A Tale of Two Halves, or Balance as the Key to Baylor's Offense

US PRESSWIRE

Despite having the same players, the Baylor offense that started the season didn't really resemble the one it used to reel off four wins in its last five games. Why is that?

I'm going to start with a statement that probably isn't arguable, but forms the basis for much of my confidence going into both the bowl game and 2013-- I think Baylor is a much better team right now than it was to start the season. It's certainly a very different team, even from the start of conference play, and I'm not talking about the defensive resurgence we saw late in the year. I'm talking about the offense, where Baylor ended the season as one of the most balanced teams in the country where we began it as one of the least. Here's what I mean, and all stats are courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

Baylor's offensive stats through the first six games, including 3 conference games against WVU, UT, and TCU. Baylor finished 3-3 in this stretch.

Passing Rushing Total Offense First Downs Penalties Turnovers
Rk Date Opponent Result Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg Pass Rush Pen Tot No. Yds Fum Int Tot
1 2012-09-02 Southern Methodist W (59-24) 24 35 68.6 393 5 32 220 6.9 2 67 613 9.1 15 9 2 26 10 85 0 0 0
2 2012-09-15 Sam Houston State W (48-23) 24 41 58.5 312 3 39 232 5.9 2 80 544 6.8 10 16 1 27 11 84 0 2 2
3 2012-09-21 @ Louisiana-Monroe W (47-42) 28 41 68.3 380 4 47 169 3.6 2 88 549 6.2 18 14 0 32 6 60 0 2 2
4 2012-09-29 @ West Virginia L (63-70) 29 47 61.7 581 5 45 119 2.6 4 92 700 7.6 19 12 3 34 6 56 0 1 1
5 2012-10-13 Texas Christian L (21-49) 15 23 65.2 326 2 32 106 3.3 1 55 432 7.9 12 8 1 21 1 10 2 4 6
6 2012-10-20 @ Texas L (50-56) 30 41 73.2 352 2 44 255 5.8 4 85 607 7.1 12 12 5 29 5 55 1 1 2
6 Games 150 228 65.8 2344 21 239 1101 4.6 15 467 3445 7.4 86 71 12 169 39 350 3 10 13
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CFB: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2012.

The main point to take away from this is how one-dimensional our offense was in the first six games of the season. Though we actually rushed the ball 11 times more than we passed it (239 to 228), we passed for over twice as many yards and therefore averaged over twice as many yards per play passing than running (10.28 vs. 4.6). I've gone over a good chunk of my reasoning on why this is before-- an no, it's not as simple as Jarred Salubi not being very good-- so I'll give you the Cliff Notes version: 1) inexperienced offensive line at the tackles, 2) teams not respecting Nick Florence's running ability, 3) the pass was working, so we didn't press the run like we could have, and 4) Jarred Salubi isn't as good as we expected. Through this stretch we averaged 574.17 yards per game, a healthy number overall, and 7.4 yards per play, a number probably buoyed by our pass-heavy offense.

The real benefit of this exercise doesn't come until you see the next table.

This is the second set of six games-- so the last six of the regular season-- all of which were conference games. We went 4-2.

Passing Rushing Total Offense First Downs Penalties Turnovers
Rk Date Opponent Result Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg Pass Rush Pen Tot No. Yds Fum Int Tot
7 2012-10-27 @ Iowa State L (21-35) 31 51 60.8 426 2 30 115 3.8 1 81 541 6.7 21 3 0 24 7 33 3 1 4
8 2012-11-03 Kansas W (41-14) 26 42 61.9 367 3 49 299 6.1 2 91 666 7.3 15 16 1 32 13 120 0 0 0
9 2012-11-10 @ Oklahoma L (34-42) 12 33 36.4 172 0 51 252 4.9 4 84 424 5.0 8 15 2 25 7 55 0 0 0
10 2012-11-17 Kansas State W (52-24) 20 32 62.5 238 2 49 342 7.0 5 81 580 7.2 10 18 1 29 5 65 0 2 2
11 2012-11-24 N Texas Tech W (52-45) 22 37 59.5 396 3 57 278 4.9 3 94 674 7.2 16 14 2 32 6 71 0 0 0
12 2012-12-01 Oklahoma State W (41-34) 23 39 59.0 296 1 55 319 5.8 3 94 615 6.5 14 17 1 32 9 64 1 0 1
6 Games 134 234 57.3 1895 11 291 1605 5.5 18 525 3500 6.67 84 83 7 174 47 408 4 3 7
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CFB: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2012.

Now we're talking. In the second half of the season, Baylor not only improved its record, but also ran the ball much more often (about 9 times per game more than the first half) and with much greater success (500 more yards over 6 games is about 83.33 yards per game more). We passed the ball fewer times and with less success in terms of completions, and our touchdowns through the air decreased by half. This is attributable, I think, to the fact that we played substantially better defenses, particularly against Oklahoma and Kansas State.

It wasn't entirely the teams we were playing, though, there was definitely a tactical change somewhere along the line. Just from looking at it, I'm guessing the Iowa State loss was the nail in the coffin. After that game, we averaged over 50 rushing attempts and almost 300 yards per game. Stated differently, after the Iowa State game, our rushing offense would rank fifth in the country if repeated over the course of a season. Before that it was in the 40s. That increase helped us finish 19th overall in rushing. Of our six best rushing games this season, five came in the second half against Big 12 teams. Our average in yards per carry increased by almost a yard.

