Longhorns ignite rivalry with Baylor

Michael Shapiro

It’s safe to say there’s no love lost between Texas and Baylor. 

What once was an afterthought — Baylor finished below .500 every year from 1994–2009 — on the Longhorns’ schedule has become a heated in-state rivalry. 

Last year’s contest in Waco featured an on-field brawl in the first quarter. Texas safety DeShon Elliott, a freshman at the time, mirrored the emotion of the Longhorn fan base, taking off his helmet and putting his fists up at the 25-yard line. And while the I-35 rivalry doesn’t hold the same weight as the Longhorns’ war with Oklahoma, Texas and Baylor have more than enough animosity to go around.

“I remember last year there was almost a fight — the tension was crazy,” senior offensive lineman Kent Perkins said. “I don’t like Baylor, I’m a Texas boy all the way.”

Once known as the Longhorns’ little brother, Baylor has owned the conflict since former head coach Art Briles took over the program in 2008. The Bears finished with a better record than Texas in five of its last six seasons and won four of the last six matchups. And as the Baylor offense set a new standard for offensive firepower throughout the country, Texas’ offense languished behind a slew of unsuccessful quarterbacks and offensive coordinators. 

The two teams sit in a similar position heading into Saturday’s contest at Darrell K. Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium. The Bears once again rank atop the Big 12 at 6–0, while Texas is reeling at 3–4 with a 1–3 conference record. 

It’s no secret Texas’ defense has struggled in 2016. In three contests against top-15 scoring offenses, the Longhorns have given up 48 points per game. They surrendered 50 points to California, 49 to Oklahoma State and 45 to Oklahoma, unable to slow opponents’ aerial attacks. 

Things won’t get any easier against Baylor. The Bears rank No. 4 in total offense with 550 yards per game. Junior wide receiver KD Cannon and senior quarterback Seth Russell make up an efficient passing attack, while senior running back Shock Linwood heads the Big 12’s top rushing attack. Even without Briles at the helm — he was fired this summer for his handling of players’ misconduct — the Bears have continued their offensive onslaught under head coach Jim Grobe.

“It’s been just amazing to watch how that program has really turned it on and come on strong the last few years,” Texas head coach Charlie Strong said. “[Grobe] hasn’t tried to change anything. He just came in and has a way of getting guys ready to go play.”

Briles’ imprint will be evident on the other side of the ball as well. Longhorn offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert comes from the Briles school of spread offenses with a system predicated on spacing and tempo. And with Texas averaging over 36 points per game, Gilbert looks to have installed his own version of Baylor-lite on the 40 Acres. 

Texas now sits three games from the top of the Big 12 with little chance to win the conference. But with a rivalry game looming on Saturday, the Longhorns say they’re as ready as ever to take down their conference foe.

“There’s that sense of pride that you want to be the best team in Texas,” senior safety Dylan Haines said. “There’s definitely a certain energy around this game that you don’t get with other games.”