Opponent: Baylor Bears
Last Year's Record: 11-2, 8-1
Coach: Art Briles
Game 12: November 29th (Arlington)
1. What a Run. Seriously, Baylor's just been on a fantastic run over the course of the last few years and the best thing that Art Briles has done is that he hasn't let up off the gas. It is really hard to bring a football program from the bottom to the top, it's the reason why most college football fans have so much reverence for a guy like Bill Snyder, who just knows how to win. Briles is working his way into that category (at least for me). Briles really has been fantastic and I don't think the flirting with Texas last year was really genuine for Briles. I'm sure he was talked to about the opening, but he has never struck me as a guy that's looking to leap-frog from one job to another. He pretty much has whatever he wants in Waco. Don't get me wrong, he has his faults, and he has taken some risks with some players, but generally speaking, I think those are the rare exceptions rather than the rule.
2. The Offense is Going to be Spectacular. That's not really an overstatement and it would definitely not surprise me at all to see Baylor be as balanced as ever and as high-flying as ever. We know all of the names, QB Bryce Petty throwing bombs, RB Shock Linwood and RB Devin Chafin, carrying the rock, with Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman looking to make significant impacts catching the ball. Spencer Drango will anchor a really terrific offensive line and if I had to pick a weakness of Baylor's offense, it would be the sacks allowed by the offensive line is a bit surprising, allowing 22 sacks last year, which is really good, but it does speak to the type of offense that Baylor runs, which means that Petty has to hold onto the ball a bit longer to get the ball down the field. In other words, I think the offensive line is good enough to allow even less, but the stress of holding onto the ball just can't be dismissed. Again, this is a minor quibble, the Baylor offense is fantastic.
3. Don't Be Surprised. The Baylor defense was equally as fantastic, 28th in the nation overall, 38th in rushing defense and 34th in passing defense. The one glimmer of hope for opposing teams is that Baylor replaces 7 starters from last year's team with only 4 starters returning. There are still some talented players returning, Shawn Oakman and Bryce Hager are probably the two best players, but three of the top four tacklers from last year are gone, Ahmad Dixon, Eddie Lackey, and Sam Holl. There is also a lot of production lost at pressuring opposing offenses as Lackey, Chris McAllister and Holl accounted for 34.5 of the 99 tackles for loss last year (there's more that's gone as well, but that's three that were in double-figures). It seems unlikely that Baylor could repeat that type of performance, but I was really wrong last year thinking that they wouldn't be able to make that sort of jump defensively. Remember, they were 123rd in total defense in 2012 and they jumped to 28th in just one year. That's just remarkable.
4. Let's Talk Skill Positions. Antwan Goodley was really fantastic last year and at 5'11" and 225 pounds he stretched the defense. Those measurements are really uncommon for a guy that averages 18 yards a catch and over 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns. There doesn't seem to be much doubt that Goodley will do this again, or at least for me. Baylor will have to replace another deep threat, Tevin Reese who did average over 22 yards a catch and had 8 touchdowns. Still, Baylor will have plenty of help with Corey Coleman and Clay Fuller (who had a minor camp injury) that will expect to fill the spots. The one thing that I noticed about Baylor last year is that they pretty much just run 5 receivers and those guys just run and run. They don't rely on back-ups all that much. You wouldn't think there would be much of a dropoff with Shock Linwood taking over for Lache Seastrunk as Linwood averaged almost 75 yards a game as a freshman. As an aside, anyone know why Seastrunk didn't get drafted? That seems odd for a guy that declared a year early. I'd also think that the cupboard is pretty stocked at running back as well with Devin Chafin and Johnny Jefferson in the ranks.
5. End Result. I just have no idea what to think about the defense and if they can sustain that level of success. That group really did lose a ton of playmakers and those guys are special and unique for a reason. I've never bought the idea that guys will automatically be better. For example, Kerry Hyder was and is really unique and a terrific player for Texas Tech. Texas Tech will not automatically replace his production and I'm not about to go on the record and say that whoever fills in for Hyder will be an upgrade because that's disingenuous. What I hope with Texas Tech is that the sum of parts that Texas Tech recruited will help make up the loss of Hyder and Dartwan Bush and Dennell Wesley. I'm not really that sure what to expect of that Baylor defense, although there are some really productive players that do return, it seems really tough to maintain that level of defensive success, 28th overall. The other thought was that Baylor showed some weakness when some players were injured late in the year, so it makes me think that depth might still an issue. But then again, I'm the guy that really doubted that Baylor could make that big of a jump last year and I couldn't have been more wrong, almost 100 spots better.
A Few Words From DoubleTFaithful
Ed. Note From Seth: We didn't get a chance to hook up with the folks at Our Daily Bears, but since DoubleTFaithful was busy this past weekend (you know, being a new dad), he helped out with his usual preview.
