We're close to wrapping up our coverage of Baylor's win this past Friday over the ULM Warhawks, but we're not there yet. The next installment is our ever-popular Grades Report, wherein ODB's football minds grade the performances of each unit of Baylor's offense, defense, and special teams. This week has been a little difficult to get together so far, and as of this writing, all I have to post are my own grades and that of Brandon.* I think the others are just a little despondent about our defensive performance at this point to think about issuing grades. That said, if you're expecting me to harangue our defense on its own, you should be surprised. There's enough credit to go around.
MCM-- Firm B. Most of that grade is due to the beginning of the game, when Nick Florence struggled individually and the offense sputtered as a result. Past the first quarter, however, Florence was good to quite good. I just can't get over that first interception. It was, and I'm not exaggerating, a staggeringly bad decision to throw that football. The only thing I can think of is that he telegraphed the play by locking on to his WR, allowing the defender, who he just didn't see, to jump the route. There's really no other decent explanation. The second interception was yet another pass Nick needed to loft and let Williams run to get. I have supreme confidence he will improve on that as the season continues, and on the whole, the deep ball was better against ULM's secondary, even though there was one pass badly underthrown to Terrance Williams that should have been a big gain. Thankfully, it happened right before Tevin Reese took one to the house. When he was asked to run, Florence did so admirably, particularly given the troubles our other RBs seemed to have in that respect. He also avoided pressure in the pocket, got rid of the ball quickly when he needed to, and after the two early picks, didn't turn the ball over again. He wasn't rattled by those interceptions; he just came back out and kept doing what he needed to do to get Baylor back into the game and eventually win.
BL: Despite a shaky 1st quarter that produced 2 interceptions (only 1 was Nick’s fault), I feel pretty good about giving the QB position a B+ this week. Florence finished with 351 yards passing with 4 TD’s, and 55 yards rushing on 9 carries. Much as I suspected before the season, Nick has proven himself to be a very effective runner. Here’s to hoping Nick got the road game jitters out of the way as he prepares for West Virginia next Saturday.
I continue to be surprised by the quality of Florence's runs. This isn't to say that he is as good, or even as close to as good, as RG3, but he has been just athletic and crafty enough for his runs and the occasional zone read play to be a weapon. His first interception of the game was awful and continues a trend of shaky play early in games. This trend really does need to turn around if Baylor is to meet their preseason (ODB) expectations of being an average Big 12 team.
MCM -- All of them get a C. Our rushing production in this game was abysmal for the dedication we had to do it. Simply put, if we don't get better on the ground, teams will start to shut down our offense. More than anything else last season, our balance dictated our offensive consistency. We can't afford to be one-dimensional. I don't want to overreact and heap all of our struggles on the backs by any stretch-- the offensive line will wear their share of the blame-- I just didn't like what I saw on Friday night, particularly from our starter Jarred Salubi. I was talking to two guys this weekend that blog for another team who watched the game and both told me they think Salubi is just another guy taking up a spot. I'm quickly coming to agree with that viewpoint. The problem was that Martin wasn't much better when given the chance, but I attribute at least some of that to our selection of running plays. Martin ran 18 times and every single one was straight up the middle. It may sound contradictory for me to laud him on his north-south running style, but just handing it off straight ahead every time is really telegraphing things for the defense, no? Also, Glasco's struggles to get positive yards really makes me question whether the OL was playing a bigger role than I thought. You know Glasco isn't dancing, after all. Lache only got 1 carry and I know we're all really sad about that.
BL: B. I finally saw what I wanted to see this week, and that’s more Glasco Martin. The statistics weren’t particularly impressive, but Martin passes the eyeball test when he’s running the ball. Salubi had a decent, but not spectacular game, and we need improvement from him. Lache Seastrunk needs more carries.
Pras: Salubi: C, Martin B, FreeLache!: Not Freed
MCM -- A-. Tevin Reese and Terrance Williams get As while Lanear Sampson gets a B and brings them down. He dropped too many passes to deserve an A despite what he did when he got the ball. I don't have much else to say about these guys other than that they were awesome. Levi Norwood also got in on the action with 6 catches for 55 yards, and I like watching him play. I still wish we spread the ball around a little more and got Darryl Stonum involved, but I can't fault Briles for keeping things simple right now. Who knows, perhaps we've been purposefully saving Stonum's awesomeness for conference play? The tight ends didn't do anything worthy of positive or negative note.
BL: A. What a talented group of receivers we have. Lanear Sampson had several drops, but still finished with 93 yards on 9 catches. Terrance Williams had only 4 catches, but they were big, gaining 84 yards and 2 touchdowns. Tevin Reese had a huge day with 8 catches for 145 yards and the other 2 Florence touchdowns. All that said, I was really impressed with Levi Norwood. He only had 6 catches for 55 yards, and 1 run for 9 on a jet sweep, but the guy plays really hard and gets more out of every ball he catches than he probably should. He’s going to be a big factor next season.
