Does this game really need an introduction?
Texas in 2023
In his third season as head coach, Steve Sarkisian’s led Texas to their best start since 2012, but it hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. The Longhorns began the year with an underwhelming 37-10 victory over Rice. Offensively they struggled in the first half, scoring one touchdown and three field goals, but they turned it around with three third-quarter touchdowns by Quinn Ewers. Defensively, they had a near flawless game, holding Rice to 27 yards on the ground and 4-13 on third down.
Week two was hyped up as a heavyweight matchup between Texas and perennial championship-contender Alabama. Once again, Texas had a slow start (in all honestly, slow first 75%) offensively. Ewers had a 44 yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and two long drives ended in field goals. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Texas really turned on the gas. Three touchdown drives in a row (one off of an interception return to the 5 yard line) put the game away. Defensively, Texas had five sacks, held Alabama QB Jalen Milroe to just above 50% passing, and limited the Crimson Tide to 3.1 yards per rush.
So does Texas have an elite defense, or just a good one? To be determined. Turns out Alabama is fairly “mid” this year (did you know having a quarterback is important?), and they squeaked by with a 17-3 win over South Florida. However, Texas is allowing a 31% success rate on passing plays and 27% success rate on rushing plays (both ranked tenth in the country), so they must be doing something right.
What we do know is that Texas’ offense has ridden the breaks for the first half of every game. In week three against Wyoming, they had 10 points through three quarters and relied on another 21-point fourth to seal the win. Their 33% success rate while passing (120th in the country) is only slightly better than their 30% success rate while rushing (128th in the country). This truly feels like a mediocre offense with spurts of heroics.
Texas players to watch
Obviously any list of Texas players to watch has to start with
Archibald Manning #3 Quinn Ewers. The redshirt sophomore played in ten games last season for the Longhorns, racked up 2,177 passing yards on 58% passing, 15 touchdowns with six interceptions, and 47 non-sack rushing yards. He’s already off to a better start this year with 740 passing yards, a 61% completion percentage, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions, and 46 non-sack rushing yards. As his situational 132.7 NFL pass rating can attest, Ewers is at his when he’s not under pressure and can hit receivers in the middle of the field, 10-20 yards deep.
#Texas QB Quinn Ewers has thrown 205 consecutive passes without an interception, the second-longest streak in program history. The Longhorns are one of only 13 FBS schools to have zero picks thrown this season.#Baylor defense and young secondary are set to face a tough test.— Michael Haag (@MichaelHaag_) September 21, 2023
The next two players are a big reason why Ewers is successful in the middle of the field: #1 Xavier Worthy and #7 Ja’Tavion Sanders. Worthy is a three-year starter for Texas and All-Big 12-caliber receiver. With 23 career touchdowns and 1,962 career receiving yards, the former Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year does most of his damage out wide, though a third of his snaps still come from the slot. He currently leads the team in targets (25), receptions (16) and receiving yards (221).
Sanders is a 6’4, 243lb junior that set the University of Texas record for most receptions by a tight end in a single season in 2022. His five touchdowns were second only to the aforementioned Worthy. In 2023, he leads the team with 22.6 yards per reception, most of it coming in the form of yards after the catch, thanks to a team-long 50 yard reception. He’s also second on the team in targets (16).
Moving to defense, two guys that play up front deserve equal attention: #90 Byron Murphy II and #88 Barryn Sorrell. Both are juniors, but Sorrell has a little more experience coming into the year with ten career starts versus Murphy’s two. At 6’1, 308lbs, Murphy is a big body at nose tackle, and he has the strength to get past double teams to get to the quarterback. He only has one sack so far this season, but he leads the team with nine total QB hurries and has the second-highest pass rushing grade on Pro Football Focus.
Sorrell is an edge rusher who recorded 44 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks in 2022. As with Murphy, Sorrell only has one sack so far, but he is second on the team with eight total hurries.
At their safety/linebacker hybrid position is #23 Jahdae Barron. The fourth-year senior started nine games last season, registered 78 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss (team high), one sack, and two interceptions. He currently leads the team with 16 tackles, and his 79.4 coverage grade on PFF is also best among the Longhorns. His lone interception thus far came against Alabama on their first drive.
For the second straight season, Texas NB Jahdae Barron is leading all Big 12 defenders in defensive stops on pass plays.— Hook'em Headlines (@HookemHeadlines) September 21, 2023
-7 in 2023 (2nd in P5)
-24 in 2022 (1st in P5) pic.twitter.com/DengWN7H0f
The advanced stats like Texas. FEI says they have the ninth best defense and eleventh best offense in the country, but at this point in the year, pre-season projections are still playing an over-sized role (c’mon, do we really believe Alabama has the fifteenth best offense?) Regardless, FEI predicts a 34-21 win for Texas (82%). SP+ is in the same ballpark, rating Texas’ offense as fifteenth in the country and their defense ninth, predicting a 35-19 win for the Longhorns (81%). FPI is the most bullish, giving Texas a 90% chance of winning.
If we’re being honest, this is not a game Baylor should win. Our defensive FEI rank of 63rd is one below Wyoming, and Texas scored 31 against them. That’s our season high, and it came against Texas State. Our offensive FEI rank of 32nd is somehow the second-best Texas has faced all season, but against Utah, the closest defense to Texas, we couldn’t muster two touchdowns.
All that said, this game has the recipe for an upset. Baylor should have no problem finding the energy to come out of the gate and play with intensity in front of a sold-out home crowd. Texas, on the other hand, with their habit of refusing to deign themselves by playing anyone not named Oklahoma, has only three good quarters of offense this season. The opportunity is there; can Baylor capitalize?
Baylor 24, Texas 21.
Statistics courtesy of GameOnPaper.com, Pro Football Focus, ESPN, and University of Texas Athletics.