Football

Texas 23, Baylor 17: Longhorns finish disappointing season in style

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Story highlights
  • Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes, suffering from "dead-leg," accounted for 203 total yards, two TDs.
  • Longhorns defense knocked 3rd-string QB Chris Johnson from the game in first half.
  • Now, Charlie Strong heads into offseason knowing he must show improvement in 2016.

Posted December 5th, 2015

WACO — Wounded teams are always the most dangerous. And shame on anyone who underestimates any rival.

Baylor players spent considerable time in pre-game warmups chirping about how Saturday’s game would be easy. Texas was 4-7, after all. Even with a third-string quarterback, the Bears would whip the downtrodden Longhorns and go to the Sugar Bowl, right?

“We just came out and had nothing to lose,” Texas tight end Alex De La Torre said. “Why not go out there and play your butt off and go win?”

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Running back Johnathan Gray said, “This was our bowl game.”

Texas finished a disappointing season in the most uplifting way possible — by beating 12th-ranked Baylor, 23-17, at McLane Stadium. It’ll go down as Texas’ only true road win of the year, its first in Waco since 2009 and first road win over a ranked team since 2012.

When historians reminisce about the 2015 Longhorns, they’ll simply shake their heads. This was the year Texas had the worst defense in school history, allowing a school-record 5,431 yards. But it also was a group that beat two top-12 teams — No. 10 Oklahoma and now Baylor — and still somehow finished 5-7 overall, 4-5 in Big 12 play.

And for Baylor? Adios, New Orleans. The Bears (9-3) are likely headed to the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla.

“I don’t have an answer for this team. I wish I did,” Texas coach Charlie Strong said. “I wish each and every week it could’ve been like this. But I’m just so happy for our football team and this whole program.”

Baylor quarterback Chris Johnson loses a fumble after a hits from Texas defenders Duke Thomas and P.J. Locke III. Texas recovered for a turnover and Johnson left the game with an injury and at McLain Stadium, Dec. 5, 2015. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Baylor quarterback Chris Johnson loses a fumble after a hits from Texas defenders Duke Thomas and P.J. Locke III. Texas recovered for a turnover and Johnson left the game with an injury and at McLane Stadium, Dec. 5, 2015. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Strong called the upset a springboard for his program going into the offseason and spring football practice. It’s unclear who’s jumping with him, though. Strong is expected to shake up his coaching staff, perhaps hiring a new offensive play-caller as early as this week.

Asked about his future, current UT play-caller Jay Norvell said, “I think we’ll have those discussions and that will all get worked out in time. It always does.”

Norvell made quite a statement in the first half. Shock Linwood got stuffed on fourth-and-1 on Baylor’s first possession, and Texas took over at its own 30-yard line. Chris Warren III ran twice to suck in defenders, then Tyrone Swoopes threw a pass over their heads. Caleb Bluiett raced 57 yards for a surprising touchdown that caught Baylor flat-footed.

The unit touted as #AmericasTopOffense got stopped again, this time going three-and-out. Swoopes’ 18-yard scramble gave UT good field position for Nick Rose’s 23-yard field goal.

The Longhorns knocked out that third-stringer, Chris Johnson, later in the quarter and forced a fumble at the Baylor 26. Beau Blackshear’s unsportsmanlike penalty moved the ball to the Baylor 9, and Swoopes raced in, giving Texas an improbable 17-0 lead.

Where has this been all season long? Texas had a 20-0 lead at halftime as Baylor was shut out in the first half for the first time since 2011.

Texas cornerback Duke Thomas goes up for his first interception of the season against Baylor's Corey Coleman. (Photo by Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Texas cornerback Duke Thomas goes up for his first interception of the season against Baylor’s Corey Coleman. (Photo by Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Even Baylor coach Art Briles said after Johnson left the game with a concussion, “A lot of the game plan is, essentially, out of the window.”

The Bears opened the second half with real creativity, running an entire drive from the single wing. Johnny Jefferson and Terence Williams took turns taking direct snaps.

Everybody knew what was coming, but Texas still couldn’t stop it. Jefferson’s 20-yard touchdown run got Baylor on the scoreboard. An 18-play, 82-yard scoring drive chewed 8 minutes, 18 seconds off the clock, and suddenly Baylor was within 10.

“The Wildcat, I used to run that play in high school, so I know how effective it is,” UT defensive end Naashon Hughes said. “We just had to figure out a way to stop it.”

Lynx Hawthorne, a receiver acting as the fill-in quarterback, dove for the pylon and scored from 8 yards out. Suddenly, Texas’ 20-point lead was down to three, and the defense looked every bit like the worst unit in school history.

Whatever creative mojo Texas had in the first half was gone by then. Swoopes, hobbling on what he called a “dead leg,” couldn’t throw deep, so it fell to Warren to bang away on the ground. The freshman finished with 106 yards on 28 carries.

Texas finally caught a critical break when Poona Ford knocked the ball from Jefferson’s hands and recovered it with 2:31 remaining. But in real hold-your-breath-fashion, the game wasn’t over until Jefferson’s Hail Mary attempt to Corey Coleman went out of bounds as time expired.

The Bears had 395 rushing yards, but committed four turnovers and 10 penalties.

“During pre-game, they were mouthing off on us,” UT receiver Daje Johnson said. “Got the team riled up and we were pretty much ready to play after that.”

As for the future, Strong had a real bounce in his step. He now dives headfirst into recruiting knowing that his third year is a make-or-break season. And he’ll do it with a big win in his back pocket.

“I don’t want to make any promises,” Strong said. “But we have a lot to look forward to.”

[brightcove_video video_id=”4647927705001″ caption=”Sports writer Brain Davis speaks on the Longhorns’ 23-17 win against the Baylor Bears. ” alignment=”center”]

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