Pras : A as a group with Tevin Reese being the biggest contributor.
MCM -- B-. C for the running game, B+ for pass protection. Listen, guys, I know you were going against an aggressive, attacking defense that you'd probably never seen before. I get that. But you have to do a better job opening holes in the running game for all the same reasons I listed above. We can't be as effective on offense as we need to be without you guys dominating opposing lines, especially late in games. Ivory Wade, you're going to make me look stupid if we keep having snap issues, too. Get it together. I will congratulate you guys on having fewer penalties this week and for keeping a clean sheet on sacks. Florence had time to survey the field and deliver the ball, even if he was hit a few times a little after the ball was already gone. Pass protection looked decent, if not good, to me.
BL: B. I thought the line played much better this week. The penalties were reduced, and we didn’t give up any sacks to a team that knocked Tyler Wilson out of their game against Arkansas. Maryland had success running the ball against West Virginia this week, hopefully our O-line will continue to improve and allow us to do the same.
Pras : B-
Faced a difficult assignment in trying to pass protect against a blitz-mad team and struggled at various times. I was more disappointed in their inability to pound the undersized ULM defense given the size and experience of the Baylor OL. This especially holds true for the interior OL, who in combination with the 240 lb Glasco Martin, was expected to create a much better push.
MCM -- C+. Not sure where to start with you guys because I'm just beginning to realize how wrong I was about losing Kaeron Johnson. I expected too much, too soon out of Trevor Clemons-Valdez and Suleiman Masumbuko, apparently. The Warhawks were able to rack up over 260 yards rushing, double their season average, against you and the rest of the defense. That's pretty terrible. And it's probably going to give me nightmares leading up to the Texas game. I may not be convinced David Ash is a real QB yet, but I know they can run the football. The positive is that we did manage to get better pressure when we used a 4-man front and the 3-man alignment worked well as a change-of-pace. Boy do we need to get better on the line, though. I added the "plus" to the grade when I remembered that ULM did the same no-huddle thing on offense that we did. We probably didn't get a chance to substitute as much as we would have liked.
BL: B-. Defensive line produced 2 sacks this week, but still aren’t providing enough pressure up front. More than likely, this isn’t going to change this season.
Pras : C+
The DL got the benefit of rushing 4 much more frequently than any other game in this young season and we even saw some LB blitzing. While they were able to generate some pressure, most of it didn’t come until after Baylor took the lead later in the game and forced ULM to become more one dimensional. The ability of ULM to so successfully run all over our defense is an embarrassment, even given the good size of the ULM OL, because we know that ULM would prefer to pass. The numbers would have looked better with better safety play, but that doesn’t completely excuse the DL.
MCM -- B. Yeah, you led the team in tackles. Take out Sam Holl and you probably led the team in missed tackles, too. What was that about? Numerous times we had the play diagnosed and schemed perfectly, but someone would blow the tackle and they'd be off and running. Mostly, I'm looking at you, Eddie Lackey. Bryce Hager was good, not great. Steady. You two and Ahmad Dixon are the undisputed leaders of the defense. We're relying on you to commit to stopping the run or rushing the passer and not miss. It's a lot of pressure to put on you guys, I know, but if you don't make the tackle when you have the chance, the secondary sure as hell won't.
I should also note that the switch to the 3-4 (if that's what you want to call it) defense proved beneficial when we did it in the second half. We already weren't stopping their running game, but having faster players closer to the line helped, I think. I want to see more of that going forward and improvement in terms of getting pressure on the QB. But mostly I want to see better tackling.
BL: B. Another decent week for the linebackers. Hager and Lackey combined for 13 solo tackles again but had only 1 tackle for a loss. We need more impact out of this position.
Pras : B
This is the last week that I grade the Baylor LB on a (generous) curve. As I’ve mentioned before, I hadn’t bought into Mark’s offseason hype campaign for Lackey and especially Hager, but it’s clear at this point that these two are amongst the best players Baylor has on defense. Lackey wasn’t as good in this game as he had been previously, with some missed/partial tackles that he needs to clean up a bit, but Lackey as the worst LB is a big improvement over where we’ve been in the past. Hager added to his impressive debut season, even if this wasn’t his best game. It was nice to see him use his athleticism effectively when blitzing.
MCM -- A-. Had a great interception, didn't miss many tackles that I saw, and performed well in the flats when given the chance to run down a play. I'm going to assume at this point the fact that we haven't blitzed Dixon at all against the pass is by design. Either Bennett wants me to go on a killing spree or we're saving those looks for conference play. Tuck in your shirt better, Ahmad, and you might have had a touchdown. You did give us a great .gif, though.
