We're back again this week with our staple Grade Report from Saturday's contest with the WVU Mountaineers. Gird your loins now, because this report isn't for the faint of heart (or, probably the relatives of most of our defenders). Helping me this week, as always, are Brandon Lamar (@theBrandonLamar) and Prashanth Francis (@PrasFrancis).
Let's get right to it with the...
MCM: A+. Don't let the incompletions and the early interception fool you, Florence had a simply masterful game. Outshone by his opponent's eight touchdowns, Florence did everything asked of him in a situation that required him to. We weren't winning that game or getting close without Nick Florence quite simply playing his ass off. He did. He very nearly willed this team to victory by running our offense as a highly-tuned machine. The play at the end of the first half, if it occurred at the end of the game, would be as iconic as Robert's throw to the endzone against OU. I believe that. The school record for yardage is again his and he led the team to a finer road performance offensively than RGIII ever did. Than any Baylor QB ever has. He should get more credit than he is.
Pras: A+. I’m not sure how much more you can ask him to do. He put up a 196.4 QB rating, which Robert Griffin III did in less than half of his games last year, and that includes an interception which was clearly not his fault. He diagnosed plays at the line well, ran the zone read well, and showed some great elusiveness at times against a WVU defense that brought the house on more than one occasion. On a day where Florence was without his best RB for part of the game, playing in an away stadium that was incredibly amped up, and knowing that the only way Baylor would win would be for him to lead them to 50+ points, Florence responded admirably. He will face better defenses this year, but if continues to play like that, Baylor is going to win more than they lose.
BL: A+. What can you say about Nick yesterday other than he was fantastic. He finished with 581 yards , 5 touchdowns and 1 interception (which could’ve been caught). He reclaimed the Baylor single-game passing record by crushing RG3’s 479 yard game last year against Oklahoma. We can’t possibly expect any more from the young man than what he gave us on Saturday.
MCM: Salubi B+, Martin B+, #FreeLache: INC. I say incomplete on Lache because I WANT MOAR. Jarred Salubi started the game impressively, in my opinion, by hitting the holes hard and gashing WVU for moderate gains, exactly what we need him to do. We were victimized by his injury relatively early, but Glasco Martin filled in capably in his straight dive skillset. All in all, we didn't ask them to run much and had only moderate success at it. Lache got in a few series while Salubi was out and looked decent, not great, but managed to stay behind his blockers and take what the play gave him. This wasn't going to be a game where we ran for 200 yards because we didn't need to with the way our receivers were playing and Nick Florence gun-slinging all over the field. I never caught myself thinking "We won't be able to win this game if we can't run the ball." That was how this game played out. Others will be different, so we need to continue improving. We'll talk about this more below.
Pras: Salubi B+, Martin B, #FreeLache! : B+/ #1 In my heart. I never realized how important Salubi was to the offense. His ability to stay in and block is pivotal for what the team wants to do in the passing game. Moreover, he was the most effective running back, clearly elevating his game from the previous weeks. I’m still not convinced that he will be the team’s best RB by the end of the year, and I’d like to see #FreeLache! get enough snaps to actually develop instead of just tease, but even I can see that Salubi needs to be the starting RB for the next few games at least.
BL: B-. We need more out of this position, but it’s a combination of problems. Our backs only ran for a combined 125 net yards, for an average of 3.2 yards per carry, on a total of 38 carries. In a game like yesterday when you’re in a shootout, you keep throwing the ball. The really telling stat is that our longest run of the day was only 12 yards. We’ve got to be able to create big plays in the running game, because no one will be worried about giving up 3.2 ypc to us.
MCM: Terrance Williams A+, Tevin Reese A-, Lanear Sampson A, Levi Norwood A. Reese gets downgraded because he didn't catch the first pass, something that is becoming an issue for him. If the ball isn't thrown perfectly to hit him in stride, he's not going to give all that much effort to go after it. If there was a grade above A+ for Terrance, I'd give it to him. He was amazing. Sampson shrugged off a performance against ULM characterized by the dropsies and Norwood is developing into a very strong possession receiver. Antwan Goodley caught a touchdown pass, too! Fantastic work by our entire corps.
Pras : Williams A+, Reese A+, Sampson A, Norwood A. I agree, Mr. Announcer Man, why wouldn’t you want to play WR for Art Briles? These guys, especially Williams and Reese, have a great feel for camping out in the holes in zone coverage and are YAC beasts.
BL: A+. Again, what else can you say about these guys? Terrance Williams is now the Big 12 single-game receiving leader with 314 yards on 17 receptions and 2 touchdowns. Sampson and Reese also went over 100 yards receiving yesterday, and that trio each had at least 1 reception of 50 yards or more. Norwood and Stonum did what they needed with their limited opportunities, and Antwan Goodley made a fantastic touchdown catch late in the game.
