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Official Baylor vs. Sam Houston State Preview/Prediction Thread

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It's game week once again, ODB faithful (and non-faithful, I don't really care), and the time has come to look more deeply at this week's opponent, the Sam Houston State Bearkats.

First thing's first, Baylor fans and everyone else need to realize that, in all likelihood, this game is not going to be a "cake walk." No matter what anyone else has told you, SHSU has legit talent on their roster and very nearly won the FCS Championship Game this past season. Simply because they play in a division one tier beneath our own does not mean we should expect to steamroll them into submission. They return too many starters (17) with too much experience for me to believe that will happen. That said, I expect that Baylor will win and do so comfortably, but the people expecting a massacre on Saturday will probably be wrong. Nothing would make me happier since it would help Baylor in the polls next week-- hopefully pollsters are more knowledgeable about SHSU than the general populace-- I just don't see it happening. And by "massacre," I mean something along the lines of 55-3. While our offense certainly can score that many points, it would be quite shocking of a defense still adjusting to new schemes and suspect in a few areas to shut down the Bearkats like that.

Before you hit the jump and vote in the poll below (just like last week), a few links for your consideration.
-- The official Baylor vs. SHSU preview from BaylorBears.com, including the video preview I normally post later in the week.
-- Preview from GoBearkats.com, the official site for SHSU athletics.
-- SB Nation's Game Page for Baylor vs. SHSU.
-- Yesterday's BU vs. SHSU Game Day.

Just like last week with the dearth of information about both teams in 2012, previewing the Sam Houston State Bearkats is a bit of a chore considering that they: a) are an FCS team, so we don't have the benefit of advanced stats geared toward FBS teams, and b) played Incarnate Word last week, who is actually one tier beneath FCS at the moment. There's just not a lot out there we can use to forecast how this game will go.

SHSU O vs. Baylor D

What we do have that is probably most helpful at this point is SB Nation's preview of the 2012 FCS Championship Game from this past January. In that preview, Bill Connelly addressed the tendencies of both teams, including Sam Houston State. The most important takeaway I can find in that preview is that, as I mentioned last night, the 2011 Bearkats were as one-dimensional as any team I've ever seen. They ran the ball 72% of the time last season, leaving only 28% for passing plays. That's just over 1 in 4. The Nebraska teams from the 90s that I loved playing with on NCAA would be proud. And even if it is just one game against supposedly inferior competition, that offensive orientation bore out again in their game against Incarnate Word, where the Bearkats rushed 50 times against only 20 passes. It's not 1 in 4, but it's close.

So despite the fact that, again, as I mentioned last night, SHSU hired a new offensive coordinator ostensibly more pass-happy than his predecessor, we should expect them to run the ball repeatedly. They'll probably run the ball on first down, second down, and if the need arises, third down. They'll run out of different formations, sometimes switching to a "Wild Bearkat" where a receiver, Richard Sincere, lines up in the QB position. They'll run with multiple players-- against Incarnate Word, 10 different players registered a rushing attempt-- but the key is, they'll run. And like we said last week against SMU, doing so probably makes sense for them against Baylor's relatively weak defensive front.

Aside from being probably their best chance to register significant offense, the Bearkats probably hope for a secondary, but no less important, benefit: slowing down the game. SHSU cannot reasonably expect to stop our offense for four quarters. They know that, and we know that. Their goal will be to limit our possessions and thus our scoring chances. The less we possess the ball, the less opportunities we have to run away from them and hide. Sam Houston's offense isn't built for quick strikes, nor is it properly equipped to make up a large deficit. If we get up 14+ points, the game is probably over. So SHSU will attempt to keep the game close, slow it down to rest their defense and keep our O off the field, and try to win the turnover battle.

For Baylor, the key on defense will be to, obviously, stop the run. Baylor wants Brian (brother of Shawn) Bell to throw the ball as much as possible. Not because he's not capable of doing it (although he only threw for more than 200 yards once last season, against SFA), but because that's not what SHSU wants to do. They want to run. We must deny them that as a viable option. Then, if they do pass, we have to get better pressure on Bell than we did last week on Garrett Gilbert. We can't expect Bell to straight-up miss receivers like Gilbert did in the first half last week.

The good news is that their offensive line is relatively undersized (only one is listed at over 300 pounds and two are listed at 270) compared to the lines we have and will face this season, and two of the starters they did lose this season were on the OL. With (hopefully) more time in our base defense and another defender in the box (because SHSU rarely splits a fourth receiver wide) I like our chances of limiting their rushing offense the same way we did SMU's with Zach Line last week. Expect Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey to have big games again this week and both register double-digit tackles.

