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GROUND ATTACK – Baylor University Athletics

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By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider
            With an early Heisman Trophy candidate and the nation’s third-leading rusher in the backfield, Texas seemed to have the edge at the running back position coming into Saturday’s game at McLane Stadium.
            But, in the Bears’ 31-24 win over the Longhorns, UT sophomore Bijan Robinson was the third-leading rusher in the game. While Baylor’s stout run defense held Robinson to just 43 yards on 17 carries (career-low 2.5-yard average), the Bears’ 1-2 punch of Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner combined for 211 yards on 33 totes (6.4-yard average).
            “We want our big people to get in the face of their big people and lean on them, push them and hit them,” said Baylor coach Dave Aranda, whose team improved to 7-1 overall and 4-1 in the league. “We want to feed our backs again and again and again. That was the difference today.”
            If you look inside the numbers, Aranda is spot-on.
While most of the statistics were fairly even – including turnovers (2-2) and passing yards per completion (just over a one-yard difference) – Baylor finished with more than a 2-to-1 edge in rushing yards. Until losing three yards on three-straight kneel-downs at the end of the game, the Bears had outgained the Longhorns on the ground, 234-102.
            Coming back from a double-digit second-half deficit, Baylor’s rushing attack grinded out 104 yards on 15 carries in three-straight touchdown drives, capped by a 32-yard TD run by Smith that might have been the play of the game.
            “I feel like we have some weapons as well,” said Smith, who picked up 145 yards on 21 carries, running his season total to 930 yards and 11 TDs. “We wanted to prove we’ve got some weapons in the backfield and we can play bully ball the same way (Robinson) does.”
            That’s the thing, this is no longer strictly a Thunder and Lightning attack, where Smith runs through people and Ebner flies by them. Smith “pulled out a few moves out of Trestan’s book” on that nifty 32-yard TD run, spinning away from a UT defender at the line, and Ebner lowered his head to run over cornerback Darion Dunn on the go-ahead TD drive.
            “He’s developed and grown into a completely different runner,” Smith said of Ebner, who finished with 66 yards on 12 carries. “He’s not the looking-for-a-big-play type dude anymore. He’s more like, ‘Hey, let me get more efficient yards. I’m going to go through that hole and be my own blocker.”’
            And while Smith paid homage to Ebner for his spin move, senior safety Jalen Pitre said “he’s worked on that.”
            “It was good to see it work in a game and seeing him be successful with that,” Pitre said. “It was fun to watch.”
            Having played alongside him last season when Smith was a starting linebacker, Pitre said, “we knew the type of player he is.”
            “He’s the truth, he’s the standard,” Pitre said of Smith. “He’s always going to be that tough guy. He’s always trying to find ways to get better.”
            After switching from linebacker back to running back in the last week of spring football, Smith said he went into the season opener against Texas State knowing “I could be a downhill runner.” But, he’s become more physical and much more confident eight games into his new role.
            Saying he was “in yellow” for that first game, meaning he was playing cautiously and thinking too much, Smith said, “Now, I’m full green, playing behind my pads. The difference from Texas State to now is my ability to use all of my strength to my advantage.”
            Still, he enjoys showing his flashy side as well. Once he spun away from the first defender on his TD run, Smith reversed field, found a crease on the right side and then beat safety B.J. Foster to the far pylon.
            “Thankful for the moves (Ebner) showed me,” he said. “It’s nice to go out there and do something else instead of going through people.”
            On the other side, Robinson was struggling to get any footing all day. The sophomore running back had just 15 yards on seven carries in the first half, and his long run of nine yards came with seven minutes left in the game.
            “I feel like the coaches showed us great tape on him and what he was able to do, especially in the open field,” Pitre said of Robinson, who came in averaging 132 yards per game, including a career-high of 216 three weeks ago against TCU.
 “But, they emphasized gap integrity, and then when he does break the line, that we’re all running to the ball. You add those two, it’s very hard for a running break to break those long runs and get the momentum they need to get the offensive line going.”
Of course, Robinson is not the first running back to have an off day against Baylor’s defense.
West Virginia’s Leddie Brown has had back-to-back 100-yard games in wins over TCU and Iowa State after netting just 44 yards on 12 carries against the Bears, while BYU’s Tyler Allgeier has bounced back from a tough day in Waco (15 carries, 33 yards) to rush for a combined 457 yards and eight TDs in wins over Washington State and Virginia.
Against Texas, Aranda said the defense line “played the run really well.”
“We’ve talked before about cars and trucks and all that,” Aranda said. “They did a lot of the heavy lifting today. A lot of them had double teams, a lot of them were pushing weight.”
 After moving up in the polls – 13th in the AFCA coaches’ rankings and 14th by the Associated Press – Baylor will face TCU (3-5, 1-4) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs are coming off a 31-12 road loss at Kansas State and have dropped five of their last six.
 





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