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Penalties again magnify a Baylor weakness — this time in defeat

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a game more dichotomous than Baylor’s 35-34 loss to Texas.

The first five minutes previewed what could have been déja vu after the Oklahoma-Texas Tech shootout. The score was tied at 14-14 thanks to big plays through the air and on the ground. However, after that initial 28-point barrage, no more points were scored until the middle of the second quarter. Like the rest of the game, that spell-breaking score wasn’t achieved in the traditional sense either.

After Baylor’s defense chased down Armanti Freeman of Texas on a long pass-and-catch play and recovered his fumble, Baylor’s first play inside its own 2 turned into a safety. If that wasn’t rare enough, it was forced because of a holding penalty on right guard Blake Blackmar.

It wasn’t the first penalty on Baylor’s offense, but it was the first of many game-changing calls.

After the safety, the Longhorns responded with a 66-yard touchdown drive in response to Blackmar’s mistake, subsequently going up by eight points. Trying to come from behind typically isn’t a problem for the quick-strike Baylor offense, and that seemed to be the case after a trick-play pass from K.D. Cannon had the Bears in Texas territory almost immediately after getting the ball back.

However — theme warning! — the play was called back because of an ineligible player downfield. The resulting drive ended in a three-and-out instead of the likely touchdown that would have followed Cannon’s shining moment.

Baylor’s offense was flagged a total of seven times in the first half alone. The more important detail: All but one ultimately gave the ball back to the Longhorns.

The second half, even though Baylor scored only 13 points compared to 21 before the break — was a much more efficient display for BU. The offense committed just two penalties. Only Seth Russell’s intentional grounding flag seemed to have an adverse effect; the other infraction was on the opening play of the drive that lasted eight plays.

Arguments can be tossed around all day that the most impactful call from the refs was not reviewing a fumble from Texas quarterback Shane Buechele that helped Texas maintain a lead. However, if not for these penalties and others which weren’t even documented in detail, that controversial call wouldn’t have mattered.

The defense did its job, at least compared to the opening half. BU held Texas to just 12 points after halftime and forced three punts to help the Bears take an eight-point lead at 34-26. More important, the defense didn’t have any penalties in the second half, giving the Longhorns free yards.

This isn’t the first time Baylor has endured penalty-based problems this season. Its average heading into Saturday was 9.3 penalties per game. Only Texas Tech averaged more. What’s different: This is the first time it has had a clearly adverse effect on a BU game.

Baylor’s offense has usually overcome these shortcomings — it has been a problem ever since Art Briles turned the program around. What had changed before losing to Texas was that this year’s penalties weren’t coming in pivotal moments.

Saturday, all that changed, and now a Big 12 representative in the College Football Playoff is in doubt.

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