WACO, TX - SEPTEMBER 2: Jarred Salubi #21 of Baylor University Bears breaks free against SMU Mustangs on September 2, 2012 at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
I've just fired up the DVR for the first of many re-viewings of tonight's season-opening win over the SMU Mustangs, and I have a few thoughts to share from immediately after the game. Before you read them, peruse the recap and notes from BaylorBears.com.
- First, the crowd. Beginning with possibly the largest Baylor Line in history (outstanding job, Class of 2016!) and continuing through an impressive overall attendance of 43,000+, the crowd tonight was just fantastic. They looked good, with some semblance of unity of color for the first time in recent memory, and they sounded better. I'm sure the team was more than happy with the reception tonight from a stellar home crowd. Kudos to everyone who went and supported the team. I wish I could have been there with you! I don't blame anyone that left the game early in the least if they did it because of the heat. I've read in other places that dozens of fans from both sides were treated for heat-related conditions. Weird weather for a September game. I'm just glad that it didn't impact our team's performance (as far as we know) and we haven't heard of anything bad happening to fans of either team.
- Second, the uniforms. I had my doubts once it became clear that we were wearing the black jerseys/pants how they would fit with the gold helmets. Suffice to say that I absolutely loved them. The gold lettering on the names and border around the numbers looked great. This is probably the least-manly paragraph I've ever written on this blog, but I don't care. A few people on twitter told me that they would rather we just stuck with green. Whatever. As I said in the GDT, the response from recruits on twitter was overwhelmingly positive, and I'm sorry, but they matter more than you or I.
- We can put to rest any doubts in the short-term about Baylor's offense in the wake of Robert Griffin III's departure. Led by senior Nick Florence (21/30 for 341 yards and 4 TDs), Baylor amassed 613 yards of total offense tonight, breaching the 600-yard mark for what I'm sure will be the first of many times this year and the sixth in the last eight games dating back to 2011. In terms of attempts, the offense was as balanced as we knew it would be with 35 passes and 32 runs. Yardage was a little less even (393 passing to 220 rushing) only because of the remarkable passing efficiency of the Florence/Bryce Petty duo. Best of all, no turnovers!
- Speaking of the offense, Nick Florence was as good as we could have reasonably expected him to be. He ran well when he was asked to do so, threw the ball well after a few early jitters, and passed every test a pretty tough SMU defense threw at him. He wasn't perfect, but he was extremely good. Seeing the reaction from people on twitter as they realized that he wasn't awful and that Baylor wasn't going to fall on their face without RGIII was quite humorous. They'll work hard over the next two weeks to improve his timing on the deep passes that were our hallmark in 2011. The best throw I think he made in the entire game was to Tevin Reese over the middle with about 8 minutes left in the first quarter. It was a perfect throw made into a tiny window.
- Jarred Salubi wowed me in his relatively limited time. He ran for 91 yards and a TD on only 13 carries -- an average of 7.0 yards per carry -- and picked up every blitz SMU threw his way. There was one play in particular in which he broke to the outside where I was legitimately impressed. He's come a long way in the last year.
- Did you notice that neither team sacked the quarterback tonight? I'll talk about one side of that more with our defense, but for Baylor, that was quite the feat. Especially with the Estonian giant Margus Hunt on the other side. You didn't hear his name more than once after the game began, and our young tackles should get all the credit in the world for that. Except for the time Troy Baker was called for a false start, you didn't hear his or Spencer Drango's name all night. Florence took a few hits when he held the ball too long, but overall, his protection was magnificent. You could also see the raw physicality of our offensive line come to bear as the game went on and SMU's defensive line shrunk away.
- I had more questions on twitter about Lache Seastrunk and his playing time (or lack thereof) than probably anything else. People clamored for him and wondered why he wasn't there. I think we just saw a situation where Briles is more comfortable with the well-rounded Salubi than the more-talented Seastrunk and it showed while the game was still in doubt. We'll see more of Seastrunk the next two games, I'm sure, when we have to worry less about what the other team is doing. When he did get in, you could see the incredible speed as on his one long run (34 yards). He went from zero to 100% in about three steps after stopping on a dime. That blew me away.
- Not really much to say about the receivers that wasn't already said. They are who we thought they were: the best group in the Big XII. Even Darryl Stonum got into the first game of his Baylor career and caught a touchdown pass (That was, incidentally, the best pass I've ever seen Bryce Petty throw. Stonum didn't have to slow his stride one iota to catch it.)
- I have much less to say about the defense as a whole. I was extremely impressed by the physicality of linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey. Both of them were starting their first games for Baylor (and Lackey playing in his) and had a tough assignment of checking the bruising Zach Line. Both stepped up to the task to the tune of double-digit tackles (Hager led the team with 14). Line got his yardage, but he didn't pound our defense into dust. Hager and Lackey checked him enough early (with a little help from questionable play-calling by SMU coach June Jones) to help force SMU to throw when they got behind, exactly what they needed to do. Overall, excluding the two long passes when the game was already out of reach, the defense outperformed every reasonable expectation.
- One thing I was surprised to see was how much we used the 3-man front. I thought it would be an arrow in Bennett's quiver as a change-of-pace defense, not the entire quiver. Even more than that, I didn't expect it to work as well as it did. Our defensive linemen held their gaps and kept SMU's OL off our LBs. They didn't make many WOW plays of their own after SMU's first offensive series, but they were solid. You certainly can't blame them for not getting any sacks when we only rushed 3 guys 80% of the time...
- And I don't know why we did that. You could see Bennett start to dial things up more as the game went on, but, as GB04 said during the game, I don't know how we expect to improve our pass rush by taking a rusher out of the equation for most downs. Teams that run a "true" 3-4 don't even do that as a matter of course. All too often, we dropped 8 into coverage in a colossal zone, daring Garrett Gilbert to beat us. Whether we did that knowing or just hoping that he wouldn't, I have no idea. He didn't because he's Garrett Gilbert and he is stunningly awful.
- One possible reason why we didn't use more blitzes is that we didn't want to show too much in a game we knew we were probably going to win relatively early. Like I said, we saw a few more blitzes later in the game from what I'm calling the hybrid 3-4 defense, but they were all pretty standard. Nothing we should care about other teams seeing, anyway.
- As far as individuals on defense that played poorly, I'd probably point to Sam Holl and Joe Williams. Williams was beat twice on deep passes where he was outjumped after being caught out of position. Holl was victimized early by plays reminiscent of 2011. Holl seemed to improve as the pass rush tightened up (funny how that goes) and played well in the hybrid 3-4 alignment where he was more of a linebacker. I'm just not sure how well that defense will work against teams that can actually throw the football in the face of a poor pass rush.
- Corey Coleman was the only freshman I expected to see and didn't in this game. I'm not reading anything into that. Terell Burt played quite a bit in the hybrid 3-4 defense and Javonte Magee played a good portion of the second half. My prediction that he would get a sack didn't come true.
- I'll have more tomorrow, but for now, I'm extremely happy with our first game of the 2012 season. Baylor played well in all facets of the game (including special teams!) against perhaps the best opponent any Big XII team faced this week. And the conference as a whole finished 9-0 this week, the best record in all the land. I could see Baylor sneaking into the rankings after this game.