Five storylines for Texas as it plays Baylor Saturday night at DKR.
1. Watch out for Williams
Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams has proven to be the most explosive player at his position in FBS. Williams has eight receptions that have gained 40 or more yards. Seven of those eight 40-plus yard gains were on balls throw at least 20 yards in the air, meaning Williams uses speed to beat a defender off the line. That also means that the defense needs help with a safety over the top. And this is where Texas could have issues.
Kenny Vaccaro, Texas' best safety and tackler, has to play closer to the line because the Longhorns are in nickel most of the time due to linebacker issues. So that effectively wipes him out of any plays on the back end. And that, in turn, leaves three players -- Josh Turner, Mykkele Thompson and Adrian Phillips -- all of whom have struggled mightily, to try. All three of the aforementioned have speed. What they lack is ability to play without thinking too much. They are thinking rather than playing and are a step slow because of it. Against Baylor if a defender is a step slow then Williams is going to go.
2. Tackling, dummies
Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz dodged the question about how many tackles Texas missed against Oklahoma almost as adroitly as so many runners have dodged or gone through the outstretched arms of Texas tacklers. But thanks to the modern miracle of DVRs and a crew at ESPN that can work the rewind and pause buttons an x-box controller, the answer is 16.
That’s a season high. On the season Texas has missed 69 tackles. That’s 11.5 per game. The next worst in the Big 12 is Kansas, the worst team in the Big 12, and West Virginia, the second worst defense in the Big 12, with 52 tackles.
Many of those missed tackles for WVU came against Texas’ next opponent, Baylor. The Bears have the No. 2 offense in FBS and a large reason for that is because they are so elusive in the open field. That does not bode well for a Texas defense that is 99th overall in FBS.
3. Doing it under duress
Before the Oklahoma game quarterback David Ash had handled all the pressure thrown his way. And, quite frankly, there really had not been all that much pressure. According to ESPN Stats & Info, prior to the OU game, Ash had been under duress on 24 percent of his throws and completed 45 percent of those throws.
Against OU, Ash was under duress on 39.4 percent of his throws, completed just 11 percent and threw two picks.
(Duress = Quarterback makes a throw when (a) forced out of the pocket, a defender has a clear path to him within his line of site, or he is forced to alter his throwing motion due to pressure.)
Now, Baylor does not exactly have the front four of OU. The Bears only have eight sacks in five games. But, despite giving up 119 points, they did manage five of those sacks against TCU and West Virginia. So there is some potential to get into the backfield.
Also with Ash having an injured arm there is also the potential for Baylor to try and go after that arm in order to knock Texas’ starter out.
4. Getting Gray going
With the status of Malcolm Brown sill uncertain due to a tweaked ankle and the productivity of Joe Bergeron waning, Texas appears to have made a commitment to get the ball outside the tackles more with Johnathan Gray, D.J. Monroe and Daje Johnson. All three players have turn-the-corner, followed by breakaway speed. And if ever there were a game that speed could be utilized and ever a defense that it cold be utilized against, this would be it.
Baylor gives up 188 yards per game on the ground and has only played one team that favors the run more than the pass, TCU. The Horned Frogs rushed for 275 yards against Baylor and held the ball for 42 minutes.
Texas has the ability to rush for 300-plus, it did it against Ole Miss, and may need to do just that in order to keep the ball out of Baylor’s hands.
5. Filling in
Reggie Wilson knows he cannot replace Jackson Jeffcoat. The latter is one of the better defensive ends in college football and prior to the injury perhaps a first-round pick. But now that Jeffcoat is out, Wilson is in.
"[Jeffcoat] just told me, he said, 'Reg, just got out there. Play hard. And don’t let anything distract and just do your part. Don’t worry about everybody else. Just do your part. And let the rest of the guys take care of their part, and we’ll be fine,' " Wilson said.
Wilson, who has one sack, is not the only one expected to help fill the hole at defensive end. Cedric Reed will backup Wilson and should see his playing time significantly increase.
Texas will also pull the redshirt off Shiro Davis. The freshman is a speed rusher and that could bode well for the defense against Baylor. Bears’ quarterback Nick Florence was forced into four interceptions against TCU due to pressure. Texas has defensive backs, especially Quandre Diggs, who know how to time poorly thrown balls and take advantage of back-foot throws. Davis may be able to provide a few such throws from Florence.