Thoughts on Baylor over TCU, 10-1, and the BCS in general...

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor won a game this season that it probably should have lost, got a bit of help from other teams in the Top 10, and wonders what in the world are we going to do on offense.

Before I do anything else, since I've gotten a few questions on it, I'm going to eyeball the BCS and Baylor's place within it after the events of this evening.

Here's how things stood coming into today, with the results of today's games:
1. Alabama -- lost to #4 Auburn in the most ridiculous way possible.
2. Florida State -- Beat UR Florida 37-7.
3. Ohio State -- Beat UR Michigan 42-41.
4. Auburn -- Beat #1 Alabama in the most ridiculous way possible.
5. Missouri -- Beat #21 Texas A&M
6. Clemson -- Lost to #10 South Carolina 31-17.
7. Oklahoma State -- Idle. Chelf threw 4 TD passes on Baylor's secondary.
8. Stanford -- Beat #25 Notre Dame 27-20.
9. Baylor -- Beat UR TCU 41-38
10. South Carolina -- Beat #6 Clemson 31-17.

So you had two top-10 teams beat two others while one didn't play. The reason I said we got "a bit" of help above is that Clemson managed to lose. That's good for us, since we'd likely compete with them for an at-large BCS spot.

Now the BCS of tomorrow, just by eyeballing it:
1. Florida State -- undefeated, going into ACC Championship vs. now-#24 Duke.
2. Ohio State -- undefeated, going into B1G Championship vs. now-#11 Michigan State
3. Auburn -- 1-loss, will play #4/5 Missouri for SEC Championship
4. Alabama -- 1-loss, regular season has ended.
5. Missouri -- 1-loss, will play #3 Auburn for SEC Championship
6. Oklahoma State -- 1-loss, gets now-#18 Oklahoma in Bedlam.
7. Stanford -- 2-loss, gets now-#12 Arizona State in Pac 12 Championship?
8. Baylor -- 1-loss, gets UR Texas
9. South Carolina -- 2-loss, regular season has ended.
10. Michigan State -- 1-loss, gets now-#3 Ohio State in B1G Championship.

Baylor had a pretty decent lead on South Carolina, such that their win this week probably won't let them jump us as a 2-loss team. With Stanford winning and Baylor playing relatively poorly at TCU, we won't jump them. I could see Missouri jumping Alabama, but I doubt it. Won't matter in the end; they either beat Auburn and one of the top 2 falls somehow or they don't.

Why does all this matter? At-large bids for the BCS. At #8 in the country, Baylor is sitting in a very strong position to earn one, either to the Sugar or the Orange, this season. That's what Clemson losing did. It's not a guarantee by any stretch, since the bowls don't have to go by BCS rankings, but it's more likely than it was.

The BCS bowls as of this moment...
NCG: FSU vs. tOSU
Fiesta: Okie State (Big 12) vs. NIU (at-large)
Rose: Stanford/ASU (Pac12) vs. Michigan State (at-large)
Sugar: Auburn (SEC) vs. UCF (American)
Orange: Baylor/Clemson vs. Alabama (at-large)

That is, of course, assuming we win out...

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And that is by no means a settled issue. Once again, albeit versus a legitimately good TCU defense, the Baylor offense sputtered its way through a game, posting a season-low in yards (370) and just 20 what I would call "real" points (21 came directly from turnovers). Bryce Petty, once a Heisman candidate in every respect, played easily his worst game of the season, completing exactly 50% of his passes (19/38) for 206 yards, 2 TDs, and 1 INT. He also rushed for another that we scored from the 1 after a fumble.

I'm going to say this in the nicest way possible: we have a bit of a QB problem. That's not to say Bryce should be replaced, sucks, or can't lead this team to victory. I believe and will continue to believe he is our best option and that Art Briles will get him ready for the game against Texas. I also like him on a personal level as a representative of Baylor University. It's impossible not to note, though, that his performance has suffered greatly against the better part of our schedule (fancy that), and that there were times tonight where I wanted the ball to be anywhere but his hands. He has, at times, seemed paralyzed by indecision, probably as a result of wanting every throw to be, in his words, "perfect." He wants to be great, so he pushes himself to be great rather than allowing the system to be great through him.

When the game started, Baylor utilized a few different looks, wrinkles we hadn't seen coming into this game that I think were designed to get Petty comfortable. Those wrinkles (TE Jordan Najvar caught 4 passes!), along with the triumphant returns of Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin, moved the ball almost at will in the first quarter, where we put up >200 yards of offense and ran 40 plays. When TCU adjusted, as a good defense will do, those wrinkles disappeared. We fell back on what we had been doing all season. When it didn't work nearly as well as it had all season -- partly because Jason Verrett covered Antwan Goodley like a blanket and partly because we went almost completely away from the running game for a variety of reasons -- we didn't have another plan. It was only because of the defense in the late second/early third quarter that Baylor was able to build a 34-17 lead and put TCU on the ropes.

Then, at least partially because of an extremely poor decision by Ahmad Dixon that resulted in a completely justified, drive-extending targeting penalty on a play that would have given Baylor the ball back with all the momentum in the world, TCU roared back while our offense misfired, eventually getting to a 3-point deficit. I didn't intend to talk about the Dixon hit so early in this piece, but I will: it was targeting. It was unnecessary. I cringed when it happened because I knew it would get called and Dixon would be gone. He should be. He'll miss the first half of the Texas game because of it, and I have no complaints.

