For SMU to beat Baylor this weekend, it all starts on the ground. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
So far in my coverage of our first game this weekend against SMU, I've taken a fairly optimistic tack in assessing Baylor's chances. I believe we will win and have said so affirmatively. It is often worthwhile, however, to take a different approach. It may be that the best way to determine what Baylor must do to win is ascertain how it can most easily lose. If SMU were to pull off the upset at least one publication predicts, how would it do so?
The answer, given Garrett Gilbert's lack of familiarity with June Jones' run and shoot offense and the probability that Baylor's offense will perform at least acceptably well, is a combination of factors that must all go in SMU's way. Of course, should GG come out slinging darts that would make things quite a bit easier, but it's probably not all that likely. Despite the failures of his time at Texas, Gilbert's talent is unmistakable, it's just not at all easy to pick up an offense in two weeks sufficiently to beat a team preparing for you for at least several months.
No, if it happens and Baylor is defeated, it will not be through the air. If Baylor loses, it will be because we can't stop Zach Line and SMU's rushing game.Baylor's issues on the defensive line are well-chronicled both here and in other places. The loss of Kaeron Johnson only exacerbated those issues. Even with him playing fully, I wouldn't have called our interior DL a strength. Without Kaeron in the fold, we are staring down the barrel of playing 3 redshirt freshmen on the 2-deep at DT and NG. And we're doing it against a team that not only has a bruising running back in a mold familiar to Baylor fans -- at 6-1, 230 pounds, Zach Line is Terrance Ganaway-esque in stature -- but will look to use him extensively due to the same inexperience from Gilbert that I cited above. We need to get used to the fact that Zach Line will probably get 30 carries against our defense on Sunday. How effective he is in those carries will determine how effective SMU's offense is as a whole.
The matchup of SMU's OL against Baylor's interior DL is one of basically inexperience versus inexperience. That concept is relative, however, and the fact that SMU has 4 upperclassmen on their OL probably outweighs the pure talent difference in Baylor's favor (as gleaned from recruiting rankings over the past few years). If SMU can use those linemen to punish Baylor on the interior and force two other new starters at LB (Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey) to make the majority of plays against the run, they can establish an offensive rhythm and find success. And if SMU wants to win this game, that's exactly what they're going to have to do. Combine that with a strong defensive performance against Nick Florence and his cast of newbie RBs and you could have the recipe for an upset. It will probably take a turnover or two simply because of the talent Baylor has on offense, but I wouldn't call at least one turnover impossible. Statisticians would say SMU forcing at least one is actually likely.
Stated more simply, Baylor loses on Sunday if it can't force Garrett Gilbert to pass the ball in situations where SMU would rather he not. That means keeping second and third downs long and winning the battle up front. If Baylor allows Zach Line to start grinding away at a defensive front short not only on experience but also depth, that spells an upset in the making.
The good news is that even if SMU establishes some semblance of a successful offense, I don't see them scoring enough points to win the game. Baylor's offense will be successful. The best SMU can reasonably hope for is to keep the game close by shortening it and hope that things go their way. I don't see it happening.