Last week was a tough loss. It was sure better than last year, but let's not act like this one didn't sting. We, the fans, have the luxury of dwelling on last week's 55-52 loss to TCU for a couple of days. The players do not have that luxury, as the next game up is a daunting neutral-site game with the high flying Baylor Bears.
Besides the Quarterback position, Baylor has either upgraded or remained the same at every single position. They have bona-fide stars at WR and DL, and their other positions looks to be at least solid besides a few substantial holes in the secondary. The biggest factor in this game is that it's being played at a neutral site. If we can carry some of that weird tortilla dirt pirate voodoo magic with us into Jerryworld, we might come out with a win.
OFFENSE: Balanced Spread
A fairly common misconception is that Baylor runs a pure Air Raid attack. They really don't. Baylor's run game is incredibly strong, the splits of the Offensive Linemen are minuscule compared to actual Air Raid offenses, and they utilize a number of Tight Ends. The ground game of Baylor is what their entire offense is predicated around. If they can get you to play them normally, as SMU is here, they can get one-on-one coverage down the field for their explosive Wide Receivers. The dangerous thing about Baylor is the amount of space that players like KD Cannon and Corey Coleman have to work with.
Seth Russell is a serviceable QB, but has yet to prove himself beyond a shadow of a doubt. He's Baylor's most athletic QB since RGIII, but that isn't saying too much. No matter who's at QB, Baylor is going to put up points. They're too good at the other skill positions not to. The explosive combo of Cannon/Coleman is as good, if not better, than TCU's combo of Doctson/Listenbee. Either one of these guys has the ability to toast any team in the country on any given play. The running back duo of Devin Chafin and Shock Linwood is very good as well. Chafin is the power back, and Linwood is the jack of all trades guy.
DEFENSE: 4-3 Over
Baylor's defense looks like a sneaky little 4-2-5, but it's actually a 4-3. The strong side Linebacker simply pushes to the edge of the offense in order to control the edges. Baylor trusts their interior 3 against any interior 3 in the country, and counts on the weak side Defensive End and the strong side Linebacker to hold the edges. They're moderately effective at shutting down the run, but they have some real holes in their secondary that seem to be unaddressed.
Shawn Oakman is the easy choice for a standout here, but the guy that really jumps out to me is Andrew Billings, DT. He's a freak of nature, a physical force, a dominating tackle, but more than anything he's a consistent space eater. Billings commands a double team each and every play, freeing up at least one Linebacker or Defensive Lineman. Don't get me wrong, Shawn Oakman is a good player, but on film he's outshined by Billings every single time.
HOW WE MATCH UP:
Much like last week with TCU's defense, I feel fully confident in saying that the Baylor offense is the fastest one we'll play all year. Every single player they put on the field at a skill position has some serious afterburners. The thing about Baylor is that they don't much tailor their offensive gameplan to their opponent. They do what they do and dare you to try and stop it.
Their favorite run play is a quick little dive. Baylor rarely runs off-tackle, they try to hit either the A-Gap or the B-Gap on most of their running plays. The speed of their offense demands a running back by committee, and oh boy do they have them. Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin won't pile up the yards, but their combined statistics are very, very good. Baylor's Offensive Line are also bulldozers in the trenches. The blocking on this play in particular is superb. The hole opens up perfectly for Linwood, the backside linebacker overruns the hole a tiny bit, and he's able to reach the second level of the defense with a full head of steam. If we want to beat Baylor, these are the plays we can't allow. They're going to hit some home runs. We just can't allow them to bunt us to death as well.
When Baylor swings for the fences, oh man is that swing powerful. They have two of the top deep threats in the nation at Wide Receiver, and several more that have the capability to hit us deep. The play in question really highlights how special Corey Coleman is. This isn't bad coverage. The DB doesn't lose a step with the play action fake. Coleman just beats him by a step, and Russell lofts the ball in there.
Plays like this are nearly impossible to cover. We know it's what they want to do, and sometimes, it's going to happen wether we want it to or not. The Iron-Clad guarantee of the week is that Baylor is going to hit at least two of these deep passes on us. They're too good not to. It's not a question of wether our DBs can cover well, Baylor has proven time and time again that they can hit these passes despite good coverage almost at will.