You already know where I'm going to play most of the credit for this increase (and the associated success of our offense) because we talk about him all the time. The Kansas game was where Lache Seastrunk made his first real mark of the season as a primary back, and I believe as Mr. Pope said this afternoon that he was a huge positive for this team. Glasco Martin benefited from the speed/power combination, Nick Florence benefited from not having to throw so many times per game, and our offense benefited from tremendous balance. The fact that we ran so many plays (nearly 10 more per game in the second half of the season versus the first) underscores the point: we were grinding teams down in the second half of the season exactly like this offense should. It also didn't hurt that with Nick throwing less, he was also throwing fewer interceptions, meaning our offense was able to get more efficient because it simply had the ball more. There are two losses this season that I think are directly attributable to turnovers-- TCU and Iowa State-- both of which may have turned out differently had our approach for most of the second half of the season been the approach we used the entire way. But as I said, the tendencies of our offense in the first half may not have been entirely by our volition.

My point through all this is even better illustrated if you don't break things down 6 and 6 as I did above entirely for the purpose of convenience. If instead you use an equally-arbitrary dividing line of the Iowa State game, the point comes home more forcefully. Here are the two tables again divided at the Iowa State game, except without turnovers or penalties.

Passing Rushing Total Offense First Downs
Rk Date Opponent Result Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg Pass Rush Pen Tot
1 2012-09-02 Southern Methodist W (59-24) 24 35 68.6 393 5 32 220 6.9 2 67 613 9.1 15 9 2 26
2 2012-09-15 Sam Houston State W (48-23) 24 41 58.5 312 3 39 232 5.9 2 80 544 6.8 10 16 1 27
3 2012-09-21 @ Louisiana-Monroe W (47-42) 28 41 68.3 380 4 47 169 3.6 2 88 549 6.2 18 14 0 32
4 2012-09-29 @ West Virginia L (63-70) 29 47 61.7 581 5 45 119 2.6 4 92 700 7.6 19 12 3 34
5 2012-10-13 Texas Christian L (21-49) 15 23 65.2 326 2 32 106 3.3 1 55 432 7.9 12 8 1 21
6 2012-10-20 @ Texas L (50-56) 30 41 73.2 352 2 44 255 5.8 4 85 607 7.1 12 12 5 29
7 2012-10-27 @ Iowa State L (21-35) 31 51 60.8 426 2 30 115 3.8 1 81 541 6.7 21 3 0 24
12 Games 181 279 64.9 2770 23 269 1216 4.5 16 548 3986 7.3 105 86 12 193
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CFB: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2012.

This just gave me the idea of breaking things down even further by our performances in wins versus losses, but I'm not going to do that tonight. When you look at the table below, don't look so much at the absolute changes (since the number of games is different) as the averages.

Passing Rushing Total Offense First Downs
Rk Date Opponent Result Cmp Att Pct Yds TD Att Yds Avg TD Plays Yds Avg Pass Rush Pen Tot
8 2012-11-03 Kansas W (41-14) 26 42 61.9 367 3 49 299 6.1 2 91 666 7.3 15 16 1 32
9 2012-11-10 @ Oklahoma L (34-42) 12 33 36.4 172 0 51 252 4.9 4 84 424 5.0 8 15 2 25
10 2012-11-17 Kansas State W (52-24) 20 32 62.5 238 2 49 342 7.0 5 81 580 7.2 10 18 1 29
11 2012-11-24 N Texas Tech W (52-45) 22 37 59.5 396 3 57 278 4.9 3 94 674 7.2 16 14 2 32
12 2012-12-01 Oklahoma State W (41-34) 23 39 59.0 296 1 55 319 5.8 3 94 615 6.5 14 17 1 32
12 Games 103 183 56.3 1469 9 261 1490 5.7 17 444 2959 6.66 63 80 7 150
Provided by Sports-Reference.com/CFB: View Original Table
Generated 12/6/2012.

Aside from the fact that we won 4 out of 5 games in the second stretch versus the first, it should be evident to you that our offense measurably improved after the Iowa State game as compared to before. Though we averaged fewer yards per play, we ran more plays (88.8 after vs. 78.3 including and before) and thus averaged more yards per game (591.8 vs. 569.4). Saying we "ran" more plays is particularly appropriate, since we actually ran the ball 52.2 times per game in the last five against 38.4 before. We almost ran as many times in in the last five games as the first seven. Our success in the running game is further reflected in the distribution of our first downs: in the first seven games we had 19 more passing first downs than running. In the last five games, we had 17 more rushing.

As our rushing offense waxed our passing offense necessarily waned, but I honestly don't think that was a bad thing. Briles preaches balance; in the last five games we achieved it. Florence did less because we asked him to do less while giving Glasco and Lache the chance to do much more.

Nearly 1800 words in, you're probably looking for a point in all this other than "run the ball = win." I don't really have one beyond that, to be honest, except to tell you that I think the offense we saw in the second half of the season (really the last five games) is the one we'll see next season. With an inexperienced QB coming in and two now-experienced running backs waiting for him, we're going to run the ball and run it often. What we've seen in the last five games makes me think that will be a good thing. Robert Griffin III isn't walking through that door, but to have a good offense next year like we do right now, we may not need him to. Run the ball and we can win. We proved that this year.

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