WACO – Charlie Strong gathered his team entering the fourth quarter and told them, “15 more minutes, guys.” Fifteen minutes to hold on to a 20-10 lead. Fifteen minutes to avoid catastrophe. Fifteen minutes left in the season.
Texas walked off the field 15 minutes later with a 23-17 upset victory over No. 12 Baylor, ending a 5-7 2015 campaign.
“[The win is] a springboard for the spring,” Strong said. “Now we have something we can build on, and we can take into the offseason. [I’m] not pleased with the year we had. You look at it — we go beat Oklahoma, and then you bounce back and go on the road and go beat Baylor. I don’t have an answer for this team. I wish I did.”
The Longhorns entered this week knowing their season was likely over. The players heard the outside noise saying ‘this game doesn’t matter.’ But the players didn’t listen. They wanted a win over the Bears to boost their pride.
When Baylor players smack talked them during pregame warm-up, it only motivated them. Texas brought the same effort it had against Oklahoma to Waco on Saturday. The Longhorns held Baylor on its opening possession, becoming the first team to prevent the Bears from scoring a touchdown on their opening drive this season. Texas responded with a 57-yard touchdown from junior quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to junior tight end Caleb Blueitt.
The Longhorn defense forced three turnovers in the first half and got in a brawl with the Bears. When the dust settled, Texas took a 20-0 lead into halftime — the first time a team kept Baylor scoreless in the first half since Oklahoma State in 2011.
“We went out there with a mentality like we had nothing to lose,” senior center Taylor Doyle said. “We went out there and played hard. We knew we were going to have to be more physical than them. We knew we were playing a really talented team and so we just went out there and played hard and executed.”
But the Bears would rally despite having to use wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne at quarterback after third-string quarterback Chris Johnson suffered concussion-like symptoms in the first half. Baylor scored 10 points in the third quarter. The Bears scored an additional touchdown in the fourth quarter, but 15 minutes wasn’t enough time to complete the comeback.
The win over Baylor marks the first time Texas has defeated two top-15 opponents while being unranked since 1998. The Longhorns see the positive in the win, despite knowing this is their second losing season in six years.
“[This win] puts the icing on the cake for a season that we know we could’ve done better,” sophomore defensive end Naashon Hughes said. “To go out with a victory like that, that’s momentum going into next season.”
Eyes will be on Strong and what he does during the offseason now that the season is over. The Longhorns look to finish with a good 2016 recruiting class. Strong won’t make any promises for next season, but he said he is confident about the future.
Saturday’s win marks the end for Texas’ seniors. They’re glad they played those final 15 minutes.
“We went out with a bang,” senior cornerback Duke Thomas said. “We beat the No. 1 offense.”