The obvious focus for Texas against Baylor this weekend is matching the defensive performances of OSU and TCU in locking down the dreaded Art Briles offense. We've addressed how Gerg might accomplish that aim, which is basically to play an aggressive defense designed to eliminate the advantages that Baylor's spread concepts afford to their run game.
The more likely alternative is an approach by Texas that features plenty of dime packages and an attempt to make Baylor earn their yardage the hard way. I foresee a big day on the ground for the Bears run game against such an approach but it is what it is.
Texas has a weak run defense and a back seven that struggles with the demands of multi-faceted spread offenses, Baylor has an exceptional run game. It's not hard to imagine how that struggle is likely to unfold.
On the other hand, the matchup between the Baylor defense and the Texas offense is fascinating.
The last step a program takes before reaching the elite level is to be able to recruit and field excellent defensive lines. In the last few years Baylor has brought in 4**** DE/DT recruit Javonta Magee (MIA this season, possibly done with the sport), 4**** DT Andrew Billings (stolen from us last year down the stretch), and Penn St transfer Shawn Oakman, a former 4**** DE recruit (behemoth kid, 6'9").
Their current DL is loaded with seniors at DE, backed by Oakman who rotates in regularly, and several promising underclassmen at DT including Billings. Their play at DE is actually quite solid as McCallister and Lloyd provide some experience and Oakman frequently makes plays by virtue of his ridiculous athleticism and size.
At defensive tackle they can be hooked and turned by better OL, or driven backwards by a good double team. Billings' growth has a been a major upgrade as the other main cogs are too young to handle Texas' interior OL with technique and not talented enough to handle them with athleticism.
That said, they held OU to 2.6 yards per carry in Waco and only 87 total rushing yards and held OSU to 3.3 yards per carry and 156 total yards in Stillwater. They aren't a bad run defense, whatever you may have gleaned from their failures to handle Daniel Sams earlier in the year.
The key is that they get at least average play from every spot on the DL. Because the spread-option is fantastic at isolating weak spots on a defense, the most important step for every B12 defense is to get solid or average play at every position or else your blue-chippers are wasted.
For example: the Texas defense for the last two years.
The next ingredient to the Bears very solid run defense is their scheme.
This is very similar to the approach of the Narduzzi Spartans, they play a lot of press coverage on the outside receivers and keep the safeties at shallow depths. Because of the proximity of the safeties, the linebackers can be aggressive against run reads because the window a receiver has before being picked up by a safety is much smaller.
Of course, the safeties can help with run defense more from these depths as well.
Run-force assigments typically go to the boundary safety and the nickelback. They flipped Ahmad Dixon and Sam Holl for this season as each was playing in the other's spot in 2011 and 2012. Now, Holl mans the nickel and Dixon is on the boundary.
Of course for the first half of "Derp on Ice," Dixon will be in the locker room in timeout for his hit on Trevone Boykin over the middle last Saturday. Back-up Orion Stewart gives up 20 pounds to Dixon and with it much of the violence and force that Dixon brings to the Bear run defense. However, he's competent in making his run fills.
This is not a classic eight man front that Baylor utilizes in run defense per say, although their are eight players with run defense assignments. However the way the safeties are deployed means that they can get eight or even nine guys involved against the run in a real hurry.
The upshot is likely limited running room for Malcolm Brown. You can expect the Texas OL to open running lanes against the Baylor DL, but you can also expect their back seven to close the daylight quickly.
It's worth noting the speed of the Baylor defensive backfield because it's one of the best in the conference.
Here they are facing Oklahoma on 2nd and 1 and the Sooners bring in Trevor Knight to run some Belldozer/single wing action, then they call our old favorite Pin & Pull run. The DE manages to spin off the pin down block and disrupt a puller. Eddie Lackey, the best linebacker in the B12, runs under the 2nd puller, beats the block of the other and meets Knight at the line of scrimmage.
