Hello, Manny. Hello, Mack.
Sorry for the delay. Got KO'ed by a cold like it was named James Harrison. It's also my attempt at trying to draw out the very last moments of the college football season. So expect a post-Cal Holiday Bowl wrap up sometime in February, 2012.
Our defense had its ass kicked by one of the better offenses I've seen, one designed almost specifically to exploit our weaknesses. It proved/reminded me of the following:
1. When facing an offense with a dominant QB with high level receivers, good scheme, and good game planning, there's no hiding weaknesses in the secondary. They'll target coverage weaknesses mercilessly and don't allow the cheats you've relied on all year to keep deficient personnel on the field.
2. Any zone coverage outside of Cover 2 or very basic Cover 3 continues to be an adventure for us. Somewhere Fritz Shurmur is muttering to himself. I love Duane Akina as a developer of individual talent and as a quality human, but teaching coherent team zone isn't his thing. As you move concepts from the individual (excellent) to the unit (fair to middling) to the defense as a whole (his stint as our DC), you see the slope on Akina's acumen. And it's a steep decline. The Baylor drive to open the second half against our zone was surgery without the propofol. Yeah, RGIII made great throws, but they were more or less uncontested.
3. Robert Griffin III is the truth. He deserves the Heisman Trophy and I have no problem with people who want to mention his dominance in the same breath with players like VY and Cam Newton. His skill set is actually more subtle than both of those guys for his ability to move in the pocket to erase your pass rush. He never loses focus downfield for the easier candy of an 8 yard scramble - he wants an 80 yard pass - and he's one of the best and most accurate deep ball passers I've seen in the college game since Drew Brees was at Purdue.
Most coaches go into games with a "we're going to do what we do attitude." Some coaches perform mad science every week, to variable effect, as often fucking over their players brains as the opposition. We came in to do what we do. Until a semi-panic of some bad halftime adjustments. Baylor combined the best of both coaching philosophies in true Belichickian fashion. They had a great scout of our personnel, the right guys on their end to execute it, good play calls, and Jesus in Cleats to pull the trigger. I have to tip my cap to Art Briles and RGIII for ruthlessly identifying Gideon and Scott on the field on every snap and attacking them, no matter what coverage we were in. When we played zone, they killed us with 15 yard stop routes in front of the safety cushion and on wide sideline stop routes exploiting our lack of lateral range. In man, they spread us out and forced Gideon to make decisions on multiple verticals with a post cutting across the grain. See Baylor's first possession. When we mixed it up with zone man combos, they ran crossing routes, ran our corners out of the play and forced our safeties to make plays in space. With Vaccaro erasing the slot, the middle of the field was as wide open as Kim Kardashian at the Source Awards. The best game plan against a Manny Diaz defense to date.
It's hard to imagine that an opposing QB who went a hyper-efficient 15 of 22 for 320 yards didn't really attack our corners until the late 3rd quarter on, but that's what happened. By that time, we'd completely placed our corners on islands, layered coverage in the middle of the field to give our safeties help, and RGIII promptly recognized and delivered a coup de grace on Quandre Diggs for their last touchdown. At that point, we'd pretty much broken down.
Byndom and Vaccaro actually emerged from this game relatively unscathed while the rest of our secondary graded out between a C (Phillips) and a F- (Gideon). Our safety play will improve next year, with or without Vaccaro's return.
Both Keenan and Acho finished their careers with effort and they were placed in a tough situation trying to spy on RGIII, contain Baylor's running game while we were running a dime or nickel, and covering the short passing game. They combined for 21 tackles, but the total absence of negative plays inflicted - in stark contrast to their previous run of tackles for loss, quarterback hits, and pressures - revealed a lot of our inability to dictate anything to Baylor's offense. Hicks got some play in rotation and made some solid plays.
We actually played well for portions of the game up front - particularly Okafor, Howell, and Jeffcoat's lesser snaps - and the pressure we got on RGIII rushing only three or four in the first half would have resulted in 4-5 sacks and several quarterback hits on mere mortals. Unfortunately, Griffin has Spidey Sense and kept shuffling his feet in the pocket to take away angles while never taking his eyes off of his receivers. There are very few QBs who have this kind of tiered vision - the ability to sense a pass rush, escape with economy while keeping their shoulders square downfield to make a throw, and then deliver an accurate ball - and RGIII has it in spades. If there's any film that will prove to a NFL GM that this guy can be an asset in a more structured NFL passing game, this is it.
The most troubling thing about the DL, aside from the inability to capitalize on some good individual pass rushing efforts was Baylor's ability to run the ball consistently on them. Ganaway went 22-153 with no run exceeding 26 yards. Granted, we were playing outmanned once you consider that the QB is a ball carrying option, but I expected some disruption. I'll argue that Baylor has a very good run blocking unit that is actually fairly shaky in pass protection, benefitting immensely from Griffin's slipperiness in the pocket - sort of like a collegiate New Orleans Saints. Like most things in Baylor's offense, their weaknesses are generally compensated for by some other strength and the result is that no matter what you do on defense, it's probably the wrong answer.
We had only three tackles for loss and for a unit averaging 3x that amount since the KU game, that tells you who the aggressor was.
As impressed as I was with Baylor's offense, we did little to stop them and our halftime adjustments actually hurt our cause after some promising series in the 2nd quarter. We came out in zone, got scorched, and were never able to compose ourselves once the McCoy turnover factory achieved full staffing and began to churn out picks like Lucy working at the candy factory. Obviously, I don't blame the defense for giving up 2 and 11 yard scoring drives, but Baylor averaged 8.5 yards per play and that's all the analysis required of our total effectiveness. You're getting your ass kicked when an offense lines up in 2nd and 1 after every play.
The bottom line is that Baylor schooled us on the field, on the headsets, and did it for 60 minutes. Props to them and to Robert Griffin III, one of the best college QBs I've ever seen.