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Trench Warfare: ISU

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Last year's Baylor/ISU game was the season's best performance for the Baylor offensive line and tight ends. Will that hold true in Ames this year?

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Last year in Waco, Baylor absolutely dominated the ISU Cyclones in the trenches.  The entire line plus tight ends graded out at 94% with Cyril Richardson and Kelvin Palmer each posting individual season highs of 97% and the rest of the line grading out at 91% or higher.  Granted these scores are from my previous and more generous grading system, but anyone who watched last year's game can attest to the beat down given by the mammoths up front.  When I watched this year's game, I suspected that this would be their best performance of the young 2014 season.  Let's see how they did.

Sadly, due to an unfortunate sorting accident my play by play grading is now misordered.  Needless to say I'm pretty mad at myself and at Excel.  The important overall game scores are unaffected by this, thankfully, and I can show you those.

VERSUS ISU
PLAY DRANGO MUIR FULLER HILLIARD BAKER TE's TOTAL
Average Score 93.3% 95.5% 88.5% 92.1% 94.2% 74.4% 89.7%
RB Score 91.9% 95.3% 81.3% 88.0% 95.3% 70.5% 87.0%
PB Score 94.3% 95.7% 93.5% 94.7% 93.5% 78.6% 91.7%
Run Block Errors 1 0 3 1 0 4 9
Pass Block Errors 0 1 1 1 0 1 4
Penalties 0 0 1 0 0 2 3
RUN BLOCK SCORE
GAME DRANGO MUIR FULLER HILLIARD BAKER TE's TOTAL
SMU 67.6% 75.7% 66.2% 71.6% 64.9% 60.0% 67.7%
NWSU 86.8% 65.8% 71.1% 65.8% 71.1% 73.5% 72.3%
BUFFALO 82.7% 75.0% 77.1% 83.3% 66.7% 60.5% 74.2%
ISU 91.9% 95.3% 81.3% 88.0% 95.3% 70.5% 87.0%
TOTAL 82.3% 77.9% 73.9% 77.2% 74.5% 66.1% 75.3%
PASS BLOCK SCORE
GAME DRANGO MUIR FULLER HILLIARD BAKER TE's TOTAL
SMU 90.2% 85.4% 90.2% 89.0% 91.5% 88.9% 89.2%
NWSU 80.0% 85.0% 90.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 92.5%
BUFFALO 100.0% 100.0% 93.5% 98.4% 98.1% 100.0% 98.4%
ISU 94.3% 95.7% 93.5% 94.7% 93.5% 78.6% 91.7%
TOTAL 91.1% 91.5% 91.8% 95.5% 95.8% 91.9% 92.9%
GAME TOTALS
GAME DRANGO MUIR FULLER HILLIARD BAKER TE's TOTAL
SMU 79.5% 80.8% 78.8% 80.8% 78.8% 73.7% 78.7%
NWSU 87.9% 72.4% 77.6% 77.6% 81.0% 82.0% 79.8%
BUFFALO 91.4% 87.9% 84.8% 91.7% 80.8% 81.3% 86.3%
ISU 93.3% 95.5% 88.5% 92.1% 94.2% 74.4% 89.7%
TOTAL 88.0% 84.2% 82.4% 85.5% 83.7% 77.8% 83.6%

Without a doubt this was the best blocking performance of the season (so far).  Each offensive linemen posted season highs against ISU with only the tight ends having a slightly subpar game.  Where I saw the most improvement was in the run game.

I saw much better movement, engagement and sustained blocking than in the previous three games.  There was much better push from the middle as Desmine Hilliard played with more of the aggression I like to see from a mauler like him.  Kyle Fuller finally didn't have a nose guard over him like in the previous games so he was able to attack the linebackers more, which is his strong suit.  Blake Muir did a little better moving defenders off the line of scrimmage but still not as much as I'd like from a left guard; though he did improve on sustaining his blocks using his agility to seal opponents away from Shock Linwood and Johnny Jefferson.

Our tackles, Spencer Drango and Troy Baker, did an excellent job as well.  Baylor's run blocking scheme mostly has them making seal blocks, which they did superbly. A seal block is when the blocker uses his body to shield the defender away from the play and redirects them rather than pushing them off the LOS.  When they were asked to do a reach block every now-and-then their technique was clinic-esque as they got their heads and hips to the opposite side of the defender quickly without narrowing their feet or losing leverage.

The improved run blocking resulted in just five run block errors among the five offensive linemen in thirty-one rush plays.  For perspective there were ten run block errors in the nineteen observable rush plays from the five starters in the NWSU game.  Half the errors in 50% more plays.  That is impressive.

The pass blocking was dominant once again.  Though ISU was able to pressure Bryce Petty a few times they never got more than a gasping hand near him.  The Buffalo grades may look better, but ISU used a four man front (UB used a three man) and they blitzed more.

The lone black mark was the TEs.  They graded out much closer to their season average with a 74.4% total score (70.5% run, 78.6% pass).  Tre'Von Armstead and Gus Penning are talented young players but they block with a bit of reckless abandon sometimes.  They throw their bodies at opponents in an attempt to create that good initial "pop" we all like to see but they can get too aggressive out there which affects their technique.  A lack of sustained blocks or complete whiffs caused their four missed run blocks and (comparatively) lower scores.

What I find even more exciting than the great run blocking against ISU is the noticeably steady week-to-week improvement from the group.  Starting out at 78.7% from week one, to 79.8%, then 86.3% and finally 89.7%, this unit is gaining the experience and trust it needs to help Baylor compete for a consecutive Big 12 championship and hopefully a playoff berth.