WACO — Unlike its opponent Saturday, there was no New Year’s Day bowl, or any bowl for that matter, on the line for visiting Texas.
But the Longhorns certainly felt like they earned something Saturday as they snapped a two-game skid against No. 12 Baylor and beat a ranked opponent for the second time this season in a 23-17 victory at McLane Stadium.
“Now,” Longhorn head coach Charlie Strong said, “we have something that we can build on and we can take into the offseason.”
Baylor, meanwhile, saw a potential bid to the Sugar Bowl evaporate one week after its Big 12 title hopes were erased in a loss to TCU.
It was the first time since 2012 that the Bears (9-3) lost consecutive games.
“A disappointing situation for our seniors, for our university and for our football team,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “We’re just going to have to try and salvage the season by going to a bowl game and winning the bowl game.”
Having already lost two quarterbacks for the season, Baylor lost starter Chris Johnson on its third series Saturday when he suffered a concussion on a play that resulted in a fumble and a recovery by Texas.
The Longhorns — already up 10-0 thanks to a 57-yard touchdown pass from Tyrone Swoopes to Caleb Bluiett and a Nick Rose field goal — then stretched the lead to 17-0 on a 9-yard scamper by Swoopes with 1:11 remaining in the first quarter.
Texas (5-7) pushed its lead to 20-0 by the half as the Bears’ nation-leading offense had more interceptions (2) than points.
“I’m really proud of everybody — offense, defense and special teams,” Swoopes said. “Everybody played well.”
But Baylor adjusted at halftime, leaning heavily on the wildcat offense and the legs of former Shoemaker running back Johnny Jefferson, who had 134 of his game-high 158 rushing yards in the second half.
His 20-yard dash with 2:47 remaining in the third put Baylor on the board for the first time, and later — after a Chris Callahan field goal — he carried six times for 44 yards to set up an 8-yard touchdown run by receiver turned quarterback Lynx Hawthorne, which pulled Baylor within 20-17 with 9:40 to play.
“We certainly thought at halftime that we were going to come back and win 21-20,” Briles said. “That was our mission and goal coming out of the locker room.”
But Texas answered with its only scoring drive of the second half, as Swoopes converted two crucial third downs both with passes to tight end Andrew Beck.
A Nick Rose field goal to end the drive put Texas up 23-17, and Baylor saw its two chances to take the lead end in a fumble and an incompletion on a Hail Mary attempt to end the game.
And while Texas may have been left with more questions than answers afterward — namely why it wasn’t able to duplicate the effort it put forth in wins against ranked Oklahoma and Baylor — the Longhorns were happy to end the season on the high note, that of which was certain.
“Anything can happen on any day,” Longhorn defensive end and Harker Heights product Naashon Hughes said. “Every time you go out there. you’ve got to strap up and be ready to play.
“And today we were ready to play Baylor.”