Pras : A-
I think he’s the only guy in the secondary capable of form tackling in space. Snark aside, it's been a pleasure to watch this defense's best player turn from an excellent athlete into an excellent defender. I hope the gains continue as the season progresses.
MCM -- C-. It's not a D because I realize that Mike Hicks, the better of our two safeties, didn't play. I'm just running out of ways to artfully describe the play of our DBs in ways that won't get me shouted at by Baylor fans for being too harsh. I'll just say this: we're screwed if we go into conference play against teams like WVU, TCU, and Texas Tech with Sam Holl still playing deep safety. He's going to keep getting burned repeatedly and there's nothing he can do about it. Great guy, I'm sure, and a wonderful teammate, but we have to find better. Now. He's just not fast enough. If it means pulling a shirt or switching someone around, do it.
I have a hard time grading the CBs in this game individually because they weren't tested in the way you traditionally see. Quite a few of ULM's better pass plays came when Kolton Browning broke the pocket, and at least one long touchdown was just a combination of great throw and great catch. Not much our DB could have done differently to stop it, and defending the pass when the QB is on the run isn't easy, either. Joe Williams should get credit for breaking up a TD pass in the endzone on an outstanding play.
BL: B-. Mike Hicks was out with a PCL injury this week, so we saw a lot more of Chance Casey. While Hicks routinely gets beaten on pass plays, he’s good in run support. Chance Casey is a significant upgrade in pass coverage, but isn’t as strong against the run. We really need to find a way to play defense with 12 players.
Pras : Oof.
While the cornerbacks had a rough game, I’m inclined to give them a little bit of slack here. The way in which pass interference was called Friday night was inconsistent (at best) throughout the night and that makes it difficult to play cornerback, especially with an effective mobile QB who extends the amount of time they have to cover. The safety play, though, was beyond cringe-worthy. As bad as I feel for Baylor nation having to watch such bad whiffing on tackles in run support (the area that Holl is supposed to be good enough at to make up for coverage deficiencies), I feel even worse for Phil Bennett. What must it feel like to repeatedly make the right play call and then see it break down because of awful fundamental play (positioning, tackling, etc)?
MCM -- A. Outstanding performance by Aaron Jones. Nailed both of his FGs and, as I said in the stats page, constantly pinned ULM deep. Great job by the much-maligned "Stork." When we punted, Spencer Roth also did a great job with a 47.5 average on his punts. Very good work from both of them and the biggest reasons why when ULM drove, they had to do it on a long field. Not their fault our defense couldn't make it hold up. Return game wasn't great, but I saw flashes from Stonum that looked like he's getting more comfortable. That's what I wanted to see.
BL: A. Special teams got back on track this week. Stork hit both of his field goals, all 5 PAT’s, and had 5 touchbacks. Spencer Roth averaged 47.5 yards on only 2 punts. Stonum, Norwood, and Goodley all handled kicks well.
Pras : A
Once again, I am left marveling at our special teams play this year. It’s not that it’s perfect or BeamerBall, but it’s not bad and is probably good (though I’d like to see a bit more of it first). The new rules undoubtedly help, but the kickoff coverages have been good even when the returner opts to go for it. Stork has been getting good hang time and placement with his kicks and has been solid on field goals and extra points. My one complaint is that Daryl Stonum runs with the sort of indecision that is unlikely to maximize returns and holds the ball so far away from his body that it will assuredly result in a turnover if he doesn’t rectify the sloppy form as soon as possible.
MCM -- I can't substantiate this concept with statistics that I don't have, but I firmly believe after watching the game again that much of our defensive ineptitude came as a result of an extremely poor day tackling. Whether that is attributable to ULM's pace tiring out our defenders or the fact that we traveled the day of to the game, I have no idea. I'm not insinuating that it is, either. But it may be a positive for the future in that tackling woes are normally correctable, and I would expect that we used our extra day this week (because we played Friday) to work on that extensively. Tackle better against ULM's running game, in particular, and you have a much different outcome to this game. I didn't think we were getting gashed repeatedly on the ground because we almost always had a chance to contain the play for minimal yardage. We just didn't get it done.
On offense, I attribute our rushing woes mainly to two things: blandness of the scheme itself and a bad day from the offensive line. Like I've said repeatedly, far too many of our running plays were just straight dives up the middle. We were probably trying to grind them out. The problem was that it didn't work until late in the game. My expectation from people I've talked to and things I've read in other places is that we will open the playbook (figurative playbook, anyway) up more in conference play. I hope so, anyway.