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Baylor vs. Texas Preview/Prediction Thread

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The Bears go down to Austin as a two-TD favorite and with ill intent. Will they make 5-0 at the expense of Charlie Strong's Texas Longhorns?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
at
7/6 BAYLOR (4-0, 1-0) at NR/RV TEXAS (2-2, 1-0)
Oct. 4, 2014 | 2:30 p.m. CT
Austin, Texas | DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium (100,119)

TV: ABC
Listen (FREE) | Gametracker Gametracker | Game Notes Notes | Tickets Gameday Central

OPPONENT: Texas Longhorns
ODB GAME HUB:
Baylor Bears vs. Texas Longhorns 2014
ADVANCED STATS PREVIEW:
Baylor vs. Texas
ROLL CALL:
Baylor vs. Texas
FIRST LOOK:
Baylor vs. Texas
ODB PREDICTS:
Baylor vs. Texas
MEET THE PRESS: Baylor vs. Texas
SB NATION BLOG: Two, at right
SPREAD: Baylor -15 (Open: Baylor -12.5)
TV COVERAGE: ABC
WEATHER FORECAST: High Saturday of 80F
BAYLOR UNIFORMS: Road Traditional

SB Nation Texas Preview
BaylorBears.com Preview
Bears vs Longhorns coverage

Injury/Suspension News:

In the First Look linked above, I detailed the issues (some self-inflicted) Texas has faced this season dealing with suspensions, dismissals, and injuries.  I won't go into that again except to list the injured or suspended players we won't see tomorrow for the Longhorns, as well as those we might.  Starting with Texas:

Texas: QB David Ash (retired, concussions), DT Desmond Jackson (injured, foot), WR Miles Onyegbule (injured, knee), C Dominic Espinosa (injury, ankle), DB Erik Huhn (injury, knee), OT Desmond Harrison (suspended).

One name not on that list is that of WR/RB Daje Johnson, who has been suspended so far this season.  Texas has not officially confirmed that he will play tomorrow, but that's where the scuttlebutt points at the moment.  I suspect that we will see him on kick returns and as a focal point of an offense that needs game-breaking talent in the worst way.

Baylor: The Bears are bringing back everyone who has been injured the past few weeks, including WR/PR Levi Norwood, who claims he will force his way onto the field for returns.  He will join fellow WRs Antwan Goodley, Corey Coleman, and Clay Fuller, all of whom returned last week against Iowa State, as well as RB Devin Chafin, who is reportedly also ready to go.

All Those Wideouts:

Once again the Bears have a true embarrassment of riches at the WR position with so many mouths to feed.  My guess is that despite Norwood's return, you'll see the same group of starting wideouts as a week ago, and the depth chart will look something like this:

OFFENSE
FIRST TEAM SECOND TEAM
WR 5 Antwan Goodley (SR) 16 Davion Hall (FR)
IR 9 K.D. Cannon (FR) 42
Levi Norwood (SR)
IR 1
Corey Coleman (SO)
7 Lynx Hawthorne (SO)
WR 4
Jay Lee (JR) 
23 Clay Fuller (SR)

I'm waving my hands here a bit on who you might see first based only on what we've seen in the past.  In any event, the order might not matter as much as the fact that these 8 will be the ones we see.  Before I post this, I might talk myself into Norwood starting again in his return over Cannon.  Until we see, we just won't know.

Advanced Stats:

Category

Baylor (4-0)

Texas (2-2)

EDGE

Overall F/+ Rk 9 (21.3%)
54 (3.1%)
BAYLOR
Overall FEI Rk 16 (.193)
55 (.044)
Baylor
Overall S&P+ Rk 6 (251.4)
50 (209.5)
BAYLOR
Field Position Advantage 6 (.590) 77 (.486) BAYLOR

I stole the above chart from this week's Advanced Stats Preview, which should provide some background info on why/how Baylor is a two-TD favorite in tomorrow's game.  Neither of the advanced metrics loves this Texas team, though FEI likes the matchup a bit more than S&P+.

