Texas has improved from a stunning loser in Week 1 in Maryland to No. 9 in the country over the past five games on the strength of victories over three ranked teams and historically good play from quarterback Sam Ehlinger.
Now, one of the real challenges for the Longhorns (5-1, 3-0 in Big 12 play), beginning with this Saturday afternoon’s home game against Baylor at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, will be staying on course, blocking out the “noise” and continuing to improve.
That will be easier said than done. Texas coach Tom Herman said in his Monday media availability that he received 197 text messages in the 24 hours following the Longhorns’ thrilling 48-45 win over the seventh-ranked Sooners last week in the Red River Rivalry.
“With an 18- to 22-year-old kid that’s on probably four different social media platforms, I would imagine that his circle is being pulled in every direction to try to expand,” Herman said. “You need to tighten your circle in times like this, not expand it.”
Texas’ No. 9 ranking is its highest in the Associated Press poll since Week 4 of 2010. The Longhorns have not been ranked this high for their seventh game of a season since 2009.
“We’re banged up — these last four weeks have been kind of a bit of a meat grinder, if you will,” Herman said. “I’m maybe the most proud of how the team came to work yesterday. They came ready to get better, understanding that we’re 0-0 against Baylor this week and that our preparation is what’s led us to where we’re at now.”
Herman said his team is not to the point where winning is an expectation.
“Winning right now is the fruit of the labor of the week of preparation, and it should be celebrated immensely, whether you’re beating Tulsa or Oklahoma, it doesn’t matter,” Herman explained. “Winning is extremely difficult.”
Baylor (4-2, 2-1 in Big 12 play) heads south on Interstate 35 on the heels of a 37-34 gutsy home win over Kansas State that moved the Bears to within two victories of bowl eligibility.
For Baylor to stay with surging Texas, it has to keep the Longhorns from hitting home-run-type plays. In the Bears’ 66-33 loss to Oklahoma two weeks ago, the Sooners averaged more than 40 yards on six touchdown throws while Kansas State averaged better than 47 yards on four touchdown runs.
“We just have to play better,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said. “As dumb as that may sound, as simple as that might sound, guys have to get off blocks and make some plays. We’re not really doing that at the highest level right now.
“We blitzed the run (against Kansas State), we man-blitzed the run, we did a bunch of different things,” Ruhle added. “But it’s not any one guy, it’s not any one thing. It can be corrected, and it needs to be moving forward.”
The Longhorns and Bears meet for the 108th time on Saturday with Texas holding a 77-26-4 advantage over Baylor. Saturday’s meeting will be the 59th all-time played in Austin, the Longhorns own a 46-10-2 record against Baylor at home.
Texas has won three straight games against the Bears, their longest streak since winning 12 straight from 1998-2009.