so than most sports, is not a game where the better team just lines up and wins every time. Football is such a physical, team game that requires consummate focus, health, and everything else to succeed at. This is why going undefeated is so hard, even for the absolute juggernauts in the sport. On any given Saturday, a better team can lose to a worse team.

Dave Aranda was remarkably candid in the opening statement of his post-game press conference, and I think this statement helps give some context for the performance we saw yesterday:

“Going into this game, this is probably the most anxious I’ve been about a game. For us the struggle has always been [focusing on what we can control] and this week was a tough test for that, and I think the game that y’all just saw was a testament to that. There for sure is room to improve in that space. I look back at myself and whether the schedule should have been different since we didn’t have school this week. We got hit by the flu and had 20 guys down at different points this week and got a lot of guys back Thursday. The bus ride over you could hear the noises and realize we aren’t past this [the illnesses] yet. This Thanksgiving the message was eyes on the target, I’m sure families have been [talking about the Bedlam game tonight] which is everything we are [trying not to focus on.] So all of that is part of it, it is a great lesson and great picture of “hey, what you put into it is what you get out of it.” I’m proud, we had guys get knocked around and fight back, we had guys who were playing through sickness. I’m proud of the seniors, all the ups and downs they’ve been through ...”

A team with lesser confidence, team unity, and toughness would not have come out with a win yesterday. Texas Tech averaged 7.5 yards per play, easily the worst mark Baylor’s defense has given up this season. They did it not only hitting some big plays, but gashing Baylor with a handful of 10-30 yard rushing plays, something Baylor has not given up this year. Defense is all about hitting, not just on the tackles but being super physical and sound when playing blocks, and it makes sense that Baylor’s run D suffered if they had a bunch of dudes recovering or playing with the flu.

Playing when you’re not at your best requires consummate mental toughness. We’ve all been there, you’re in a situation where you’re digging for everything you’ve got left and you just don’t think you have anything left to give. But you dig a little bit deeper and find something. That is what Baylor’s players had to do on a down-to-down basis yesterday. And if it weren’t for that toughness, they wouldn’t have won. It’s a lot better to write about how Baylor survived despite a subpar performance than the alternative.

NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The confluence of factors that Aranda mentioned is why I’m not gonna pay much mind to Baylor’s performance against Texas Tech. Between dealing with a rash of illness, distraction of the former associate head coach now being Tech’s head coach, everyone talking about a Big 12 title berth instead of the Texas Tech game, and the weather being dreadful, it is understandable that Baylor did not put its best foot forward. None of that will apply against Oklahoma State.

Speaking of which ...

BEDLAM!

I still can’t believe it. I’m usually a very optimistic guy, but all week I had just resigned myself to OU winning. I don’t know why, I just expected pain. That way I wouldn’t be as sad if it didn’t work out, I guess. And midway through the 3rd Q, when OSU managed to give up 9 points despite stopping Oklahoma twice (yes, you read that right), I just felt that fate was moving against them. I almost went to bed.

But no! Oklahoma State is a veteran led team and they didn’t panic. It was a tremendously fun game to watch, and left all of us happy. Now Baylor gets their opportunity.

THE REMATCH

I think we all remember Baylor’s first bout with Oklahoma State this season. Week 5, both teams were riding high at 4-0, Baylor went up there at night and performed ... poorly. The fun thing about this rematch is, since the game happened so long ago, the teams are very different than they were.

Oklahoma State’s defense remains as great as ever, but their offense has really improved over the season. QB Spencer Sanders looks much better (though still inconsistent), he and WR Tay Martin have gained some chemistry and OSU’s secondary WRs have gained more experience and are giving him more options. RB Jaylen Warren remains as good as ever and is a steadying presence.

NCAA Football: Baylor at Oklahoma State Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

For Baylor, they really have improved a lot on both sides of the ball. When Baylor first played OSU, the offense had not yet faced a defense who played their safeties very aggressively against the run. Baylor seemed a big caught off-guard and wasn’t able to respond in time. Baylor will certainly come out taking deep shots early and often this time. Defensively, Baylor is playing much, much better than they were back then (this past week against Tech notwithstanding). Baylor’s run defense has become a dominant force and they’re holding all RBs well below their usual averages. They’ve been somewhat vulnerable on the back end, so whether Sanders and Martin can consistently meet up downfield will be the big thing to watch.

One thing we know for sure is that both teams are going to come out putting their best foot forward and it’s going to be an extremely high level football game. Points will likely be hard to come by as both defenses are top units led by veterans. Ultimately, we are about to see a title game between two teams who weren’t “expected” to be there—Oklahoma State was picked 4th in the preseason Big 12 poll and Baylor 8th. Both teams will be feeling grateful and playing loose. It should be a great atmosphere. Let’s go!

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