Once upon a time, this was a four word preview that said: SHOW UP TO STADIUM. Then we'd all chat about Monaco real estate, and run on the beach in white linen shirts, giggling as we sipped Zimas. Those were heady times, the 2000's.
But these Bears are on a two year winning streak against Texas. Who isn't?
Before the season I cautioned that the loss of RGIII, Kendall Wright, and three other members of the Baylor offense to the NFL draft wouldn't mean the death of the Baylor offense. Really. I did. I have links and stuff. This is my mad scramble for credibility after assuring everyone that the Texas defense would be good.
There are four main reasons that Baylor's offense is still putting up 48 points per game and 567 yards per contest despite losing their greatest QB and WR in school history:
1. Art Briles is a really good offensive coach.
Despite looking like a white supremacist from HBO's Oz with the same approximate loss of charisma when he takes off his cap as when Dwight Yoakam takes off his Stetson, Briles is one of the early innovators of the spread offense. And one of the rare practitioners who gets the ball downfield even when opposing defenses run out 6 defensive backs. His offense has more verticals than a NBA dunk contest. And fewer paternity suits. Briles has a great understanding of spacing and once he gets a solid read on your coverages based on down and distance, he's adept at dialing up a man or zone killer. Baylor's offense gives the QB easy throws and the WRs easy reads. If you blitz or play off, they screen you to death. If you play safeties deep, they space (4-5 WRs, outside WRs have their feet nearly on the boundary), sprint, settle, stop and catch 15 yard candy in the vacated space. If you press and blitz, they run crossing routes and four verticals. And then screen you to death.
When in doubt, Baylor will run four verticals. Then, do it again. Then Briles sees how you respond and builds his tactics accordingly. He's also pretty good at picking out your weakest link and focusing the entire offense there. Fortunately, the Longhorn defense is forged of iron.
If you get too gimmicky or unsound, Baylor pops you in the running game.
There's a fearlessness to their offense you've got to admire.
2. Nick Florence is a very capable FBS QB.
They lose the greatest player in the history of their school in any sport and replace him with a 5th year senior with plenty of experience. Not exactly McCoy to Gilbert. Florence is 176-122-1874-18-9 so far this year and completing 63%+ of his passes. He'll throw interceptions in an attempt to make a play (as TCU will attest), but he's a very adept deep ball passer, averaging a shocking 16.7 yards per completion. Florence is mobile (he has a 60 yard scamper this year) but he's not an Olympic level runner like RGIII. We want him to throw intermediate routes from the pocket. If we dial up dumb blitzes by the numbers, we'll see a Terrance Williams highlight reel.
3. The Bears have the best receiving corps in the Big 12 and, arguably, the country.
They will test our tackling, coverage, and schemes. Team strengths, IMHO.
Terrance Williams is the 6-2, 205 pound headliner (37-830-8 tds, 22.4 yards per catch). He's big, he's fast, he's dominant. Sure NFL high draft pick. Lanear Sampson (5-11, 200 25-331-3 tds) is a strong possession receiver and can break tackles. Tevin Reese is a tiny (5-10, 160) sprinting waterbug who can run after the catch and generally give you fits (23-499-4tds, 21.7 ypc) and Levi Norwood is their "forgotten" 4th receiver (14-155). Troubled transfer Darryl Stonum - a former starter at Michigan - is WR #5.
The Bears receiving corps is so dangerous because their guys are better than yours in Briles' schemes, so if you don't have a good team coverage concept in which the defense actually plays better than it's individual talent with coherence and virtuous circles (see Horned Frogs, TCU, Gary Patterson, actual football coach), you're basically hoping for an off day.
4. The Bears OL recruiting and development plan is damn good.
The Texas Longhorns haven't had an OL drafted since 2008. Since 2009, Baylor has had 5. FIVE. Half of ten. Two of them 1st rounders. Then a 3rd rounder, a 4th rounder, and a 6th rounder. At C, G, T.
That's not an indictment of Mack Brown's regime. It's an indictment, a trial, a 10 minute jury deliberation, conviction on all charges, and a summary execution administered by the bailiff on a plastic tarp with a meat cleaver.
This is a re-tooled Baylor OL, with former OT Ivory Wade moving to Center (probably the best one in the league) and inexperienced freshman Spencer Drango and sophomore Troy Baker holding down offensive tackle. The interior trio of Kaufhold-Wade-Richardson averages 6-4, 318 and they'll be a challenge for our interior defense. If you want pressure on Florence, it's not likely to come up the middle early. You've got to make him hold on to the ball and let your DEs do their work while you cover downfield. This would require patience, defense in depth, and actual game planning to achieve.
Fortunately, Baylor's offense has some weaknesses.
RB isn't a team strength. At least not with Jarred Salubi as their primary ballcarrier (his back-ups seem more talented, but Briles thinks they're unreliable). Salubi goes 5-9, 210 and has average speed. 78 carries, 357 yards, 4.6 average. Glasco Martin fills their short yardage role with 53 carries for 200 yards and 5 tds (3.7 average). Finally, the infamous Lache Seastrunk has seen 15 for 97 and 2 TDs. Now, am I suggesting in any way that one of these gentlemen is not good for 135 yards against us? Of course not.
Baylor will also turn it over. 11 in 5 games. Force 3+ and you can significantly derail their offense, even if they're otherwise kicking the crap out of you.
They also have a defense. Sort of.
The Bears defense is surrendering 42 points and 558 yards per game on the year. Let's all tut-tut at the awfulness of that performance together! And feel affirmed that our offense destroying their defense is the key to Longhorn victory. But that's raw output, which is also a function of pace and total plays runs. The real test of a defense is yards per play allowed.
Baylor's nationally mocked defense is allowing 6.4 yards per play.
Manny Diaz's Texas defense is allowing 6.4 yards per play.
So, yeah. Bring back in that tarp, bailiff.
Baylor is small. And that has boded well for us in establishing our running game. Even with a hurt Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown obtaining credits towards his drama major.
The Bears go 255-295-265-235 in the front four (they had been experimenting - badly - with a 3 man front all season) and their LBs go 220 and 235 in their base nickel defense. Their secondary has been porous despite a solid cornerback in KJ Morton and talented safety Ahmad Dixon. Sam Holl and Chance Casey essentially play deep safety for them and they're quite terrible.
LB Bryce Hager leads the team (and yes, he is the son of Britt) with 61 tackles and undersized, newly minted DT Gary Mason can be disruptive if you let him sprint by you.
Their defense does gamble a bit in order to make SOMETHING, ANYTHING happen, but they're allowing opponents to convert an incredible 64% of their third downs and, consequently, the Baylor offense averages only around 23:00 per game in TOP. Baylor's defense spends more time on the field than a bad craps player.
The game plan here is pretty clear: give Art Briles as few cracks as possible against our defense while treating field goals, turnovers, and any punt as good as gold, and grind down Baylor's defense in every way possible.
I have no score prediction, no read on our team whatsoever, and there is no result - from a massive blowout in either direction to a tightly contested squeaker - that would surprise me. I'll watch the game and pull hard for Texas because I'm a Texas fan and that's what I do.
Bill Little's Mack Brown's Bellmont's new Big 12. Hope you like it.