All that said, everything that happened after that play and the game with relation to that play is, in a word, overblown. I've said before that it was a matter of time until Ahmad got flagged for targeting under the new rule. That time came tonight. But despite having said that, I don't think Ahmad is a dirty player at all. And I don't think that particular play was dirty, either. "Dirty" in this context, to me, says that a player is trying to hurt people. If it's a dirty play, it's one where the player was trying to hurt someone. I didn't think for a second that Dixon was trying to hurt Trevone Boykin, regardless of the result of the play. We penalize these plays because they are dangerous; the heightened risk of a blow to the head or neck area is enough for us to want to disincentivize their occurrence. We penalize the result, not the intent, because intent is impossible to prove in the moment. Dixon deserved the penalty because of the result of the play -- the illegal hit to Boykin -- not because he is somehow dirty. And anyone who points to that play as evidence that Dixon is dirty probably thought he was beforehand, anyway, and should look up "confirmation bias" in the dictionary.

As for Gary Patterson's comments on the whole deal, I'm less upset about it than I am fascinated. It seems clear to me, after watching the video and hearing the whole thing, that there is something going on in the background between these two programs. He cast too wide a net with the talk about recruiting, supposed rule breaking, and the nebulous references to things just going on too long, for his tirade to be about this game. And he basically admitted that he's trying to set a tone for his program going forward as they come off a 4-8 season. I could believe an interpretation of the whole thing as a way to divert attention from the team itself, actually. Why he had to do it by casting aspersions at Art Briles, someone who is probably as universally loved as any coach in the country at this point, I don't know. Without making too big a deal about the whole "Briles just lost his brother" part, which makes the comments ill-timed at best, that seemed extremely unprofessional.

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Moving back to the game, a few quick thoughts:

  • In response to last week's mauling by Oklahoma State through the air, Baylor moved Dixon back to safety and Sam Holl back to OLB, kept Eddie Lackey at MLB, and pulled Brody Trahan (Lackey's backup) up to OLB. It worked ... pretty well, actually, over the course of the game. Lackey was amazing, registering 6 tackles, 1 for loss, a sack, and an interception that he returned 54 yards for a TD. Trahan, after initial struggles when TCU ran right at him on their opening drive, finished with 7 tackles of his own. As Colt Barber pointed out on twitter, TCU had almost no success running the ball after that first drive. Dixon eventually left the game as we talked about above, and his replacement Orion Stewart ended up leading the team in tackles with 8 and scored on his own 82-yard interception return. All things considered, I was pretty happy with the defense save one feature...
  • I want to know where our pass rush went. Yes, Casey Pachall got the ball out quickly on the majority of his passes. We're not sacking him if he does that. TCU went deep more than a few times, however, and we barely laid a finger on him. TCU's offensive line is not good in pass protection, or at least they haven't been before tonight. We ended with just one sack, Lackey's, that might not have even been a sack. That has to be significantly better against Texas.
  • Another thing we have to do better is run the ball. Baylor finished with 164 yards on 52 carries for an average of 3.2 yards per carry. That's not very good. Recognizing that TCU is very stout against the run, we still need to be better. I'm confident that we can be as Lache and Glasco play their way back to full strength, but it's still a concern. The OL wasn't able to get a consistent push, and that's a problem. TCU had 8 tackles for loss in this game, which is just way too many.
  • We miss Tevin Reese so badly, it's unbelievable. Without the balancing force of Reese, both of the last two teams, TCU and OSU, were basically able to put their respective shutdown corner on Goodley and give him safety help only when needed, leaving everyone else to cover our other receivers. Our vertical passing game, once the most-feared in college football, has become virtually non-existent. That impacts everything we do offensively. Thankfully, Texas doesn't have a corner on the level of Verrett or Justin Gilbert. Still a concern. And Verrett is awesome.
  • The last defensive play of the game, when Sam Holl tipped a pass away at the last second and Terell Burt intercepted it in the endzone to ice the game, might have been my second-favorite defensive play of the season. First is still the K.J. Morton interception (get well, K.J!). Briles' reaction to that interception was priceless.
  • What the heck is the deal with penalties, guys? We gave TCU 6 first downs through penalties, 4 of them as a result of holding or defensive pass interference. That's about 7 too many. We also had 6 (!!) false starts, the targeting penalty, interfered with a guy catching a kick (seriously?), and roughed the passer. In all, we had 15 penalties for 140 yards. That's more than TCU had rushing. I'm not saying it's impossible to win with triple digits in penalty yards, but, as my dad would say, it's damned hard.
  • I'm ready to say that Baylor is not a good team, for whatever reason, on the road. I can't tell you why. I can't quantify it. I think very strongly that it has at least something to do with extremely conservative playcalling, but I can't prove that. I won't challenge people anymore, or at least I'll try not to, who say we're bad on the road. Actually, I'll probably still challenge that. Let's just agree we're not nearly as good on the road and try to move on.
In the end, Baylor won its 10th game of the season tonight in 11 tries. We've never done that before. It was our seventh win in Big 12 play. We've never done that before, either. And today, we won our third Big 12 game on the road this year, more than Robert Griffin III won in his entire career combined. And finally, we get a chance this coming week to beat Texas at home in the final game ever at Floyd Casey Stadium to go 11-1, something we've never done, period, and win at worst a share of the conference championship.

There are a lot of "nevers" in that paragraph. Baylor Football, making "never" into "now".
I'll add more later.
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