With the biggest game of the season looming, our Bears will be looking to stay unbeaten and on track for their first conference championship and possibly a BCS title bid. OU may be our toughest test this season as they are a well coached team that is used to playing in high stakes games. Playing in a hostile stadium for conference title rights is something OU has done for seemingly every year of the Big 12. For BU to win this game, these are the things I think the Bears need to do to achieve victory
When Baylor has the ball:
1. Run Game: Establishing a strong run game is vital for our offense to operate properly and the best place to attack OU's defense is right up the middle. Mike Stoop's defense is designed to stop the wide open offenses the Big 12. They normally run a 3-3 front (3 down lineman and 3 linebackers). None of their front three break 300 lbs and all three starting LBs are under 230 lbs. This is so that they are quick sideline to sideline, but also leaves them vulnerable to runs up the middle. Perimeter runs, screens, and quick outs often leave something to be desired when facing these quick defenders, so a power, between the tackles run game is BU's best bet to move the ball on the ground.
In their loss to Texas, OU was repeatedly gashed up the middle for good gains while staying more-or-less stout on the perimeter. Texas used its three-headed monster of Brown, Gray and Bergeron to continuously attack the middle of the Sooner D. The result was the most attempts (60) and rush yards allowed (255) for the OU defense in their only loss of the season. Coincidence? I think not.
"But BU doesn't normally use a power scheme for running," you may say. But fear not, for our zone-read and massive (in both size and talent) linemen should have no problem with the lighter defenders as evident in this play by TTU:
I know that TTU only rushed for 72 yards against OU, but even the tiny TTU o-line (really, they look like toothpicks compared to our o-line) was able to push around the OU defenders and spring their mediocre running back for a big gain when they ran the inside zone. A play Tech only ran like four times with each getting a solid to good gain.
The player to look out for is middle linebacker Frank Shannon. He reads plays well, gets into position quickly and can lay some lumber when he keeps his balance. He leads the team in total tackles while defensive end Charles Tapper leads the team in tackles for loss.
2. Pass Game: This is the strength of the OU defense, the pass game. With all the speed on the field they can close gaps quickly and stop plays before they can do any damage. It doesn't hurt that they tackle well in the open field either (well, it does for us, not them). BU's best bet is to attack them vertically as teams have had success with the deep ball. Even Texas with Case McCoy got the best of them a few times:
That's a simple wheel route behind a middle in route designed to keep the safety focused on the center of the field while the faster UT receiver separates from his defender and scores an easy touchdown. This could have happened several more times if McCoy was better at throwing the deep ball (he overthrew at least two more of these in the game).
Lucky for us, this is exactly what Baylor is designed to do in the pass game. Attack vertically with fast receivers and a QB that can chuck it with both power and accuracy. As long as the run game works to keep the eyes of the safeties in the backfield, Baylor should have success throwing deep.
With longer routes comes longer time in the pocket, though. This means more time for pass rushers and boy do the Sooners have a ringer that can take advantage of that:
Meet outside linebacker Eric Striker. Remember when I told you that the Sooner ran a 3-3 defense? Yeah, I kinda lied. On most downs Striker is actually lined up on the line like a stand-up defensive end, ready to rush the passer or keep contain in the run game. Stoops does use him to cover tight ends and WRs, but mostly he likes to use Striker as a Cruise Missile to disrupt (destroy?) whatever the opposition is trying to do. He also designs blitz packages just to keep the focus off Striker:
Stoops likes to put all of his front six on the line, showing an all-out-blitz is coming Tech's way. Tech has six blockers and don't seem too worried about it. But as you can see, Striker runs right by the LT for the easy sack. How was he left unblocked? Let's take a look from another angle:
The center is covered, so the left guard is responsible for the left "A" gap which looks like it's about to be occupied with a blitzing MLB. The LT now is forced to choose between blocking the DE or Striker. Linemen are taught to block inside-out, meaning they block the guy with the shortest path to the QB. In this case that is the DE. When the ball is snapped the MLB drops into coverage leaving the LG to now take on the DE shooting the "B" gap, which frees the LT to block Striker...who was already deep in the backfield chasing down Webb for the sack.
But ask me if I'm worried that Striker will do to Petty what he did to McCoy. Go ahead, ask me. "OK, are you worr.." NO! And I'll tell you why. For starters they guy is tiny; not even 220 lbs. He gets swallowed up by any tackle that manages to get his hands on him. He has one pass rush move: be fast. He's the Ricky Bobby of blitzers. He doesn't have a spin, swim, or rip move that I've seen. Every time he's made a play in the backfield was because the tackle (or sometimes TE) was too slow, used improper technique or even because the line missed him in their pre-snap assignments.
