The Reality of Baylor (Modern) Football: Breaking Down The Conventional Wisdom & the Old Vocabulary

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Enriching your game-watching experience one screed at a time.

Passing offenses aren't physical.  Just hit Baylor in the mouth.

Solving gimmicky passing offenses is easy.  Blitz and play man coverage.  Challenge their manhood.  That's how we did it in 1981!

Briles only cares about offense and throwing the ball 60 times a game.

Their defense is soft.  Just pound the ball.

Finesse team.  Get physical.  Slap them in the mouth.  They'll wilt.

Hearing, watching, and reading some of the conventional wisdom on Baylor in various media is proving a little trying to my patience.  Not here, of course.  We're idiots in different ways geniuses.

Not just because it's often wrong, but because it demonstrates the insufficiency of the old cliches in dealing with a new era in college football.  Even when it's right in result, it's correct for the wrong reasons.  The average fan and talking head analysis for today's game isn't often just wrong-headed - it doesn't even acknowledge what's happening right in front of us.

Let's tackle some of the realities of Baylor vs. their perception.  Because they're a great vehicle for this discussion.

Baylor Size & Physicality on Offense

While most focus on the dazzle of Baylor's offense and diagnose the Bears as a soft, finesse team (these are the same people that proclaim Boise State a gimmicky trick offense) what the bright lights of Waco (has that descriptive ever been written un-ironically before?) obscure is a lot of physicality at some important positions.  No, they're not '95 Nebraska.  The spread simply defines physicality differently.  Yes, it's basketball on grass.  With 8% body fat NBA power forwards and 225 pound shooting guards.

Let's look at how Baylor redefines physicality:

Offensive Guard Duo.

Cyril Richardson and Desmine Hilliard are Baylor's guards.  Their spirit animal is Nate Newton crossed with a walrus in mating season rut.  Richardson is listed at an optimistically low 6-5, 340 and Hilliard bathes in the Golden Corral chocolate fountain at 6-4, 330.  Baylor leads the Big 12 in rushing by a very wide margin and is ranked 11th in the country overall.  They run the hell out of the ball to set up deep throws and create space outside for their WR screen game.  That's the Baylor offense in a nutshell.  Their running game is mostly simple inside zone plays.  Brute force.  OSU short circuited the Baylor running game by going up 28-3 by the mid third quarter (and having a good triangle inside: two solid DTs and a good MLB).  TCU mostly held them in check because DT Chucky Hunter is a human stop sign and they did a ton of slanting and stunting to disrupt their assignments. Malcom Brown will need to bring his A game, because this is NFL draft tape.

Wide Receiver/Tight End.

Baylor also has size and physicality in places where most people don't look for it or consider its value.

Quick - off the top of your head - what does 5 foot 10 inch leading Bear WR Antwan Goodley weigh?

225 pounds.  And averaging 20 yards a catch.  Goodley weighs the same as Longhorn RB Joe Bergeron.  So the notions that "you just get physical with them cuz this is a soft gimmicky offense" may not play out the way you intend when your cornerback is a whippet nipping a pit bull at the dog park. Similarly, Levi Norwood goes 6-1, 195, Jay Lee is 6-2, 215, and Clay Fuller is 6-1, 210.  TE Jordan Navjar goes 6-6, 265.  While Baylor lost a good bit of quickness and some short space big play ability with the loss of Tevin Reese, they have one of the most physical groups of wide receivers in the country.  That translates to yards after the catch and broken tackles when Petty can hit them on the run, a rugged screen game, extra yards in the running game when they blow up your safeties and cornerbacks, a sealed edge when Seastrunk bounces it wide.  If you want to run an effective spread in today's game, you'd better have receivers who don't mind hitting and being hit.  Their big plays are direct result of physicality.

Quarterback.

Bryce Petty goes 6-3, 230.  The most consistently overlooked value of a big mobile spread QB is the ability to sit strong in a pocket and extend a play against the defense's extra man blitzer from their defensive backfield who is often giving up 30 or 40 pounds. And Briles has repeatedly shown that he'll trade a delayed hit on an outside blitz from a DB on his QB for a play downfield.  Even with respect to DL - grasping hands, an arm around the waist, or a glancing blow can be shrugged off and the play extends.  More often than not, play extension means a big play downfield for the Bears.  Similarly, Petty has 11 rushing touchdowns on the year.  The added complication of a QB who can convert 3rd and goal or 4th and 1 makes limiting Baylor to field goals difficult.

