Week 1 Grades vs. SMU

I gave Nick Florence an A- for his play, but my wife gave his facial hair a solid D. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Throughout the season, I hope to be able to combine with as many of the other writers here that are willing to do it to provide our personal unit grades following Baylor's games. This time around, I was able to enlist the hermit known as thermhere, who lives in a cave located somewhere in downtown Dallas and communicates with the outside world only through sporadic tweeting. His assistance is extremely difficult to come by, but his football chops are unquestioned.

I hoped to get Prashanth to help me but he's probably being a spare somewhere with his family. Like Baylor Football isn't more important. ODB IS YOUR FAMILY NOW!

Pras edit:

As the noted poet Weezy F said "Excuse me if I'm late, but like a thief it takes/time to be this great, so uhh, just wait" Hit the jump to see why ODB saves the best (false bravado) for last.

Anyway, here are the grades following Baylor's impressive opening romp over the invading ponies from the north.

Quarterback:

Therm: A for Nick Florence. Regardless of your opponent, 341 yards on only 30 attempts (11.4 YPA) along with 4 TD is a really good performance. Couple that with the fact that a) Nick didn't turn the ball over and b) frankly, Nick had a lot of peoples' opinions riding on this game, I can't see how giving him a grade worse than A would be fair. Nick also did a nice job on a couple zone reads and an inverted veer, gaining 23 yards on only 3 carries, and frankly, I thought he stood tall in the pocket and delivered a great ball several times when SMU was able to generate some pressure.

MCM: A- for the position as a whole. As I said last night, Florence worked through early jitters to deliver an extremely good, but not perfect, performance. I give it an A- only because I think he could be even better when he becomes more comfortable with the deep ball. Still, he had a lot of pressure coming into this game replacing Robert Griffin III and you could see the effects early on when he forced a few throws into tough coverage. When he settled down, the mistakes disappeared and the offense took off. Overall, he handled himself, as he has everything else in the wake of last season, beautifully. Petty, in extremely limited time, also looked very good. It's important to remember that we probably didn't open the playbook up too much in a game we knew we were probably going to win.

Pras: A-

This is a bit tough to grade because I’m not sure what the baseline should be. Nobody expected Robert Griffin III. Nobody expected Case McCoy. But it certainly seemed that there were super optimistic Baylor fans expecting something close to Robert and that most of the outsiders commenting on this game expected something closer to Case. Personally, I was hoping for something like 80-90% of Robert. Early on, I was afraid we were barely going to get 70%. But Florence settled in and when Briles took the governor off the deep game after a lucky bounce lead to a interception, we saw flashes of the incredible Baylor offense from last year. It wasn’t as efficient as the demolition of the Washington Husky defense nine months ago, but even an RG3-lead offense needed months of play to get to that level.


Wide Receivers:

MCM: A across the board. Terrance Williams led the way with 7 catches for 138 yards, Lanear Sampson got on the scoreboard twice with touchdown catches, and Tevin Reese showed his elite speed in adding one of his own. 8 different receivers caught passes, including Michigan transfer Darryl Stonum. The unit as a whole looked to be playing on a completely different level from SMU's defenders, who could do nothing to stop them. They're going to make the "dropoff" from RGIII to Florence easy to manage through pure skill. Easily one of the best, if not the best, units in the country. I was particularly impressed with the long catch by Levi Norwood where he just would not be tackled. He wanted to score and would not be denied. I love that.

Pras: A-

6 Baylor receivers caught 22 passes averaging over 17 yards per catch. This is absurd. A Baylor WR in the Art Briles system is going to have ‘inflated’ numbers compared to receivers from other offensive schemes. You know what else it means, though? That Baylor WR get more practice running routes and catching intermediate to deep balls than many of these other systems. This group of receivers, when they came to Baylor, were thought of by many outsiders as track guys rather than wide receivers. The amount of polish they displayed against an outmatched SMU secondary is remarkable. I doubt they will look this good against the better secondaries in the Big12, but even a step back or two should still result in lots of points.

