Examining the game plan: Sarkisian hopes to tweak play calling in face of veteran Baylor defense

Matthew Boncosky, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the October 29 Double Coverage flipbook.

When media members voted in the preseason Big 12 poll, they predicted Baylor would finish 8th in the conference. Now over halfway through the season, the Bears sit tied for second place in the Big 12 with a 6–1 overall record.

While the Bears didn’t receive media attention before the season, Texas head coach Steve Sarkisian knows that his Big 12 contender Baylor cannot be overlooked anymore as Week 9 approaches. Coming off two straight losses before their bye week, the Longhorns will have their work cut out for them if they hope to get back into the win column heading into an away matchup against the No. 16 Bears.

“This is going to take a really good week of preparation,” Sarkisian said Monday. “That’s a good football team we’re playing.”

Baylor hired head coach Dave Aranda in 2020, who brings a wealth of defensive experience to the Bears after previously serving as the defensive coordinator at LSU and Wisconsin. With a defensive-minded coach at the helm, the first thing that comes to mind when gameplanning for Baylor is the defense.

The 2021 Baylor defense — returning 10 starters from last year — currently ranks third in the Big 12 in yards allowed per game and second in points allowed per game. The veteran group knows how to work well in unison, something Sarkisian credited to Aranda’s “fantastic job” in implementing a strong culture and toughness in just his second year at Baylor.

The success of Aranda’s defense relies on the Bears playing tight, fundamentally sound defense with minimal mistakes. Additionally, Aranda will throw several different looks at opposing offenses from base four-man rushes to simulated pressures and two-deep coverages. Aranda’s varied game plans allow him to react effectively to weaknesses that an opposing offense hopes to expose.

“If you hurt him somewhere, he has the answer in his toolkit to fix it,” Sarkisian said. “I don’t think you can play against Dave one dimensional.”

Sarkisian’s offensive attack has notably struggled in late-game situations when Texas has desperately needed to move the ball. His insistence up to this point has been to rely on simple concepts that he believes his players know how to execute well, pointing to first-half successes.

That hasn’t exactly worked out in recent losses to Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and Sarkisian acknowledged that, when looking at the tape, his offense is capable of handling more elaborate play calling going forward.

Facing a Baylor defense that knows how to adapt on the fly, Sarkisian hopes to open up the playbook a little more and trust his offense’s preparation to execute. In situations when the perfect play call might be all that’s needed to swing momentum back into Texas’ favor, Sarkisian trusts that his team will get the job done.

“I probably didn’t give enough credit to our players to do that,” Sarkisian said. “I think we need to stay down that course and line of thinking into the fourth quarter, even after we have a couple tough series that don’t go our way.”