Baylor always expects a hostile environment when it plays Texas in Austin, but it could be off the charts Saturday afternoon.
Longhorns fans have been far more vocal and critical than any other fan base as Baylor’s sexual assault scandal has unfolded.
Following Art Briles’ firing on May 26, four 2016 Baylor signees drifted to Texas including Devin and Donovan Duvernay, Patrick Hudson and J.P. Urquidez. Devin Duvernay has already made a big impact for the Longhorns with 10 catches for 273 yards and three touchdowns and 12 kickoff returns for 257 yards.
The Baylor players know they must put all distractions aside when Saturday’s kickoff arrives at 2:30 p.m. at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium.
“Every away game is going to be a hostile environment just because you have fans who don’t want you to win,” said Baylor quarterback Seth Russell. “We’ve got to block that out, and we’ve done a good job of that so far. With it being the Texas game, being a rivalry game, we’re expecting it to be a little more intense than the other games.”
This will be Baylor’s third road game following a Sept. 16 date at Rice and an Oct. 1 game at Iowa State. During halftime of the Rice game in Houston, the Marching Owl Band spelled out Title IX in reference to the Baylor scandal and also formed a star and played “Hit the Road Jack.”
The song was an apparent reference to former Baylor President Ken Starr who was reassigned before leaving the university. Rice later apologized for the actions of its band.
Ranked No. 6 in the coaches poll and No. 8 in the Associated Press poll, the Bears (6-0, 3-0) have done a remarkable job staying focused throughout the first half of the season. They’re also a fresh and healthy team following their second open date in the last three weeks.
But they understand the grind they’re facing in the next six weeks with Texas, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas Tech and West Virginia on the schedule.
“It’s good to have a fresh football team for sure with the six games we have remaining,” said Baylor coach Jim Grobe. “Most of the time you like open dates if you’re a little banged up, but we’ve been pretty healthy and still are. But we know we’re kind of getting ready to go through the gauntlet here with these next six games.”
The Bears will face a Texas team that went from unranked to No. 11 in the nation following its season-opening 50-47 double-overtime win over Notre Dame.
But the Longhorns have lost four of their last five games to fall to 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the Big 12. Third-year Texas coach Charlie Strong was under a lot of pressure to win coming into the season, but his team’s recent downturn has amped up the heat.
The Longhorns are coming off a 24-21 road loss to Kansas State, but they’ve won all three home games against Notre Dame, UTEP and Iowa State.
“The No. 6 team in the country is coming in, but the good thing is we have them at home and we’ve played well at home,” Strong said. “It gives them a lot of confidence. They know how good Baylor is and they respect Baylor tremendously. It will be a good matchup for us.”
The Baylor defense leads the Big 12 by allowing 320.3 yards and 17.2 points per game. But Oklahoma State is the only team the Bears have played that’s ranked in the top 80 nationally in scoring offense.
The Longhorns are ranked 28th nationally and fifth in the Big 12 with 36.1 points per game. Texas has tremendous offensive balance with freshman quarterback Shane Buechele passing for 1,722 yards and 15 touchdowns and D’Onta Foreman leading the Big 12 with 855 yards rushing and eight scores.
“Shane is fabulous,” Grobe said. “He’s got the deep throws, he’s got all the accuracy on the underneath throws, but the thing that impresses me more than anything is his composure. When I watch him play, I’m just amazed that a young guy is that mature. He’ll be a great challenge for our defense.”
Grobe respects the speed of Duvernay who is averaging 27.3 yards on his 10 catches. Duvernay was one of the top recruits in Baylor’s 2016 class before he decided to play for Texas.
“Speed, speed and more speed,” Grobe said. “We didn’t miss on that guy, we thought he was really special and he’s proved that to us. When you watch him run by people, it makes your heart skip a little bit because you know you’ve got to defend that guy.”
After watching opponents torch the Texas defense earlier this season, Strong took control of the unit and demoted defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. The Longhorns have shown improvement the last two weeks in a 27-6 win over Iowa State and last week’s loss to Kansas State.
But the Longhorns had trouble getting off the field as the Wildcats controlled the ball more than 38 minutes behind a running game that racked up 234 yards. Kansas State quarterback Jesse Ertz hit 20 of 27 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 78 yards and two scores.
“I was very impressed by what they did this past weekend against Kansas State,” Grobe said. “I thought they were physical and flew around and got to the football. That’s what you want as a football coach – you want guys to get lined up and play hard, and that’s what I’m seeing out of Texas right now, so obviously (Strong) is doing good things with the defense.”
After Chris Callahan missed two chip shot field goals in a 49-7 win over Kansas two weeks ago, Grobe said the kicking competition is open. Connor Martin and punter Drew Galitz can also kick field goals.
“It could be Chris, it could be Connor, it could be Drew,” Grobe said. “It could be any of those guys, but we’ve got to find somebody to start giving us a little bit of confidence.”
Grobe was unsure of freshman defensive tackle Bravvion Roy’s status against Texas after he missed the Kansas game with an elbow injury that he suffered against Iowa State.
BEAR FACTS – Kickoff for the Nov. 5 game between Baylor and TCU at McLane Stadium will be at 2:30 p.m. and will be televised on Fox...Baylor nickelback Travon Blanchard is among 16 semifinalists for the Thorpe Award which honors the nation’s top defensive back.
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