Running Back:

Therm: B for Salubi, B+ for Glasco, Inc for Seastrunk. Salubi did a nice job in the run game, averaging 7 ypc and scoring a TD, but he missed three blitz pickups that I saw and Nick about got his head taken off on one of them. He is never going to be the downhill runner that Finley or Ganaway was, but the more I think about it, the more I think he makes sense as the starter. It's going to be harder to stretch the field horizontally this year with our WR screen game because Nick just can't get the ball out there as quickly as Robert could, so it makes sense to use more wide run game options (stretch, inverted veer, jet sweep, etc).

MCM: B+ for Salubi, B+ for Glasco, INC for Lache. I didn't catch the blitz pickups that Therm references below, but on the whole, I was impressed with Salubi's game. My grade for him is probably higher than Therm's because of my general distrust for Salubi going into the game. He impressed me, plain and simple, with his speed and athleticism. Still, he danced on a few occasions where he had the chance to pick up yardage. It's that weakness of his that makes me want to see more carries given to Glasco, who hits the hole with a ferocity reminiscent of Terrance Ganaway. He took advantage of a depleted SMU defense as the game went on and just gashed them. We could have ridden Ganaway to 100 yards if we had chosen to do so. Seastrunk didn't get the time he or I wanted to see, but he will. Give him time. Lache, give yourself time.

Pras: B+ for Salubi, B for Martin, P.C.S. for Lache Seastrunk.

There were some pretty nervy moments for the Salubi as primary RB train early on. Salubi’s first drive was even worse than Florence’s. But he turned his play around even more quickly and, while I still don’t think he has upside that’s in the same ballpark as Lache Seastrunk, his performance over the rest of the game, I think that he can be the leader in our burgeoning tradition of an excellent rushing attack. I’m still not sure if he can be the sort of workhorse-like back that Gannaway was, but I also don’t think we need him to be. Martin looks like a more than capable backup and then…LACHE LACHE LACHE. That PCS grade? Potential Controlled Substance. I am the Black Eyed Peas because I just can’t get enough.


Tight Ends:

TEs: B. Najvar did a nice job selling the run on his touchdown catch, but nothing he and Monk did really stood out other than that. Their blocking appeared to be fine in the pass game, and they both did a decent enough job in the run game, although I'd like to see Monk in particular do a better job of setting the edge on stretch run plays.

MCM: Both get an INC. Aside from the Najvar TD on as wide open a pass in the endzone as you're ever likely to see, neither got the chance to really do all that much. They should probably get credit for helping the OL keep Margus Hunt in check, but not too much since they weren't on the field enough to make a huge difference.

Pras B? Inc?

Ended up having less of an impact in the passing game than I expected going into this game, but that says more about Florence’s ability than it does their ability to perform. I strongly suspect that there will be games in which they are featured more prominently later in the year, especially against a certain fearsome bovine pass rush.


Offensive Line:

Therm: B. I'd rather give individual grades for the lineman, but that would take too long. Jake Jackson in particular struggled a bit, but I don't think that is a surprise to anyone taking the time to read this. Cyril is an absolute mauler at guard, and it's a much better position for his skill set. We didn't have any huge mental mistakes in terms of pass pro, which is a credit to Wade picking up the line calls so quickly. Spencer Drango really stood out to me, though. He did a really nice job on (SMU's STUD DE WHATEVER HIS NAME IS). He still lacks some functional strength, and doesn't get a huge push in the run game. That's going to come in time. I'm willing to take those lumps, because his footwork in the passing game is really good - he sets a wide base and uses his punch to keep the DE in front of him or moving wide away from the QB. Drango was a big recruiting get for us, and he'll be a 4 year starter at LT.