Bryce Petty. After Petty's debut last season, you can rest assured that he's going to command their offense to be near the top of the country statistically. Petty completed 250 of 403 attempts (62%) with 32 TDs and three interceptions. For comparison's sake, Davis Webb completed 226 of 361 attempts (63%) in only 7 games. I don't need to tell you all this, but Baylor doesn't really throw the ball as much as it seems. But when they do, Petty was fairly accurate (despite a large number of his attempts were far downfield). When he did miss, it rarely ended up going to the other team (only about .75% of his attempts were intercepted). Getting pressure on Petty will be the key to slowing him down as we saw in games versus Oklahoma State and early on versus Tech last season. Also, as a fun fact, Petty had more rushing touchdowns (14) than any running back (Seastrunk, 11) and more rushing touchdowns than any receiver had receiving touchdowns (Goodley, 13). The dude was responsible for 46 touchdowns.
Shock Linwood. Linwood appears to be poised to take over as the number one back for Lache Seastrunk this season. Despite technically being third on the depth chart last season, he was second on the team in rush attempts with 128 and yards with 881. Texas Tech got a good look at what a healthy, featured Linwood will look like in Baylor's 2014 offense. He's fast, shifty, and elusive moving behind their line. He didn't have the stars Sedstrunk did coming out of high school, but if he remains healthy for the 2014 season, he can and probably should surpass Seastrunk's 2013 numbers.
Defensive line. The Baylor defense will be replacing a lot of their defense in 2014. However, they return the bulk of their contributors from 2013 and should line up something like this: Shawn Oakman DE, Andrew Billings DT, Beau Blackshear DT, Jamal Palmer DE, with Byron Bonds and Javonte Magee coming off the bench. This line should help ease the transition of the new players in the linebacking corps and secondary.
What do we know about the Bear offense?
We know that Briles is an offensive genius. From the formations to the routes, to the run calls, the offense is clicking in Waco and should in 2014. Briles takes the term "spread" and really gives it a whole new meaning. In some of his widest formations, the outside receivers are (conservatively) 3 yards from the sideline on each side (probably wider). The standard football field is 53 yards wide. MEANING, some of these Baylor formations are 45+ yards wide! What this does is basically converts any opposing defensive call into man coverage. Zones spread out that wide just don't really work, so they essentially break down into man coverage, and Briles knows how to exploit man coverage. Especially on the ground. When you're defending a formation that's nearly 50 yards across, your outside defenders are taken out of the run support
The offense returns nearly all of the skill players minus Seastrunk and Tevin Reese. The offensive line lose Cyril Richardson, but regain Spencer Drango. This offense shouldn't skip a beat from their 2013 form, and that's a daunting task to ask to defend this Baylor offense.
What do we know about the Bear defense?
Phil Bennett had a stellar unit in 2013. But there are a lot of questions on whether his 2014 defense can repeat. They will be replacing 10 seniors from their two-deep from a year ago. No longer will they have guys like Ahmad Dixon, Eddie Lackey and Sam Holl. The defensive line will be the anchor of this unit, and it may be one of the better d-lines in the conference. Like I mentioned above, this should help alleviate the growing pains with the new faces,
Having said all of that, it's going to take some monumental setbacks on the defense to keep this team from winning a lot of football games.
How will Baylor affect Texas Tech?
This will be Tech's last game of the regular season. It will be back in Arlington (although I would love to see this game get moved back to the campuses and Tech get a bye week on Thanksgiving weekend for a change). From the time this game is over until the bowl game, this game won't make or break Tech's season. Winning this game would be great and would probably point to a lot of things going Tech's way this season. Losing this game, however, isn't the end of the world (and please don't mistake my remarks here to mean that I'm writing this one in as a L) and doesn't mean that Tech isn't a better football team compared to 2013.
Where will the Bears finish?
I just don't see enough holes in this team to question their ability to AT LEAST win 10 games this season. They had a phenomenal 2013 and didn't lose enough to think they can't do it again. They're going to be good all the way around, and any defensive shortcomings can and should be masked by a potent offense. This team may have the opportunity to run the table and fight for a spot in the inaugural playoffs.
From the Spring:
On the crowd:
"I was really impressed with the crowd because we didn't really promote [the game], and then you look up and there are people everywhere. That's a great thing. I certainly think it's evidence of how they respect what our players have done and how they feel about the direction of Baylor football. That's what we talk about all the time to our players is that we have a responsibility to keep the level where it's at and keep finding ways to get better and that's what we're doing."
On if he can see the game being played at McLane Stadium next year:
"I can. And it's going be nice. The thing you got to watch yourself for though is that if you're always looking for tomorrow you don't take care of today. So our job right now is to be the most dynamic, physical, tough, intelligent, and aggressive and determined football in America and that's what we'll focus on for the next four months."
On Shawn Oakman's spring:
"I think the same thing I've thought all spring - we can't block him. And I don't think anybody else will either. It's what I've been saying all along, our defensive line is as good as anyone's in America. He's just one of them out of six or seven that is going to be a dynamic player for us in the fall."