Defensive Quickness Is The New Physical

When offenses run (or generally score) successfully on a defense, the standard explanatory culprit is that the defense is "soft."  Well, no. Sometimes.  And depending on what you mean by soft.  But Texas fans should know better.  A failure to stop the run (or pass) is as often because your players don't know what they're doing, are unschooled in technique and fundamentals, or they can't get there to begin with.  You know who isn't very good on defense?  The service academies.  None of those guys are "soft."

While Baylor is more physical on offense than is perceived, they also run much better on defense than most imagine. And in the new era of college offenses, the ability to run is a necessary precondition of defensive physicality. If you can't get there, who gives a damn what you bench press and squat and that you crapped a wildcat in pre-game and beat it to death with a toilet plunger?  Speed is a sling.  Slow is throwing with your left hand.  Who do you want to get in a rock fight with?

While the Baylor front is Big 12 average (much better than Tech, weaker than us by a mile) their quickness and aggression at key positions in their back 7 is the biggest difference in their 2013 defense - a change that kicked in over the last half of 2012.  While OSU thoroughly dominated Baylor exploiting man coverage with some great wrinkles (Baylor lost their composure and started busting assignments - but I kept reading how OSU was TOO PHYSICAL for Baylor - no, more like too clever), Baylor's defense bounced back to more or less win the game for them against TCU with a pair of Pick 6s and some timely stops.

Let's look at some personnel:

Baylor LB Eddie Lackey, aside from sounding like a Dick Tracy villain ("The name is Eddie Lackey, see!  And this dame is going with me!  Taste my tommy gun, copper."), is the best LB in the conference.  He's basically Jessie Armstead.  Quicks, anticipation, instincts, and despite weighing only 220, I rarely see anyone draw a bead on him to push him around.  Great blitzer, great in coverage (he has an amazing 3 career pick 6s), the ultimate spread linebacker.  And he explodes through contact.  He's physical even if he's not 260 pounds, playing in the Big 10, and has a Polish last name.  Put him on the Texas defense and we jump 25 spots in the rankings.

Baylor's secondary. Defensive backs, like OL, can improve considerably with time, maturity, and game reps. Baylor is proof of that.  After years of exploitation that would make a Don King client nod in commiseration, Cornerbacks KJ Morton, Joe Williams and Demetri Goodson are key to what Baylor is doing on defense.  And are much improved. They are basically asked to play single man coverage on every play while Baylor attacks with an array of blitzes and stunts.  They're all big corners and they like to mix it up.  They largely do a good job considering the difficulty of that task.  But they can be had - usually when they're going for a highlight.  Case McCoy is good at providing highlights both directions, so we'll see.

Safety Ahmad Dixon is an asshole.  And every defense needs an asshole.  He's good against the run loading the box, makes himself felt as a physical presence, and isn't above a cheap shot if it advances the Baylor cause.  You hate him when he's on the other team, you love him when he's on yours.  When Baylor messes up on defense, stupidity and over-aggression is more often the culprit than a lack of physicality.  If I hear another person describe a cornerback who jumped an out route and got beat deep as being part of a "soft defense" I'm going to throw my remote off of my roof.  YOU NO UNDERSTAND WHAT HAPPENING OUT THERE TALKING HEAD BOY. BE QUIET.

If we work Baylor on defense, it'll be because we physically overwhelm a young, average DL lacking depth with our OL with 9,000 combined starts, show good pass protection against the blitz, and demonstrate the ability to exploit their aggression.

You know, because they're soft.  (eye roll)

**

I hope this is a vehicle for redefining some of the conventional dialogue that has sprung up around football that suits a different era.  Woody Hayes is dead.  And football is played over the entire field.  Why are we still encumbered with this weird vocabulary predicated on lazy assumptions?  Too many people sound like Don "The Dragon" Wilson trying to call a 1990s UFC fight.  It's just a confusing blur to these people.  And they don't know a triangle choke (real) from a kung fu death touch (not real).

Baylor has weaknesses.  Call them by their right names.  The defensive line is nothing special. Petty is great at all of the basic throws and below average at all of the tougher ones. Their receivers have to work for their yardage if you tackle well and keep a safety over the top.  Their secondary is aggressive, but not likely to rock the Wunderlich.  If you can beat man coverage - whether by deception or talent - and protect the QB, the plays are there for you.  But you're not going to beat them by "slapping them in the mouth."  Football isn't a pimping instructional guide.  Unless you're a Dallas Cowboys fan...

Now go forth and be the smartest (or most irritating) person at your tailgate.  And help change the dialogue.

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