Baylor has one of the best offensive lines in the conference (trust me, I have some knowledge of this) with an all conference left tackle, Drango, and a very athletic right tackle, Palmer. Drango has both power and great technique for handling any type of pass rusher, so I have no worries when Striker lines up on that side. I initially had some concerns for Palmer as he sometimes gets beat with a good inside move, but Striker doesn't have one so Palmer should handle him fine too.
Don't forget that we once faced a terrifying pass rusher in Khalil Mack of Buffalo, who was threatened to us by many an ESPN analyst and Bulls fan. His impact was negated by good blocking and a terrific scheme implemented by Briles and Monty. I expect the same to happen with Striker.
3. Score early, score often: This may seem like a no-brainer but this is essential for Baylor if they want to take OU off their game plan. Baylor's defense is meant to contain and be opportunistic. This means they will let you gain yards, but fight you every step of the way and hope you make a mistake they can hurt you with. Our offense is what forces teams to change tactics and take more chances as they try to play catch-up. To take an early lead would force a normally run-happy team to try to air it out in an attempt to keep up. Good for us, bad for them (I'll explain more later).
When OU has the Ball:
1. Stop the Run: OU has the 2nd most potent run game in the conference and has most rush attempts of any Big 12 team this season. Their offense is designed for long methodical drives with the occasional big play (because they have athletes everywhere! Seriously, everywhere). This can be trouble for Baylor because we've seen what a run-first, hold onto the ball offense can do to us. Damn Snydercats.
OU loves to run the ball on 1st and 2nd down a whopping 66.8% of the time (309 out of 462 total plays). And they are successful at it, earning 5.11 yards on 1st down and 5.91 yards on 2nd down on average. That's good enough for a 1st down every two plays. Only one team has managed to keep OU from gaining less than 190+ yards this season and that was UT with 130 total rush yards allowed (I'm sensing a pattern here). They did this by controlling the line of scrimmage, shedding blocks, and having their LB's actually tackle someone for a change.
Baylor has a good front four rotation, 8 men deep, and three smart, sure-tackling LB's (including Holl). If they all play lights-out against OU, Baylor should be able to contain the OU run game. They probably won't shut it down, but hopefully force a lot of long 3rd downs. If not, it could be a long night for the Baylor defense. This is where the "score early, score often" aspect might be our best shot at stopping the OU run game.
OU has a deep pool of RB's and will probably use all three of them throughout the game as they all bring unique skills to the field:
We won't have to worry about Trey "Do Everything Plus Bell's Security Blanket" Millard as he was lost for the season against TTU. A perfect embodiment of of the word "versatile," Millard was going to be a headache to play against as he needed to be accounted for every second he was on the field. We hopefully won't have to worry about the Belldozer running rampant through our defense either, as Bob Stoops has been hesitant to use it outside of the redzone. Speaking of Bell, that brings us to...
2. Make Bell throw: While Bell has been a solid QB this season and much better than the first guy they gave the job to, he's been having some trouble getting the ball to his receivers consistently, especially when throwing down field. First let's take a look at his overall season stats:
Like I said, solid stats for guy mostly know for trucking through defenses like a bear eating oreos. Now let's look at his stats on 3rd and long:
His accuracy is almost halved while dropping 1 and a half yards off his YPA. And it's not just 3rd and long that he struggles with. I tried to find a website that tracked pass accuracy by distanced traveled, but failed, so the old eye test is gonna have to do. Generally, medium to deep passes are often off the mark and often his receivers have to make a lot of adjustments while the ball is in the air. The more 3rd and long passes BU can force, like this one, the better their chances will be to win this game:
No pressure, open receiver, throwing off his front foot and he throws it right into the turf.
Baylor can achieve this by doing Step 1 on defense and Step 3 on offense. Keep the run game contained and you will force 3rd and long plays. Make Bell throw and hope he can't hit his mark. Then, while OU is struggling to move the ball and score, force them to play from behind and rely on Bell completing a lot of throws. He's only had to do that once this season, and the result was a loss to, you guessed it, UT.
Stay in your lanes, play smart, make your tackles on the first try, make your field goals, and don't let the OU punt returners touch the ball. I mean it, just don't do it.
This will be a good litmus test for Baylor on whether or not they are a legitimate conference champion contender. OU has the athletes and the experience to go to Waco and steal a victory if Baylor doesn't play a good game. But even if Baylor just plays "good," that should be enough to beat this OU team 4 out of 5 times in Waco.
Thanks for reading!
Sic 'Em Bears!