MCM: B+. I agree with Therm that grading each player would be a better practice but prohibitively time-consuming. I disagree on the final grade. There were a lot of questions about a reconstituted OL going into yesterday's game, most of which concerned our young tackles, and I thought they performed beautifully as a group. Spencer Drango was an absolute stud in a rough first assignment against Hunt. Jackson is the least-heralded of the group and it showed a bit when he lost a few one-on-one matchups against Torlan Pittman. Hopefully Cameron Kaufhold can reclaim the RG spot quickly as he's probably a better option there long-term.

Pras: A-

I admit it, I was concerned. I said as much in the comments of Mark’s previews. Starting Left AND Right Tackles with so little game experience, especially when Art Briles could have kept last year’s starters at those positions and transitioned Drango and Baker from the guard positions this year to tackle positions next year. After seeing the finally seeing the line in action, I can see why Briles made the somewhat risky move. Drango, especially, showed much greater mobility than Cyril Richardson showed at LT last year and will probably require less help than Richardson did last year is pass protection. Additionally, Richardson showed great push in the rushing game. Maybe I’m biased because Richardson’s arms are the size of tree trunks and he looks like he could grind my bones to dust before his morning protein shake, but I think he’s quite a promising guard prospect for the NFL. (Please take note, Cowboys.) My concerns about Wade’s snapping, especially with the amount of shotgun Baylor is likely to run this year, also proved unfounded so far.

Defensive Line:

Therm: C. In the 3-3-5 we played nearly the whole game yesterday, all you are really asking of your DL is a) to generate some token pressure in the passing game (which, to be completely fair, they didn't do at all) and b) hold up blockers in double teams in the run game to allow your LBs to read, react, and scrape toward the ball. They did a nice job in the run game, but our DL is going to have to do a much better job generating pressure.

MCM: C. Aside from the first series of the game where Chris McAllister batted down two passes, the DL didn't do anything of note to disrupt SMU's passing game. Part of that is the result of the scheme; it's extremely difficult to get a good pass rush from 3 downs when that's all you send. As Therm notes, they did perform admirably, particularly given their inexperience in the scheme, against the run. I hope going forward that the 3-3-5 is more a garnish than the main defensive dish.

Pras: B? Inc?

Like the TE position, this is a bit difficult to evaluate. Baylor spent much more time with 3 down linemen than anybody expected and rushed just 3 much, much more than anybody had a right to expect. As such, I can’t lambaste them for a lack of impact plays, although I can’t give them exemplary grades either. They adequately held their blockers in this game, often preventing the SMU OL from moving on to secondary blocks at the next level, but there was also very little push against a fairly green OL. I’ll just give them a B for now but note that I don’t think this tells us much about their ability moving forward.

Linebacker:

Therm: A+. Hager and Eddie Lackey played so well that our DL's deficiencies were hidden a bit. In particular, they did a really nice job taking the correct angles to the ball in the run game.

MCM: A+. I have a serious mancrush going on right now for both Bryce Hager and Lackey. Both showed athleticism and speed at the position that we haven't seen in a long time and immediate upgrades from Elliot Coffey and Rodney Chadwick, respectively, last season. Having LBs capable of taking on a 230-pound running back while also covering large swaths of the field in a zone is going to be huge in the Big XII. Loved how both of those guys played.

Pras: A

When accounting for the beast of a RB that they were going up against, you have to like the performance of Lackey and especially Hager. Combining well-coached play that we’ve seen in highly varying degrees since Bennett’s arrival with much greater speed than we’ve seen over that same time frame, there’s little doubt that LB is much more of a strength now than a weakness. The main caveat I have that leaves me a little less ecstatic about their performances as compared to my fellow bloggers is that Zach Line was still able to rush fo 135 yards in 25 carries (5.4 YPC). While a fair bit of that came in garbage time, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the LB more than had their hands full. The scheme employed by Bennett yesterday relies almost entirely on the LBs to make the key tackles, and while it isn’t a scheme that’s likely to result in many tackles for a loss, there weren’t quite as many stuffs as I would have liked to see either. Sure, Zach Line is a beast, but we’re going to face some pretty good RB’s this year and most will play with a better OL.


