Texas football: 3 Bears who could hurt the Horns defense

Richard Reese Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Reese Mandatory Credit: Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports /

Texas football wraps up its regular season on Friday in Austin with a matchup against in-state foe Baylor. The teams have split their past four meetings with the home team winning each matchup.

The Bears have had an up-and-down season in year three of the Dave Aranda era. After limping to a 3-3 start, Baylor won three straight games in the middle of Big 12 play. They were on the precipice of making themselves a contender for back-to-back Big 12 titles before a 31-3 drubbing at the hands of Kansas State and a gut-wrenching 29-28 loss to TCU.

The 6-5 (4-4) Bears will be going bowling this season, but a year after a 12-2 finish, significant regression is not what fans were expecting.

Much like this season as a whole, the Baylor offense has been one of inconsistency. They rank 39th in points per game and are capable of winnings games in the 30s; However, at its core, this team wants to grind the clock with the run game.

Offensive Coordinator Jeff Grimes runs a wide-zone rushing scheme that gets his athletes on the edge and in space. Quarterback Blake Shapen does the majority of his damage off of play-action looks that are set up by their lethal rushing attack.

When dissecting this Baylor offense, these are the three players that stood out as potential game-breakers on Friday.

Baylor players to watch vs. Texas Football in Week 13

Richard Reese, RB

Freshman running back Richard Reese has been the key cog in a Baylor rushing attack that leads its offense.

Coming out of Bellville, Texas, Reese was a three-star prospect ranked as the 58th back in the class of 2022. Despite enrolling in June, Reese was able to work his way into the backfield rotation and has taken off with his opportunities.

Reese has carried the ball 175 times for 908 yards and 14 scores, all team highs. The freshman had a two-game stretch in October where he had 77 carries for 334 yards and five scores in two Baylor wins. The play of Reese has been a good indicator of the outcome for the Bears, making it all the more critical for the Texas defense to key in on #29.

He has a lethal combination of strength and speed packed into a 5-foot-9, 175-pound frame. Reese is adept at putting one foot in the ground and exploding, which is required from backs in Jeff Leby’s wide-zone rushing scheme. Although he does not have breakaway speed, Reese has an uncanny ability to squirt past the front seven. Don’t expect him to break off an 81-yard scamper like Jase McClellan, but if the Longhorn defense is not careful, Reese could live in the second level.

Despite being Baylor’s best option in the run game, Reese has his fair share of deficiencies on passing downs. Like most freshman backs, he is not a great pass-blocker. Reese often seems overwhelmed and does not have the size to make up for his lack of instinct. As a receiver, Reese is not much of a threat. He has just 13 receptions for 89 yards this season.

Craig Williams, RB

Fourth-year running back Craig Williams is a perfect change-of-pace scat-back to supplement the running style of the aforementioned Reese.

Williams, affectionately known as “Sqwirl,” stands at 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds. He has 91 carries for 530 yards and four touchdowns in what has been far and away his highest usage season as a Baylor Bear.

Williams is the most explosive back in the Baylor offense. He is a very slippery runner who can fit through a keyhole and explode out of it in a flash. Williams had his best game of the season in Baylor’s win over Oklahoma. He went for 192 yards and two scores, including a game-sealing 43-yard scamper.

Unlike Reese, Williams is a guy who can break the game open with a few big runs. Texas will have to be very disciplined in holding their gaps when No. 0 is in the backfield, or they will find themselves chasing his nameplate all game long.

Monaray Baldwin, WR

Sophomore wideout Monaray Baldwin has been the one consistent option for the Baylor offense on the outside. After catching just one ball as a freshman, Baldwin has turned himself into a true No. 1 option for quarterback Blake Shapen. He has 30 receptions for 530 yards and four touchdowns this season.

After a few midseason injuries, Baldwin is starting to heat up to close out the regular season. He has 14 receptions for 198 yards over the past two weeks.

Standing at just 5-foot-9 and 165 pounds, Baldwin does the majority of his work out of the slot. 84.2 percent of his snaps this season have come from the slot, a position where he can use his slight frame and quickness to find soft spots against zone coverage.

Once Baldwin catches the ball, the Texas defense must immediately bring him down. Baldwin is a very slippery athlete who has amassed 46 percent of his receiving yards after the catch. His 85-yard touchdown catch-and-run against TCU is precisely what the Longhorn defense is looking to avoid.

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The one area that has plagued Baldwin this season has been drops. He has a drop percentage close to 12 and struggles to make contested catches when matched up against bigger defenders.

I expect Coach Grimes to get Baldwin five or more touches on Friday, many of them coming with run-after-the-catch opportunities.