CURTAIN CALL #4 Bears Playing Red Raiders on Another Big StageNov. 15, 2013
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
Certainly the venue is bigger. The Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium can squeeze in more than 100,000 people and has even hosted a Super Bowl.
But fourth-ranked Baylor (8-0, 5-0) played on a "big stage" just 10 days ago, blowing out a previously No. 8 Oklahoma team, 41-12, before a sellout crowd of 50,337 at Floyd Casey Stadium and a national TV audience on FOX Sports 1.
"Our guys have been on the big stage and handled it well," said Baylor head coach Art Briles, who was given a 10-year contract extension by the Baylor Board of Regents on Wednesday.
He's calling Saturday's 6 p.m. matchup against Texas Tech (7-3, 4-3) in the Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Shootout at AT&T Stadium the Bears' "curtain call."
Or maybe it's just a warm-up act before next Saturday's showdown against 12th-ranked Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1) in Stillwater, Okla., which was selected for a 7 p.m. national broadcast on ABC and could attract ESPN's College GameDay.
When I asked Briles if him and the Bears are now immune to those kinds of "big stages," like the one they would play on next week for OSU, he quipped, "Next week's game being Saturday in Dallas?"
"We're just playing (Tech). That's all that exists right now," he said. "What we have to do is take care of business this week. And then we'll see how the next one comes around."
That's the kind of laser focus that has helped Briles lead teams to bowl games in eight of the last 11 years. And the kind of focus the Bears will need to get by a Tech team that's trying to snap a three-game losing streak.
When Baylor Has the Ball
Even at full strength, the Red Raiders would have a difficult time trying to contain Baylor's explosive offensive arsenal.
But with them down as many as three defensive starters - defensive tackle Dartwan Bush, outside linebacker Terrance Bullitt and strong safety J.J. Gaines - it becomes dang near impossible.
"That's tough when you lose seniors that have played a bunch," said first-year Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who was quarterbacking the Red Raiders when Briles was an assistant at Tech (2000-02). "But our young guys have to step up. When they're put in a position to make plays, they have to make plays. So, there are no excuses. It's just next guy up."
Baylor, of course, has issues of its own. The Bears lost receiver Tevin Reese for the remainder of the regular season with a dislocated wrist, while running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin are listed as "probable at best" with groin and knee injuries, respectively.
In their absence, redshirt freshman running back Shock Linwood stepped up to rush for a career-high 182 yards on 23 carries in the win over OU. If the other two can't go, it will be up to Linwood, fellow redshirt freshman Devin Chafin and possibly true freshman Johnny Jefferson, who was brought up from the scout team this week.
Reese has been the Bears' best deep threat and leads the country with 25 yards per catch. But Antwan Goodley has stepped up to become quarterback Bryce Petty's No. 1 target, hauling in a team-high 44 passes for 974 yards and 10 touchdowns.
And receiver happens to be arguably the deepest position on the team. Levi Norwood, Clay Fuller and Corey Coleman will pick up the slack at inside receiver, while freshman Robbie Rhodes is returning from an ankle injury and could be a big boost on the outside.
"We're going to have to change how we think and how we feel without Tevin, because he's the fastest receiver in America," Briles said. "You're losing a guy that's, per-catch, the No. 1 guy in America. That's a pretty big blow. We'll have to compensate in a variety of ways, but that's why we have players and that's why we have coaches."
When Texas Tech Has the Ball
Whether it's freshman Davis Webb or freshman Baker Mayfield - it doesn't really seem to matter - Texas Tech will easily be the best passing offense the Baylor defense has seen this year.
The Red Raiders are ranked No. 1 nationally with 408.2 yards passing per game. Webb and Mayfield have each had five starts, throwing for a combined 4,079 yards and 24 touchdowns, but have also been picked off 16 times.
That's been Tech's Achilles' heel. The Red Raiders rank last in the Big 12 with a minus-10 turnover margin for the season, averaging 2 ½ turnovers per game.
"Once you play the better teams and you lose the turnover battle, it's going to be a tough time winning the game," Kingsbury said. "They're young. That's part of the process and the system. You have to grow with it. But at this point in the season, you'd think some of those could be eliminated. If we can protect the ball, it will give us a much better chance of winning these games."
Tech features possibly the best tight end in the country in Jace Amaro, who has caught 88 passes for 1,102 yards and four touchdowns. And six other receivers have had at least 20 receptions, led by Eric Ward with 65 catches for 734 yards and a team-high seven TDs.
The Bears will have a tough time totally shutting down Tech's passing game, but they have to make the Red Raiders work the ball down the field and limit the big plays.
Cornerbacks K.J. Morton and Demetri Goodson, who are both playing at an All-Big 12 level, will have their hands full with Ward, Jakeem Grant, Brad Marquez and Company.
The Bottom Line
More than anything, Baylor has to get over the celebration of that 41-12 win over Oklahoma and not get caught looking ahead to an Oklahoma State game that could determine the Big 12 title.
But that's where I think Briles' contract extension comes into play. With all the whispers, rumors and speculation gone, he and the rest of the team can focus on the one task at hand.
This is a good Tech team, but it's also one that has lost three in a row and could be headed toward a season-ending five-game skid.
Earlier this week, Briles laughed off the thought of this being a "trap" game for the Bears. After all, Tech had won 15 in a row in this series before back-to-back victories by the Bears, including last year's 52-45 overtime win at AT&T Stadium.
"The trap is thinking that it might be a trap," he said, "because when you get into Big 12 play, every game is critical, every snap is critical and everybody's a worthy opponent. You're talking about a team that was No. 10 in America three weeks ago. And they've got the same players on the field that they had three weeks ago."
It probably sounds like a broken record by now, but I honestly believe that Baylor is the only team that can beat Baylor. If the Bears can just avoid the turnover bug - as they have all year - and not get burned too often on defense, they will rack up their 13th consecutive win and possibly inch closer to the top in the BCS Standings.