Baylor 48, Sam Houston State 23--
- Briles said after the game last night that the gameplan called for repeated attempts down the field against Sam Houston's secondary. Were I to guess, I would say this is a result of their aggressive man-to-man defense and the hope that our faster WRs could create separation. It makes perfect sense in theory; Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese, and Lanear Sampson, in particular, are faster than the Bearkats assigned to stop them. The problem we ran into is that Nick Florence had a decent, not great, game with one glaring weakness: arm strength. The interception to end the first half is the perfect example. Because Nick underthrew the ball, Dax Swanson was able to catch Terrance Williams, who had a step on him when the ball was thrown, and pick it off going into the endzone. RGIII lofts the ball a bit more and Williams catches it in stride. Florence is more than capable of running our offense efficiently-- we've seen him do it-- but he's not RGIII. We shouldn't ask the same things of him that we did RGIII. Last night we did just that by basically abandoning the intermediate passing/screen game and it nearly cost us. Nick Florence's best strength is making the best decision out of multiple options, not bombing deep over the top.
- I love Tevin Reese, I really do. His pure speed brings a dynamic to our offense that few defenses can account for. That said, he shouldn't get 11 targets (possibly 12) unless he is absolutely wide open. Of those 11, he only caught 5 of them. It's absolutely possible that he did everything he could and the incompletions weren't his fault, it's just not the way to utilize that kind of player. Especially not with Lanear Sampson (8 targets) and Terrance Williams (10 targets) in the same receiving corps. Reese is a weapon best used sparingly. And that's not even addressing the fact that the second interception came as a result of him just giving up on a route completely.
- Speaking of receivers, only 6 players caught passes last night. One of them, Levi Norwood, only caught 1. This offense is at its best when it spreads the wealth, gets more receivers involved, and keeps the defense guessing. We didn't do that last night.
- The reason might be, in part, that Sam Houston didn't let us. Make no mistake about it, that was the most aggressive man-to-man defense we've seen in a long, long time. And that includes Texas, OU, and everybody else in the Big XII. (Note: that doesn't mean they were better. Aggressive != good.) Though they used a bit of zone as a change-of-pace, Sam Houston's base defense was an incredibly tight man coverage. Credit to them for playing it so well. I hope we got something out of the experience for when we play Texas later in the season.
- Sticking with the offense, I'm going to say something that a lot of people might not agree with: I'm not buying Jarred Salubi as our starting RB. If the holes aren't SMU-normous, he dances too much and ends up missing what could be positive plays. He's always looking for the TD when he could just get a solid gain. Contrast that with Glasco Martin, who knows only one direction and it is forward, and you have what I think is a severe dropoff. And it leads me to want to see more of Glasco outside of short-yardage situations. Our offense needs a strong running game too much to have a relatively ineffectual starter.
- But as much as I want to see Glasco get more touches, I really want to see Lache Seastrunk get involved. I honestly don't understand why he isn't, because you see his unbelievable talent every time he gets the ball. Unless there's something crazy going on off the field, what is the justification for keeping that beast caged? Even more than that, what's the downside to giving him the chance? Last night, when the rushing offense was so bottled up in the first half and we needed something to light a spark, why not see what Lache can do? I don't get it. And from his tweets on the subject, neither does he. But boy was that TD run sweet.
- Matt reminded me in the comments of something I wanted to touch on. Our play-action last night was basically worthless. In fact, slower-developing play-action plays were almost a hindrance against SHSU's pass rush. That comes as a result of defenses not respecting the run. They either a) didn't believe we'd actually hand off to Salubi, or b) didn't care. The linebackers refused to bite on the action and we lost the benefit of the play. Play-action passes are a huge part of our offense and one of the biggest reasons our running game is so important. We have to get better on the ground to get better through the air.
- The only offensive group left to talk about is the OL. Their performance as a unit was a mixed bag. I thought when watching the game live that they had a poor day overall, but I'm not sure now on the second time through. In some areas they seemed overmatched or confused by the stunts SHSU ran, particularly on the interior, but the holes were there on several crucial running plays. You can't fault the OL that Salubi didn't take advantage. Pass protection also seemed worse on first glance than it probably was, mostly because of Florence's decisions. The box score shows three sacks for the Bearkats, but two of them were what most refer to as "coverage" sacks where Florence needed to just throw the ball away. Instead, he tried to buy time with his legs and was caught from behind.
- Defensively, you could (and almost should) talk about this game as the tale of two halves. In the first half, Baylor's defense was abused to the tune of 270 yards and 20 points. Of course, we didn't exactly give them the best situation on SHSU's first scoring drive with the ill-advised fake punt, but that's no excuse. For some reason in the first half we played possibly the softest zone ever, only rushed four (if that many) on almost every passing down, and let them Tim Flanders gash us straight up the middle on numerous occasions. It was ugly.
- The second half was an entirely different story. On SHSU's first two drives of the half, they amassed a grand total of -17 yards of offense. A lot of that was tied up in two different fumbles, true, but those fumbles came as the result of significant pressure applied by a much more active defensive line. That would become a theme in the second half from a defense that looked like a totally different unit. Instead of sitting on its heels, it attacked. The zone tightened up. We started blitzing and actually getting to the QB effectively, leading to three sacks, all of which either ended SHSU drives directly or precipitated a turnover that did. There is no substitute for getting pressure on a QB. Whatever we did to make that happen, we have to do again. Bennett supposedly hates that we can only get pressure through blitzing. That's why he doesn't do it. Until we get players on the DL that can create pressure independently (or, in the case of Javonte Magee, decide to actually play them), we really don't have any other choice.
- Demetri Goodson is by far our best cover man in the secondary. It is a pleasure watching him play when he's given the chance to man up on a receiver. Something I didn't notice in real time was that K.J. Morton apparently played quite a bit of safety last night on obvious passing downs. Was that a result of Mike Hicks blowing multiple plays in run support? (I'm sorry, I'm not going to sugarcoat it. One of Hicks and/or Sam Holl has to go. You can get by with one, not two. I am appalled and dismayed that Prince Kent isn't a better option in our 3-man front). Either way, he struggled mightily until we tightened things up. I didn't see much of Joe Williams, and he only had one tackle. Did the SMU game burst his bubble?
- Glad to see Darius Jones get a chance to make a play late in the game. He didn't so much intercept the ball as he did steal it from the arms of the receiver before taking it 75+ yards to the house. Extremely impressive play. I guess I can look past the unnecessary dive/fastball combo in the endzone.
I'll come up with more as the day goes on. If you have additional thoughts, please share them below. It's difficult in a game like this to keep from overreacting to one extremely poor and another extremely good half. Still, like I said last night, there are lessons to be learned. My biggest question is, in a game where we obviously didn't take SHSU seriously until around halftime, what kind of role did our own reticence play? What were we willing/unwilling to do against a so-called lesser opponent. How much did we open the playbook (figuratively speaking) on both sides? How much were we willing to show? These are Important questions almost impossible to answer until after the season ends. Along those same lines, is it possible that we looked past SHSU to this Friday's matchup with ULM? You have to imagine it is, right?