After the running back motions to the boundary the Bear defensive structure changes. Normally a 2-deep team like Baylor will use the corner to play run-force against a "closed" (no receivers split out) side of a formation. After the running back creates a receiver, the corner steps back to fulfill the role as a deep 1/2 defender and Ahmad Dixon is now the run-force player. Of course, he was already playing fairly close regardless.
They all get there in a hurry and it's very difficult to find running room against them, despite their 2-deep alignments, because of their Safeties' shallow depth and speed and the play of their backers.
Check out how they handle Oklahoma St running Zone-read:
Whoever has been whispering into the ears of Texas fans that this Baylor defense is vulnerable against the run has done them no favors.
The pass defense of the Bears is another story. There are opportunities here for Texas. One of them is to attack the safeties:
Chelf completed a lot of balls over the middle against the forced lineup of Orion Stewart and Terrell Burt that Texas will face for a half on Saturday.
We know that Case has the ability to connect with Shipley on some middle of the field routes, if Texas can get there through play-action there may be opportunities. If Major asks Case to navigate the Baylor defensive backfield without drawing in the linebackers this is what will happen:
Even with Bryce Hager out the Bears are very quick at linebacker and can make deep drops and sudden plays on the ball. I'm willing to bet there could be opportunities on the Baylor safeties with deep post routes, smash routes, and double moves but those throws are all straining the ability of McCoy's arm. Plus it'll be windy and freezing cold.
Another thing to be mindful of is the Bear pressure packages.
This is one of their lighter blitzes, a zone pressure that only brings five. Phil Bennett is also quite fond of firing both inside linebackers right through the A-gaps and playing man coverage behind it. Lackey has 4.5 sacks on the year coming on these pressures.
The big money question is how KJ Morton and Demetri Goodson handle Mike Davis down the sideline, arguably Texas' most potent weapon on offense this season.
Many other teams have been content to play off Davis and invite the fumble prone WR to catch hitch routes and do whatever damage he may in the quick game. Baylor might just take advantage of home field officiating and bad weather conditions to show Davis and co a lot of press coverage and bet that McCoy is unable to make them pay early or often.
So what's the Texas gameplan?
As has been the case since Case took over, heavier formations are a useful tool for taking advantage of the Texas run game and protecting McCoy. Texas should test the size of the Baylor defensive backs early and often. Make their defensive ends prove they can take on a double team from an OT and TE on outside zone, test the safeties' run fills on cutback lanes in our zone game, ask the Bears how they like tackling Joe Bergeron on the edge.
The need for Texas to run the ball to set up play-action over the middle and wear down the Bears again emphasizes the important of the Texas defense in not allowing Petty to hit his receivers deep nor Seastrunk to break free for a long TD run.
As soon as Case McCoy starts throwing the ball every other down against Phil Bennet man-blitzes this game becomes a route.
Texas also needs to challenge Orion Stewart early with run/pass conflicts and responsibility for covering Shipley. Expect to see twin receivers to the slot and lots of Texas action to the boundary to work against fill-in weakside LB Brody Trahan and Orion Stewart. Heavy formations and then 4WR sets with twins to the boundary. Take your time Major, sub those packages in and out. Texas should be in no hurry to get the Baylor offense on the field.
Then hopefully when Dixon returns to the boundary the Baylor D will be sufficiently worn on to allow all of our runs and concepts to be more effective.
Finally, the weather. While bad conditions are often welcomed by an underdog, I don't see the possibility of sleet as a favorable thing for Texas. Which QB would you bet on gripping the ball stronger and surviving hits to the hard ground better? The 6-3 230 pounder or the 6-2 200 pounder? Which one is more likely to find traction to make plays with his feet?
Which offense is better suited for the potentially slippery conditions? The one with a straight ahead run game or the one that relies on mobile OL? The one with a 225 pound stiff-arm master at WR as the deep threat or the one with a lighter framed guy?
Because Texas has the best athletes in the trenches in the entire conference there's always a chance for the Longhorns to assert their will down low and come away with a win. More likely, this is when Mack Brown investing all his capital on the production of "Derp on Ice" proves to be a horrendous business decision that costs him everything.