AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas has spent half the season fighting to shake off the recent years of failure with an underdog’s attitude to beat all doubters.
The result has been a five-game win streak and a rise to No. 9, the Longhorns’ highest ranking this late in the season since 2010. They’ve climbed back to the top of the Big 12, but in the process lost their role as underdog — likely for the rest of the season.
Their challenge now is how to keep that edge as the Longhorns (5-1, 3-0 Big 12) head into Saturday’s matchup against Baylor (4-2, 2-1) just a week after a huge win over archrival Oklahoma.
“Winning is addicting, and so it feels good. I like this kind of addiction,” Texas senior defensive end Charles Omenihu said.
It’s a new feeling for this group of Longhorns after three straight losing seasons from 2014-2016 and a 7-6 finish last year. Win Saturday and the Longhorns are bowl-eligible. In mid-October. That hasn’t happened since 2009.
“We understand what’s at stake this week, and every step we take throughout the season makes the next week that much more important,” second-year Texas coach Tom Herman said. “I liked the way the guys carried themselves in the locker room.”
Baylor also looks like a program on the rise under second-year coach Matt Rhule. The Bears were 1-11 last season in the first year of his rebuilding project. An upset win Saturday would be a big leap for a program trying to get back to Big 12 contender status. Baylor has lost three in a row to Texas.
“I told them all the time in camp how special I think they are. I said, ‘You’re believing in what we’re doing, you’re doing it day-in and day-out, without any evidence. It’s just faith right now. And when you start to win, you’ll say it’s all worth it,'” Rhule said.
Five things to watch when Baylor and Texas play Saturday:
Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger and Baylor’s Charlie Brewer were high school rivals in Austin. Ehlinger burst onto the national scene last week with his power running and five total touchdowns rushing and passing against Oklahoma. Brewer is quietly having a good season at Baylor and has developed into one of the Big 12’s most consistent passers. The Bears will need maybe his biggest game yet to pull off an upset.
“They have a ridiculously high-powered offense that can run and throw the football,” Herman said.
INGRAM BREAKS OUT
Texas freshman running back Keaontay Ingram keeps getting a bigger role in the offense. His 13 carries for 86 yards last week both were season highs, but he hasn’t scored a touchdown in four games. Ingram is a big, shifty back who seems close to getting that big breakout game. He could get his chance against a Baylor defense that gave up 250 yards rushing last week to Kansas State’s Alex Barnes.
Has any freshman kicker ever looked more confident than the winking, grinning Cameron Dicker did last week for before booting Texas’ game-winning field goal against Oklahoma? Dicker shook off a few misses from the previous two games to deliver when Texas needed it most. He may never face a bigger pressure moment than that.
Baylor kicker Connor Martin shook off three missed field goals and a missed extra point to kick the game winner with 8 seconds left last week against Kansas State.
“At the end of the day, what was really cool was that it was him,” Rhule said of Martin. “He had the look in his eye when he went out to kick that last field goal like, ‘ I’m knocking this through.'”
Baylor has three running backs averaging 5.3 yards per carry or better. Rhule said he expects to get back John Lovett, who didn’t play last week because of concussion symptoms. Lovett is the Bears’ second-leading rusher with 233 yards and three touchdowns.
Texas hasn’t trailed in the second half since early in the third quarter against TCU three games ago. But the Longhorns have been outscored 28-3 in the fourth quarter the last two games.
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