Ahmad Dixon:

Therm: A. Ahmad was all over the field, as usual. He forced the fumble that led to the Mike Hicks TD return, and was a factor in several incompletions. His elite athleticism really stands out on our defense.

MCM: B+. You didn't hear his name much until he made a spectacular play to force the fumble that Mike Hicks housed. That's not entirely his fault as SMU probably avoided him intentionally, I just hoped to see him more active. If he blitzed a single time last night, I missed it. Again, that may be intentional as we kept that part of the defensive playbook closed.

Pras: A

To butcher an old Madden saying, you give me 11 guys like Dixon and you can take 11 of your guys and I like my chances.


Defensive Backs:

Therm: B (Sam Holl: D). It is hard to complain about your defensive backfield when they hold the opponent's starting QB to 4.8 ypa, but to be fair, Gilbert missed on at least 5 throws that should have been easy completions. That being said, they did a pretty decent job tackling, and played a part in all 3 turnovers. Sam Holl was gifted with an interception, but otherwise his lack of Big 12-level athleticism is just so obvious. Several Zach Line runs that should have been 5 yard gainers turned into 12 or 20 yard gains because Holl took HORRIBLE angles from the back-side.

MCM: C. I'm glad I got to go second on this so it didn't seem like I was just trashing Sam Holl. I promise I have nothing against the guy personally, but he did bring down the secondary's overall grade. I have a hard time believing that he is the best fourth "linebacker" we have on the roster for the hybrid 3-4 alignment. Particularly if he is going to be blitzing as much as he did in the second half last night. I think Therm and I saw the same play where, following a second down pass that caught him out of position, Zach Line ran right by Holl for a big gain. Holl looked like he had no idea what was going on. As for the rest, I noted already that I thought Joe Williams had a poor game. Also, after seeing it a couple more times, the penalty on Demetri Goodson was not a good call.

Pras: B-

How quickly the visions/nightmares of 2011 came back to visit. I was very worried that we were all in for a long season of praying for an (unknown) youngster to unseat the Hicks/Holl combo at safety, but they ended up having pretty solid games (when adjusting for expectations). They are still (very) limited in coverage, but they were put in a position to make some impact plays in the box and they were able to do so often enough that I don’t have to spend the next few weeks fearing the worst. I’m still not hopeful for Big 12 caliber play from them, though. I liked watching Joe Williams develop last year and felt that his level of play was one of the reasons we were able to see that great November. He disappointd me in this game. Twice he had the chance to make an interception on a suspect Gilbert pass and he failed both times, the last time resulting in a touchdown for SMU. Needless to say, we’re going to need to see much better play from him once Big 12 play starts.


Special Teams:

Therm: A. SMU's best starting field position was their own 29. Without looking, I am 100% sure that we didn't have a game like that in 2011. We need to do a better job in the return game, but the new kickoff/touchback rules are going to suppress kick returns nationwide, so that may just be a product of the system.

MCM: A on kickoffs and punts. After a shaky first punt, Spencer Roth performed well on the day after being asked to do mor ethan in almost any game last season. We started the game with a pooch kickoff that actually worked pretty well (because of the rule changes) before kicking it deep as we got the wind. Am I the only one that thinks it's weird to see touchbacks taken out to the 25? That's going to take a while to get used to.

Pras: A.

No coach benefits more from the new kickoff rules than our own Art Briles.


Uniforms:

MCM: A+. Therm didn't get a chance to do this one because I didn't ask him. BRING BACK THE BLACK!

Pras: A++/PCS

The only thing keeping it from A++++ and true Controlled Substance is some tinkering with the pants and perhaps the green matte helmet, although the gold helmets did a great job of accentuating the super boss gold letters. Just fantastic work. Need more. And soon.

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