MCM: Pass blocking -- B+. Run blocking -- B. Kept Florence clean for the most part except for obvious long third downs where they brought the house and we didn't pick it up. WVU was extremely aggressive the entire game and our OL did a great job keeping a good pocket for Nick to be able to deliver his passes. My hope is that our young tackles continue to improve in the running game-- I think we're seeing people pinch down a lot more than they did last season because Florence doesn't scare them like RGIII did-- and we can start to see more holes bust open inside. I don't think people realize how difficult it is on our offensive line to run at the pace we set offensively. They don't get enough credit for that. Because I've been out of town this week, I haven't had time to go back and watch them closely enough to give individual grades.
Pras : B. I’ll talk about this more later, but our OL is still not where we had hoped it would be in the offseason. We use a lot of TE sets to give us an extra blocker and gave up noticeably more pressure when Salubi was out, suggesting that the 7th blocker is important, too. LT Drango has done better in pass blocking that RT Baker, but they still need development time before we can leave them on islands and run the 4/5 WR sets. While they do have LG Richardson and C Wade get out to the second level in run blocking at times, both of them are better in close quarters. RG Kaufhold is the main OL they pull and is much better at blocking in space, though it’d be nice if he were a hair quicker.
BL: B+. I can’t criticize these guys too much. I only remember one false start penalty, and given our inexperience and that environment, I think that’s acceptable. We did give up 3 sacks, and we’ve got to improve on that as our next 2 games are against substantially better defenses. Our run blocking was good, as we didn’t have many runs for losses; we just aren’t getting big plays once the RBs get to the second level.
MCM: D. I've made my thoughts known. I don't really want to talk about it again. They've been put in a horrible position by losses and are doing everything they can, it's just not working. At least Javonte Magee got more playing time this game to learn and adapt to the speed of play at the BCS level.
Pras : D-. The main thing that is keeping me from giving them a failing grade is that I truly think that part of their problem is that they are not being put into a position to succeed by Phil Bennett. It’s clear at this point that our defensive line is our primary weakness (assuming Hicks can replace Holl in 2 weeks). By so frequently rushing only 3, Bennett is assuring the opposing QB as much time as he needs to throw and/or scramble. Even when Bennett did call for blitzes, he would sometimes counterbalance this by dropping a DE into coverage which did absolutely no good at all.
Regardless, even accounting for not being put into an optimal position to succeed, Baylor’s DL was awful Saturday. When WVU wanted to run the ball, they were generally able to, with "successes" being holding them to 3 yards. I’m not sure how much talent is on the WVU OL, but they simply manhandled the Baylor DL far too often. There was one play where Hager had to fight off two different OL to make a tackle on a RB. Even in a one gap, 3-3-5 system, this is bad. In the past, I’ve felt that Bennett was calling plays to try to hide his safeties, but I think it’s time to start addressing this problem and take your chances at safety.
BL: Defense: Q. Everything about the defense sucked. If I watched this game 10 times, I don’t know if I could find anything positive to say. I know Mark and I were both in minor melt-down mode during the game yesterday, and honestly, I don’t feel any better about it today.
Editor's Note: BL wasn't kidding. That was the only defensive grade he gave me.
MCM: Hager B, Lackey B-. It's hard to grade anyone on defense because of the overall quality, or lack thereof, of the unit, but it's particularly hard on the linebackers. These guys are just swamped with OL on the second level constantly. It's a wonder they continue to lead the team in tackles. That said, they have room to improve on telegraphing their blitzes (as in, stop doing it) and they need to be better getting off blockers, particularly when rushing the QB. Lackey seems to take really strange routes to the QB whenever he gets the chance to rush, as if he is trying too hard to run around people. That's ok when you have superstar speed. He doesn't. This was the best unit on the defense again.
Pras : Hager B+, Lackey B-. I have been treating the surprising play of our two new starting LBers as if they were equal and it’s time to stop this. After charting the game against UL-Monroe and getting halfway through the WVU game, it’s clear to me who the superior player is. While both Lackey and Hager have done well adapting to stating roles, Hager has been better at the myriad duties of a 4-2-5 LB and a 3-3-5 LB. Lackey has had the opportunity to play the weak side and blitz more frequently, but he either doesn’t get home to the QB or misses the RB too frequently to be an elite player. I suspect that Hager’s size and athleticism have him in his current role, which involves a lot more fighting off interior OL to make a play than is fair.
Even accounting for the fact that Lackey has been in position to make plays but too often doesn’t, the LBs are the best unit on this defense. Better play is always nice, but they should not be the focus of our ire.
MCM: INC/B. I gave him two grades because he missed time with concussion-like symptoms from about 9:00 left in Q3 to the end of the game. Prince Kent filled in admirably, leading me to hope he gets more time going forward, but he's no Dixon. When he played, he played well and was our best and most consistent tackler. We just don't put him in the position to succeed relative to expectations because he's constantly having to cover. Constantly. At some point we'll realize that he could be a force coming off the edge, if only a few plays per game. He's got the mentality, athleticism, and strength to do it. But I really think he needs to go back to safety to replace Sam Holl.
