Over the next few days, as we take stock of where Baylor is right now looking to the rest of the season, I'm going to focus on a few issues of major importance facing our team. As you might expect, most will be on the defensive side of the ball, where, according to the latest FEI update Baylor ranks 123rd in the country. The entire country. When I was in school there were only 117 FBS programs. There are only 120 now! And we're last in passing defense by absolute numbers, too! That's really, really bad. I could make a list that would be just hilarious to me of all the things worse than our defense, but it might also drive me to drink profusely and find myself naked in the swamps of beautiful Beaumont, Texas.
In the aftermath of a game where your defense allowed 656 yards through the air as part of a record-setting offensive day for the West Virginia Mountaineers, and one that almost definitely sewed up the September Heisman for Geno Smith, it's tempting to blame everything on the secondary. And make no mistake, our DBs, led by personal-favorite Sam Holl, made far more than their share of mistakes. But they always do that, so it shouldn't have been a surprise. Our safeties are completely terrible and we knew that coming into the season.
The real problem we have right now is that our pass rush has been almost nonexistent, leaving our defensive backs (and sometimes, inexplicably, linebackers) to fend for themselves in battles they can't possibly win. Through 4 games this season, including one against an FCS school and one against the Garrett Gilbert-led SMU Mustangs, we have 6 sacks. 6 out of a collective 195 pass attempts, an astoundingly low 3.08%. That's actually down from last season's 3.8%, which we thought was horrible at the time. Against WVU, a team that threw the ball 51 times, we had 1. Go back and look at the long pass TDs given up (there were 5 of them) and you'll see all but one (the pass to an uncovered Stedman Bailey on the sidelines) came where we didn't even get close to pressuring Geno Smith. Of course, we would have on one of them had our DE not been dragged down like an antelope in the Serengeti, but the point remains. You cannot possibly expect to contain a QB like Smith (or ones like Casey Pachall, Seth Doege, David Ash, etc.) if you're not laying a finger on him through out the game. They will, as we saw on Saturday, tear you to pieces. There are no cornerbacks or safeties on Earth that can stay with receivers like Bailey and Tavon Austin indefinitely, which is why I made such a big deal out of pressure before the game. If we were going to stop Smith we had to get pressure and we didn't, preferring all too often to rush three, sit back, and hope for something good to happen. Hope that Smith might overthrow a receiver or make a bad decision. He didn't do either of those things.
When Phil Bennett admitted during spring practices that he was probably too conservative in his first year on the job last season, that admission made me hopeful that we might see the aggressive, attacking defense the next time around. Through 4 games, we haven't even come close. And it leads me to wonder why, if we know we can't cover down the field anyway, we don't at least try to create pressure on the QB more often than we already do. What's the worst thing that could happen, you get beat? That's already happening.
I understand that expecting natural pass rush from our defensive line, which is as bereft of talent as any we've seen, is probably too much, especially against the better OLs and QBs of the Big XII. I didn't realize before the season what kind of impact losing Kaeron Johnson to injury, Tracy Robertson and Nicolas Jean-Baptiste to graduation/the NFL, and Tevin Elliott to his own stupidity, would have. Looking back now, I was stupid not to. And now that we have this problem, the answer cannot be to simply hope the guys we do have (who play extremely hard, don't get me wrong) will miraculously improve. There's no reason to believe they will do so in the short time we have to turn things around defensively. We're lucky in that respect that our offense is so prolific as to give us a fighting chance, but it is incumbent upon our defense to do the same for them. We can't expect to outscore every team on our schedule, it's just not realistic. Pressuring the QB, forcing him to make throws earlier than he wants and giving our corners and safeties the chance, however slight, to impact the play, is the only way, short of a kid facing an ugly divorce having a wish granted, that we'll see any improvement against the pass.
So I ask you, denizens of ODB, how do we do that?