My biggest question for our defense is choice of alignment. I don't think anybody expected to see the 3-man front against SMU as much as we did (upwards of 80%, at least). Will we see the same thing repeated this week? DC Phil Bennett reportedly told the Waco Trib that we probably won't, but who knows? If the game plan is to make Bell throw the ball, we may line up in our base 4-man front to entice him to do so.

Baylor O vs. SHSU D

On defense, the Bearkats were probably a lot better in 2011 than anyone who doesn't follow FCS football closely gave them credit for being. Led by a stout, experienced interior line, the Bearkats claimed the #1 defense in FCS against the run and only gave up more than 300 total yards three times in the entire season. One of those games was their sole matchup against a FBS school, a victory over New Mexico. SHSU runs a 4-2-5 base defense very similar to our own with Gary Lorance (JR, 6-0, 290) and J.T. Cleveland (SR, 6-0, 290) at the nose and DT spots, respectively, and Darnell Taylor (SR, 6-0, 190) playing one of the deep safety spots. Another name you should probably know is Daxton Swanson (SO, 5-11, 185), who finished third in FCS last season with 8 interceptions. Theirs is an extremely experienced defense with 12 players who have combined to make 131 starts in their careers. The vast majority of that experience is concentrated in six players, each of whom have started over 20 games in their careers. The most experienced of the bunch is Taylor. The second-most experienced is Robert Shaw, their version of Dixon. (Edited to fix the positions for Shaw and Taylor). Here's what Bill C had to say about their defense:

Tackle Gary Lorance (28.5 tackles, 10 for loss) is a play-maker up front, but the job of the line has mostly been to occupy blockers and free up the linebackers and safeties to swarm. Safeties Darnell Taylor, Kenneth Jenkins and Robert Shaw (combined: 220.5 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, 21 passes defended) spend quite a bit of time near the line of scrimmage, and each player on the linebacker two-deep (led by Kash David) has registered at least nine tackles for loss. And when you have to throw, Dax Swanson and Bookie Sneed (combined: 31 passes defended) are probably going to either break it up or pick it off. The Bearkats have allowed a decent number of passing yards, but that is primarily because they have spent most of the season ahead on the scoreboard -- they have trailed, even for a little bit, in only five games.

One weakness I see on their 2-deep depth chart is at defensive end; all three listed as starters and backups weigh 255 pounds or less. The three combined for 6 sacks in all of 2011, five of which came from Andrew Weaver. I have little doubt that our offensive line will be the best SHSU has or will face this season (and yes, I know they play A&M in November). Fresh off marginalizing All-American candidate Margus Hunt, our young tackles should have no problems with SHSU's DEs, and our interior line should be able to handle Lorance and Cleveland more than capably. Our offensive line will be the ultimate difference in this game.

The way I see things going for Baylor on offense is that we will throw early and often to get a lead and then run their asses off to keep it. We have too much talent at WR and IR for their corners and safeties to cover and they will be overwhelmed. Baylor will take the pace set last week and crank it up a notch to take advantage of SHSU's lack of depth and talent on defense, and, hopefully, crest the 600 yard mark again. I know it's a lot to ask, but we've done better against better teams. The Bearkats are no slouches, but they just won't be able to keep up.

Since there isn't much else to say on offense, here's what I hope to see:
-- Lache Seastrunk given significant run after the game is put away. He wants it; I want it; you want it. He's got speed they've never seen before.
-- More balance than we showed against SMU. Though we racked up 613 yards of offense, it was almost 2:1 pass:run in yardage. Let's even that out a bit.
-- Corey Coleman and Darryl Stonum. Rumor is that Briles might try to redshirt Coleman this season surreptitiously, so that may not be an option. If it is, I want to see those two give a chance in this game.
-- Glasco get 100 yards. He's waited two years behind Jay Finley and Terrance Ganaway, and now backs up Jarred Salubi. Get Glasco some touches!
-- More than 3 rushers on passing downs, and preferably more than 4. No, whateveryournamewasonFSSW, bringing a fourth rusher is not an "extra man." Or at least it shouldn't be.
-- Ahmad Dixon blowing up a running play like a heat-seeking missile.
--Nick F'ING Florence. That is all.

Prediction

Baylor has its work cut out for it this week against a team that is better than their status would nominally indicate, but they will win. My prediction is that Baylor's offense gives the Bearkats defense a beating they've never experienced before, but is limited in chances by operation of SHSU's own offense. We'll score between 50 and 56 points (depending on field goals). On offense, the Bearkats are more successful, able to grind out at least one or two drives against a still-improving Baylor defense. They'll also get garbage points after we pull everybody that matters because I've never seen us do that and not give up points. Give them 17-21 on offense. That makes my final prediction something in the neighborhood of 52-20, not quite a massacre, but a respectable win over a respectable foe.

Now, what do you think?