Pras : B+. It’s hard to grade Ahmad Dixon because he’s asked to do so many things and generally ends up covering the mistakes of others. He’s clearly our best defender and plays above averge in man coverage and run support. He also played as a "OLB" in 3-4 coverage, but that was employed against a 4 WR set that saw Holl and Dixon with coverge near the LOS and run responsibilities. I would like to see him used on blitzes more frequently as I think he has the athletic ability to close that Lackey does not. I’d also be ok with Mark’s suggestion of trying him out at safety and moving Kent into the starting lineup.
MCM: &$%*$#. Just read what Pras said. I'm tired of harping on our safeties every week. We put them in awful positions with no pass rush, failed blitzes, corners lined up 12 yards off the ball, everything. We expected it to be bad because Geno Smith is really good and his receivers are great ... but not that bad. I'm exhausted just thinking about it again. To their credit, there were two different passes, one on Joe Williams and another on K.J. Morton, where the defender was in the right place with good coverage, the pass just beat them. That happens. Of course, those plays were offset by touchdown passes where nobody was within five yards of a receiver at any time during the play.
Pras : CB: C, S: D-. It’s impossible to grade our secondary without recognizing that they were going to be giving up a lot of points on Saturday. Bailey and Austin are amongst the best in the Big12, we were at WVU, and the proficiency of Baylor’s offense meant that the Geno Smith-lead Scoring Machine would need to score a lot of points. That means that they were going to have to defend against a lot of attempts, most of which occurred with Geno Smith having a clean enough pocket to have a nice picnic. In light of all of that, I’m not going to lambaste them. Losing Goodson obviously hurt, although he wasn’t exactly Revis Island out there before he left. Joe Williams actually had decent coverage on the Bailey fade TD, but he couldn’t get his hands up in time and Geno through a great pass. But let’s not get too carried away with our magnanimity. Even grading on a curve, they gave up a ton of receptions, yards, and TD’s.
Casey and Wilson pull up Holl’s grade. Not that Casey was great, but he wasn’t as bad as Holl. I will never understand why Holl was used as if he had the capabilities and flexibility of Dixon on Saturday. In the 3-4, Holl didn’t stick with his coverage responsibilities long enough and was ineffective in run defense. When playing safety, he didn’t pick up WR handed off to him from the CB’s and was generally found out of position whilst a Mountaineer scored another TD. I don’t have the final stats yet, but WVU clearly attacked the middle of the field and Holl.
If these guys were professionals, my review of Holl would be more scathing. Holl is a student athlete, though, and a Baylor student on top of that, so I’m going to refrain and simply ask for Bennett to stop putting him in a position to fail.
MCM: B+. Outside of missed kicks, special teams have been a pleasant surprise this season. Spencer Roth had a great day pinning the Mountaineers deep and Baylor managed to keep Tavon Austin mostly in check in the return game. At least for us, anyway. You have to remember we kicked off at least 9 times. I don't really believe the missed kicks cost us much, if anything, because we weren't going to stop them on defense and needed to be scoring touchdowns. I am, however, really tired of seeing missed field goals. Supremely tired. I wish Briles had shown faith in his special teams (see what I did there?) by letting them kick it onsides at the end of the game.
Pras : B-. Kickoff coverage wasn’t as good as it has been in the past weeks, but they were also facing perhaps their toughest opponents of the year in the Austin-Bailey combo. Our punter continues to be seen infrequently, but has been good when surfacing. Those missed FG’s by Stork really hurt...it’s impossible to avoid thinking about how the game would have changed if he had made those.
BL: C. Spencer Roth punted well. Aaron Jones missed both of his field goals, we gave up 2 big kick returns, which clearly our defense can’t handle. We can’t afford these kind of mistakes.
MCM: It's no secret by now that this team will go as far as our offense takes us. Luckily, our offense is extremely good. We haven't suffered much, if any, of the dropoff many expected after losing so much last season. That doesn't mean there aren't areas to improve, however, and one of the big ones is consistency in the running game. It's just not there at this point, and that's probably a combination of a step down in running backs from Ganaway to our current crop, the loss of RGIII's running threat, and inexperience on the offensive line. Shifting people around has been a bigger problem than I anticipated.
Defensively, our problems are simple to identify and extremely hard to fix. I honestly believe at this point that we've seen all there is to see of Sam Holl as a starting safety on a Big XII team. Until we fix our center field, we're going to continue to get burned. Hard. But we don't exactly give him the strongest platform on which to stand when we get zero pass rush. Like I said yesterday, Geno Smith dropped back to pass and we hit him one time. Once. That has got to change. I think the first step is abandoning any pretense that we can get to the QB rushing 3 guys. We obviously cannot.