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October 21, 2012

What did we learn?

As expected, Texas and Baylor were involved in a shootout in Austin on Saturday night. The Longhorns held on to claim a 56-50 win. What does the win tell us about the Longhorns? We break down five key questions following the game.

Five questions following the game
1. Where does the credit go for this win?

Any time you score 56 points, the offense deserves just about all the credit. That's the case in this one, but the defense does deserve a bit of credit for forcing two key turnovers. Without those plays, Texas probably loses this game. Of course, if the offense did nothing with those turnovers, they're all for not, which brings us back to giving praise to the offense.

Baylor's defense is bad. Very bad. But credit to the entire offensive staff and the players for coming out and executing an aggressive game plan that allowed Texas to attack the Bears both on the ground and through the air.

Texas totaled 525 yards of offense in the game, and there was never a feel that Baylor could stop the UT offense without the Longhorns making mistakes. Texas was able to run the ball at will, David Ash was efficient in the passing game and the Bears simply had no answer over the course of four quarters.

Bryan Harsin has taken a beating from Longhorn fans the past two weeks for being too conservative. The criticism was deserved, especially against West Virginia, where Texas tried to force the run against one of the country's worst pass defenses.

If people are going to rail on Harsin for his schemes the past two weeks, he deserves a ton of credit for a terrific plan on Saturday night. It would have been very easy for Harsin to abandon a run game that has struggled of late and get pass-happy against a suspect Baylor secondary. Instead, Harsin called a terrific game that mixed the run and the pass pretty evenly (44 runs/31 passes, 251 yards rushing/274 yards passing). It was pretty apparent early that the Longhorns would be able to run the ball effectively, and Harsin stuck with it while mixing in enough downfield passes to pick apart Baylor's secondary.

Joe Bergeron played as well as he has all year, running with power, showing athleticism and finding the end zone five times while totaling 117 yards on the ground. Johnathan Gray was very good on his eight carries (56 yards and 1 TD). Daje Johnson was more involved (what took so long?) and showed his explosiveness on the game's opening play, an 84-yard TD run.

On the receiving end, Mike Davis let a couple balls hit the turf that he should have caught, but he did catch 6 passes for 148 yards and a TD. That's not bad. Ash finished his night hitting on 19 of 31 pass attempts for 274 yards without an interception.

The offensive line, much-maligned for its efforts against WVU and OU, controlled the line of scrimmage and pretty much dominated the Baylor front seven. It did it without Donald Hawkins, who sat out due to his ankle injury.

There will be much tougher tests ahead, but it was a very good night overall for the Texas offense.
2. Is it time to stop with all the talk of firing coaches?

This certainly isn't a game that's going to go down in the history of Longhorn greats, but it should take a little bit of heat off of the Texas coaches for the time being.

A good number of fans were calling for immediate changes after the debacle in Dallas, but those were never realistic expectations. Any changes to the staff, and I still say those are unlikely, will be done after the season is over and the decision makers have a chance to take a step back and review the entire 2012 body of work.

Texas fans can feel good that their team is back on the winning path and a lot of teams would kill for a 5-2 record. That mark should improve to 6-2 next week. But I wouldn't suggest the Texas coaches get too used to having some distance from the blast furnace.

Texas went to the wire against a Baylor team that's explosive on offense, but very average overall. This is a Bears team that will very likely finish with a losing record.

The Longhorns will pick up a win next week at Kansas, but this still doesn't look like a Texas team that can run the table. Take out the Kansas game, and possibly Iowa State in Austin, and the other games look like a toss-up at best. Could Texas continue to improve and win four out of five (I'm conceding the game at K-State as a loss)? Absolutely. But two or three more losses are not out of the question either.

There will be talk this week and next of improved play and steps being made, but the critics will remain and there's a strong chance that this season looks a lot like last year when the dust settles.

Fair or not, a 42-point loss to Oklahoma far outweighs a 6-point home win against Baylor. Saturday night was a must-win situation for Texas and the Longhorns took care of business, but it probably did little to change the perception of most UT fans.
3. Can the defensive issues be fixed?