Thoughts on the Game:

Much of the coverage devoted to this game here and elsewhere, as well as the discussion on it, has focused on the running game for each side.  I will do the same today because I think it is that simple.  If Baylor can run the ball effectively, Texas has almost no chance to stop our offense consistently over the course of the game.  If Texas can't run the ball, they have almost no chance to generate consistent offense over the course of the game.  For us the run opens up the pass, and Texas needs us to be as one-dimensional as possible so they can clamp down on our fleet-footed receivers without devoting linebackers and safeties to run support.  For them the offense just isn't at a point yet where Tyrone Swoopes can win a game with his arm alone, nor can they compete if the game devolves into a shootout.  No matter what John Harris thinks about himself, they just don't have the firepower.

Because of the above, the most important matchups in the entire game are arguably along the two lines.  Our key will be blocking on the interior against Texas DTs Malcom Brown and Hassan Ridgeway.  Both players have enough size and talent to give Blake Muir and Kyle Fuller fits, and our offense essentially revolves around the inside zone.  If Brown, in particular, is able to consistently disrupt our inside running game, the play action suffers because Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmond, and Peter Jinkens won't have to cheat, and we have to throw the ball more on standard downs to stay on schedule.  That's not what we want to do.  Texas' key is very similar: establishing the run on standard downs.  Texas cannot afford to get behind the sticks in places where Swoopes has to make a play and the Baylor defensive line, which we've seen be quite good this season, can pin their ears back and rush him off his spots.  Whether Texas can do what they need to do-- run the ball-- is a legitimate question, since they haven't done it well at all this season and have what can be described charitably as a depleted offensive line.

Earlier in the week, I said the following:

We're going to do the same thing to Tyrone Swoopes that we've done to so many others over the last 17 games: dare him to beat us down the field and over the top.  That means a lot of defenders close to the line and a lot of man coverage. Sure, it'll probably also mean a few longer passes where someone just gets beat, and if Swoopes connects on those relatively low-percentage plays, fine.  That's a risk we're willing to run.  In exchange, we'll get a lot of defensive three-and-outs, quick opponent drives, and more chances for our offense.  It's so obvious a strategy, both because of Swoopes' inexperience and Texas' predilection toward short passes (they are the worst team in the country in passing yards per completion), that you can write that down in permanent ink.  It's going to happen.

After thinking about it a few days, I remain convinced that this is absolutely what is going to happen.  Time and again we've seen Phil Bennett show what could be called disrespect to opposing QBs that he doesn't think can connect down the field to beat his defense.  You saw it when it was Case McCoy in Waco a year ago, and you'll see it when it's Tyrone Swoopes in Austin tomorrow.  It's going to happen.

The matchup I like best for Baylor in this entire game pits our DL against their OL.  When they lost Espinosa, Texas lost the last experienced starter they had on the OL, to be replaced by a redshirt freshman in Jake Raulerson.  When we line up in a 3-man front, he'll draw Andrew Billings straight-up.  When we're in our base 4-3, he'll have to help on Billings, Javonte Magee, or Beau Blackshear.  On the outside, sophomore Kent Perkins and junior Marcus Hutchins will face Jamal Palmer and Shawn Oakman, respectively.  The former matchup, Perkins vs. Oakman, could be a real problem for Texas in protecting Swoopes' blind side and keeping him clean in the pocket.

My Prediction:

Unlike many who are predicting a huge Baylor blowout, I've said repeatedly this week that although I think the Bears will cover the 15-point spread, I don't think it will be by much.  I have us scoring somewhere in the thirties with Texas somewhere in the teens or low twenties, based mostly on the fact that Texas' defense is actually quite good, while their offense really is not at all.  We'll see strength vs. strength when our offense takes the field and tries to throw against a ball-hawking secondary behind the best pass rush we've seen this year.

As always, the biggest key to this game will be starting fast.  If Baylor can come out and score immediately, silencing the Texas crowd and establishing our offensive will, we could be off to the races.  If, on the other hand, Texas' defense gets a little confidence, we turn the ball over, or their offense finds a way to move the ball, things start to change.  I talked about it a week ago, and I'll talk about it a week from now: nothing is more important for this Baylor team than starting well.  That doesn't necessarily mean the very first drive, but it is imperative for us to score early to take control.

Also, we need to avoid having to rely on field goals for obvious reasons.

Final Score: Baylor 38, Texas 17

Give me your predictions in the comments below and vote in the poll!