Overall, Baylor's Offensive Line is the best in the Big XII if not the nation. On this play, Rice brings 4 rushers. None of the 4 rushers could so much as sneeze on Seth Russell. Fortunately for us, Baylor not running the Air Raid gives us more freedom to blitz the QB. David Gibbs normally isn't one to bring heat, but in this case, I think some pressure might just be in the game plan.
The Air Raid offense is built around finding the holes in the flats, or the area 1-7 yards away from the line of scrimmage. Blitzing an Air Raid team is ineffective, because they normally have anywhere from 3-5 Wide Receivers filling those flats, looking for a little bit of space. As soon as the QB sees blitz, he can immediately assume that there's a Wide Receiver heading towards that spot in the defense. This isn't the case with Baylor. As stated before, they want to pull more one-on-one coverage with their Wide Receivers on our Cornerbacks, and render our Linebackers ineffective in the passing game. We can bring the heat this week without having to really worry about a lot of blitz-beating routes like we did against TCU. The question is, will we? We know David Gibbs can be really set in his scheme, but this might be the week we see some variation from the norm.
On defense, Andrew Billings is the run-stuffer.
SMU attempts to go right at the teeth of the Bear's defense. Billings takes a double team, stalls the Center from getting up to the Linebackers for a few seconds, then eats the Right Guard's lunch and makes the play for no gain. I don't know what's more impressive, Billings's move to get off the Guard, or the fact that he can deliver a blow like that standing still. Either way, he's a beast in the trenches, and if we want to get DeAndre Washington involved at all, we need to find a way to block him consistently. Baylor's defense is pretty good, not amazing, but Billings as a solo player is amazing. We'll hear his name called on Sundays before long.
Fortunately for us, Baylor's DBs leave a lot to be desired.
I really like this play for a multitude of reasons. From the very beginning, the SMU Offensive Line shows that Billings can be blocked effectively in the passing game. The slant protection gives the backside Defensive End a quicker route to the QB, but Davis is too quick for him. Davis hits the deep ball to an open WR. In my mind's eye, I can replace Davis, the SMU QB with Patrick Mahomes and the WR with Reginald Davis or Devin Lauderdale and see this being a viable play. The very motion of it feels like a Mahomes Deep Ball Special. For a split second, we can also see another WR wide open over the middle.
Baylor's downfall with deep passes is that their Linebackers never help in coverage beyond about 5 yards consistently. They're constantly around the line of scrimmage, which makes it hard to scramble, but leaves big openings down the field to work with. Mark my words, no matter who starts at Cornerback and Safety for the Baylor Bears, we will hit several deep passes on them based on Baylor's DC's scheme. It's great for defending shorter route combinations, but really struggles on the back end against experienced offensive skill position players.
If Baylor goes man coverage on us like they do here against Rice, it'll be a track meet of a day. Baylor is a fast team, but not even TCU could hang with all of our speed consistently in man coverage. I would be surprised if Baylor didn't throw a zone-based defense our way on Saturday. Once again, the Baylor of last year is very similar to the Baylor of this year. If they try to cover us the same way they did last year, i.e. throwing man coverage on Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez, we will be able to torch this defense effectively.
Ultimately, I still think we get our points this week. Baylor's defense is a little bit of an upgrade in challenge from TCU's by virtue of the sheer amount of bodies they have returning, but it still isn't much. If we block Oakman and Billings effectively we will be able to rack up some seriously staggering statistics Saturday. The questions remain on our defensive side of the ball. Can we slow Baylor down enough to outscore them?
In the end, I think Baylor wins a mostly uncomfortable game by a relatively comfortable margin. They simply have a better offense and defense right now than TCU does, and it took some heroics (on both sides) in order to keep that game close. If we can figure out how to rattle Seth Russell, we can win, but looking at how our Defensive Line matches up with the star-studded Baylor offensive line doesn't give a lot of hope that direction. Texas Tech gives Baylor a nasty scare, and exposes areas that other teams will exploit, but I don't think they come out of JerryWorld with a win.
Baylor 62, Texas Tech 52