Not likely.

Fans heard all week how good the practices were. Mack Brown even said it again just before the game. The players have said how physical this week's practices were.

None of it mattered.

Baylor amassed 607 yards and 50 points ... just another day at the office for a defense that came into the night giving up 450 yards per game, 99th nationally. Those numbers will be worse after Saturday's performance.

This is just a bad Texas defense and there's really no way to spin that fact. There is no quick fix.

Texas notched 3 sacks but for the most part, Texas was not able to pressure Baylor QB Nick Florence. The play of the secondary was very spotty, including Terrance Williams having his way against Quandre Diggs. It's worth noting that Josh Turner did play well in extended action.

The Horns' young linebackers actually played better than they have for most of the season. They weren't great by any means, but they weren't horrible either. That's progress, but Texas still needs more.

Losing Jackson Jeffcoat and Jordan Hicks has hurt what was already a bad defense, and Texas just doesn't have enough talent across the board to make up for their absence. It's even more bewildering when you see teams like Texas Tech and Kansas State put the clamps on the same West Virginia team that shredded Texas a few weeks ago.

Baylor fields an explosive offense, but it says something about the overall expectations of the Texas defense when we're discussing progress being made after giving up 50 points.

Things should look a lot better next week against a bad Kansas team, but Longhorn fans better get used to seeing games like what they witnessed on Saturday night. Texas is going to give up a lot of points to the likes of Texas Tech, TCU, Iowa State and Kansas State ... the Longhorns are going to have to win a few track meets over the course of the season.

4. What did defense do well?

Umm, let's try to find a silver lining in Saturday night's defensive performance for the glass half full crowd.

Yes, Texas gave up a lot of points and yards, but the overall tackling was much better than we've seen in recent weeks. Baylor's ability to spread the field and the Bears' playmakers on offense are going to make some play in space, but Texas did a solid job on getting guys on the ground when the opportunity was there. We didn't see any missed tackles resulting in 70-yards plays like we've seen in other games this year. Progress.

The Longhorns were able to force two key turnovers, which ultimately was the difference in the game. While Texas played a clean game offensively, Baylor coughed up one fumble and Florence threw one interception. Texas turned those two miscues into 14 points.

The Longhorns have had trouble getting off the field all year. The numbers against Baylor are a little misleading since the Bears punted only three times all game, but the Horns were very good on third-down defense in most of the game. The Bears converted three third downs in the fourth quarter (all on one drive), but were 0-fer for the rest of the game.

As we mentioned earlier, the young linebackers played better than they have in most of the season. It wasn't a game in which those guys were involved in any key plays, but they weren't making a ton of mistakes either. Stating the obvious ... the Texas linebackers, without Jordan Hicks, lack experience. What UT fans need to hope is that guys like Steve Edmond and Demarco Cobbs can make progress over the rest of the season. Saturday was a step in the right direction.

After the game, Manny Diaz said he saw things on which the defense can build. His group played faster and tackled better, he said, butt there's still room for improvement. Sounds like a pretty fair assessment. Let's see if the defense can continue to make strides against a Kansas offense that hasn't scored more than 16 points in any Big 12 game.
5. where does the team go from here?

This is truly a team that is going to have to take things one week at a time. If Texas looks past any single opponent and doesn't give its best effort, it could lose any game on the schedule aside from next week's contest against Kansas.

Saturday's win should give the team some confidence. But has Texas figured some things out and started on the path to the upper-echelon of the Big 12, or was the win over Baylor a temporary band-aid? It's hard to say, but it is weird to see fans so relieved over a six-point win over a 3-3 Baylor team that was blown out by TCU at home last week.

Texas will make a minor move up the BCS rankings this week due to the loss of a few teams ahead of the Horns in the rankings. It should be the same next week. But I'm still under the impression that the possibilities for the remainder of the 2012 schedule are all over the map



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