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Baylor draws upon lessons old and new against Texas

AP Photo/LM Otero

From 2006 to 2008, Jim Grobe’s Wake Forest teams beat perennially ranked Florida State, and in that first year the Demon Deacons even shut out the Seminoles (30-0) on the road. It was one of the dominoes that led to FSU legend Bobby Bowden being pushed out of Tallahassee. Now Grobe’s adopted Baylor program is heading into a game against a historic but currently maligned Texas program with a coach on the edge of disaster.

“Coach (Fisher) DeBerry used to tell our team at Air Force, ‘If what you did yesterday looks good to you, you haven’t done anything today'”, Grobe said Wednesday. “For us, people probably didn’t expect Wake (Forest) to go in and play that good against Florida State. But the expectations here are a lot higher right now. The biggest difference here is that we won’t surprise anybody.”

Applying the converse to that sentiment, it was against Iowa State that people were surprised by Baylor almost being upended in a 45-42 shootout. Now that has become the pivot point for Baylor: avoiding the dangers of the complacency DeBerry forewarned.

There has been just one game for BU since playing Iowa State. Baylor has had two open dates the past three weeks, but the one game sandwiched in was a 49-7 rout over Kansas. While that was hardly a surprising outcome, avoiding a scare like the one TCU experienced against Kansas the prior week was a positive takeaway, partly credited to how the team learned about itself against Iowa State.

“After the scare at ISU, ever since then I’ve sensed a different focus for our football team,” Grobe sadi. “I think we’re going to be tuned in. I think we’re going to focus on Texas right now. But if we don’t, you’re not going to be very happy.”

One thing Grobe said was a difference maker was substituting key players on defense. Senior linebacker Patrick Levels was taken out and replaced by junior Raaquan Davis while sophomore cornerback Verkedric Vaughns was substituted by freshman Grayland Arnold.

Replacing Levels was pivotal in controlling the run game better. Levels’ size and skill set are better suited to work against the pass. Playing Texas will be a similar task with its reliance on the run game, powered by leading Big 12 rusher D’Onta Foreman. As for Arnold getting the start opposite Ryan Reid at cornerback, Grobe said he loves the competition at cornerback. The best players play no matter their grade classification, and he wouldn’t be surprised if Vaughns doesn’t play much simply because of the rise of certain players.

It’s what separates teams from the pack in the last half of the season. Who learns about their roster the most and who’s willing to make the corresponding moves to reflect that? That’s part of what will help Baylor drive into the 40 Acres with more confidence than the Bears have had on the road against teams like Iowa State and Rice, where Baylor’s had difficulties starting up on the road.

“It really concerns me. One of our problems is we have such a good home field advantage,” Grobe said. “Going on the road makes it that much tougher when you leave our place to go play someplace else. Everybody has trouble playing on the road. Everyone, even Ohio State.”

Despite the Longhorns’ 3-4 record, everyone has troubles playing on their turf. It’s what made pundits think Texas was “back” after beating Notre Dame in the season opener. The last time Baylor played in Darrel Royal Stadium was a bit of a scare too, scoring only seven points in the first half and won just 24-7 despite being favored much more.

As long as Baylor’s learned more over the past seven weeks than Texas has, the Bears should be in good standing before the first playoff rankings are released.

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