Baylor has a smattering of really good football players: Robert Griffin, Kendall Wright, Jason Smith, Joe Pawelek. Unfortunately, Baylor's studs are surrounded by a few guys who should be valeting cars at the Omni. Exploiting their deficiencies in their secondary (Jordan Lake will hit, but is a negative in pass coverage - I've renamed him Jordan Late), DL and at both OG positions are why we were able to get the convincing win and move on to Lawrence with our dreams more intact than our health.
Greg Davis regained his sanity, so that's good.
We applied some learning in Lubbock though it hasn't all quite taken. We made many of the right moves with respect to personnel: Malcolm Williams saw more snaps alongside Shipley and Cosby, we spent the majority of the game in four wide, and Fozzy Whittaker got the start at HB with Vondrell performing very well in complement. On the negative side we also watched Peter Ullman get worked in pass protection again allowing a shot on Colt. The Greg Smith goalline layup for the touchdown isn't a salve for our terrible TE play. He had a 5 yard false start on 3rd and short on our opening drive. Their blocking was poor to mediocre. We're not getting any production out that position and if the the coach's litmus test for HB snaps is pass protection, then how do we justify snaps for guys who keep giving up negative plays and monster shots on the QB position? Sadly, a Ulatoski injury may mean more snaps from the TE position under the false notion that they help our pass protection.
A WR lineup of Cosby, Shipley, Williams and Collins/Kirkendoll is formidable. Williams is Threat Level Orange on the outside and helps to create the seams in which Shipley and Cosby thrive. As I've written before, Kirkendoll and Collins offer similar skill sets to Cosby and Shipley - it helps to have one physical freak to garner the respect of opposing safeties. If Williams and Shipley get coverage respect, that leaves Cosby covered by a safety or a scrub and that tends to result in first half stat lines like 6 catches for 102 yards and 2 TDs. Nice to see Quan back healthy, happy, and hard-nosed as ever.
The running game looked better, as it should given that Baylor's DL is in the bottom 1/3 of the league. I'm not really interested in the running game from a volume standpoint given our offensive identity. The issue is quality. We need to be able to punish dishonest fronts, slow up the pass rush, and convert 3rd and short when needed. Whittaker provides our best skill set, but a healthy Vondrell is a perfectly solid Divsion I RB when he has a hole to run through - as evidenced by his play. Both runners had essentially identical stat lines. Fozzy also pass protected very well. A lack of variation in our running game is still an issue. You saw it in our drive after Baylor's first touchdown - our first run was a zone play that was doomed before it hit the chalkboard and then on 2nd and 3rd down the Baylor linebackers were already in their drops before the snap. All of our short and intermediate routes were choked off and we punt. If we're going to be a four wide offense, we need a simple counter draw with a play action built off of it. We have to give pause to LBs and give safeties a reason to take false steps.
The OL was largely very solid in pass protection. Colt had good time in the pocket and most of the big hits he took were from late blitzers like the one that caused his first interception. That's on the QB, C Chris Hall, Ogbonnaya for releasing without checking, and the play call. One of the other significant hits he took off of the edge was on an old familiar culprit from Lubbock - the TE. Ulatoski's loss is huge as the dropoff at the OT position in pass protection from him to Allen is Himalayan.
Colt played very well. His picks are largely attributable to "Shit Happens" and I like that he's looking deep. He's also very beat up. You can see it when he runs and in his body language after a big shot. I was glad to see Mack give him the hook in the 4th. He deserves a juice box, a hot whirlpool, and a couple of Tri-Delts. An amazing year for Colt.
I'd be remiss if I didn't single out Joe Pawelek as a baller. As I mentioned in my Baylor preview, the guy is knocked for a lack of speed, but he's very athletic and moves laterally about as well as he moves forward. Great hands, good quickness, and a skill player's sense of anticipation. That was his fourth pick of the season. Joe Pawelek can play on my defense any day of the week.
Best stat of the game: Baylor was 1 of 11 on 3rd down conversions. Defense is about getting an offense off of the field and our TOP advantage was attributable to Baylor's inability to sustain anything. Their offense largely consisted of four big plays, three of which were legitimate.
Griffin is a raw stud. But you knew that. They were able to string together some offense on the backs of true freshmen, but that's not a legitimate basis for an offense. I'm amazed by the total lack of contribution and leadership from their upper classmen skill players. Loved Briles' creative use of vertical pick plays. Officials are attuned to watching for scrapes on crossing routes, but Baylor's use of stop routes beneath a double move vertical is borderline genius. Baylor left two TDs out on the field because of errant throws on those plays. Some passable imitation of zone would shut that down, but Akina has yet to make it to the Jim Boeheim clinic.
The secondary was looking for a break after a rough stretch of facing four elite passing offenses. Our performance was somewhat uneven for reasons mentioned above, despite Griffin's pedestrian stat line. Still, we showed some very good things. Earl Thomas has particularly grown over that stretch however his brief injury loss to an errant Jared Norton hit set up Kendall Wright's toasting of Ben Wells for an easy Baylor TD. Deon Beasley had a nice pass breakup in the first quarter and then proceeded to place himself back in the negatives with a phantom 1st quarter effort on Robert Griffin in the open field and an attempt at a tackle on Kendall Wright on a crucial Baylor 4th down play that could only be described as uncommitted. He encored with an end zone PI that gave Baylor a fresh set of downs and touchdown. He followed with a solid effort in pass coverage to close out the half and a great second half. Deon, you are a mystery.
Blake Gideon was solid, but this year he has no interceptions, no fumbles caused, no recoveries, no impact plays. It's not enough to be competent. The safety position is uniquely empowered to create turnovers - a safety that doesn't do that consigns your defense to mediocrity. If Blake can't become a turnover creator, he's not useful to us.
Say what you want about Ryan Palmer, but the Death Ewok has made some plays this year and he has never been scared of contact. His third pick of the year was brought back to the house at a time when we sorely needed it. It turned the game. He also contributed a sack and that garners Mr Palmer my Defensive Player of The Game award.
The DL was primarily concerned with contain and respecting the zone read. We did OK. Roy Miller did a great job of collapsing the pocket. Center JD Walton is actually a quality football player, so we lined Miller up on the outside of Baylor's guards on clear passing downs. Result? Two Miller sacks and several pressures on Griffin. Seeing Lamarr Houston go out with an injury is troubling, but Aaron Lewis and Kheeston Randall gave us solid minutes in relief. Henry Melton had a good game that won't show up on the statline.
Muck was solid and made a number of outstanding hustle plays, but Bobino's bicycle to the edge had a flat tire. Kindle was largely caught up in playing the contain game, so dominant play from him was not expected - he did have some nice hustle plays as he always does.
I must admit that I was taking Hunter Lawrence for granted. I watched his two missed field goals with the same stunned disbelief that I had when Crash won the Oscar. Jordan Shipley as punt returner needs to continue. We need the ability to make something game changing happen when the ball changes possession. A punt is nothing but a controlled turnover. The better your athlete catching it, the less control your opponent has have over the turnover. Kickoff coverage was very solid until a late game hiccup. Seeing guys like Aaron and Malcolm Williams returning kickoffs is a very good thing.
This game went as anticipated. It was a solid win against a increasingly respectable outfit in Waco, but Baylor is still bringing nunchuks to a gunfight. Let's hope we see a healthy Ulatoski, Orakpo, Houston and Chykie Brown in Lawrence.
A great season is still very attainable if we TCB in Lawrence and next week in Austin.