Baylor battles Duke at 11:30 tomorrow morning. The game is in Durham and airs on the ACC Network. If you don’t get that channel, the game is also on many regional Fox Sports networks, including Fox Sports Southwest.
We’ll look at when Baylor has the ball, when Duke has the ball and end with a prediction.
When Baylor has the ball:
The Bears have changed things up on the offensive line. Ish Wilson will take over full time at left guard. That should be a big boost for the Bears. He was one of the highest graded guards in the country last season, per PFF. Sam Tecklenburg will shift to center and Ryan Miller will be the backup. Miller should still see the field plenty—he’s the clear No. 6 guy on the line—but it will be nice for a true freshman to not have to play so many snaps.
Last week, Duke did a nice job rushing the quarterback. The Blue Devils notched four sacks and two quarterback hurries. The Bear’s offensive line struggled mightily against the Roadrunners, and the Blue Devils will be an even bigger challenge:
Duke has been incredible against the run through two weeks. North Carolina Central averaged 2.1 yards per rush, and Northwestern averaged just 1 yard per rush. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson ran for nearly 3,000 yards on over 4.5 yards per carry the last two seasons. Against Duke, he picked up 17 yards on eight carries.
Baylor might try to establish the passing game with more intermediate routes. Anu Solomon tried to go deep against UTSA, and the Bears pass protection and Solomon’s poor decision-making crushed the offense. Zach Smith will took over at quarterback this week, and he has shown he can fire the ball into tight spaces:
But Duke’s defense made it very difficult for Northwestern to complete tight passes. Baylor’s receivers have struggled to get open against press coverage, and the Blue Devils are a physical team. Their secondary picked off two passes last week and limited Northwestern’s starting QB to an 11.2 QBR. That happens when the defense keeps the starter at 11-of-29 for 120 yards and nabs two interceptions, including this one:
Duke finished last season 48th in S&P+ on defense. That’s much higher than either Liberty or UTSA. Baylor has shown flashes that could portend a big improvement. They’ll need it against Duke (still feels weird that Duke is good at football).
When Duke has the ball:
Daniel Jones, Duke’s quarterback, was a star last week. He threw for over 300 yards and added 108 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The Blue Devils mixed in run-pass options, which caused the defense to read and react. Baylor’s playing so many young guys that will need to be in the right spot this week. Even ending up in the right spot is no guarantee against Jones:
Shaun Wilson seems to be a much faster running back than he was out of high school. I was shocked how fast he looked because his ESPN high school recruiting page claims that he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds. I’m not sure if his coach just hated him and wouldn’t hit stop, but Northwestern found out numbers can lie:
The Bears do not have a defensive turnover this season. Matt Rhule has mentioned that and noted that one of these days luck will turn Baylor’s way. The scary thing about watching Duke last week is that Northwestern received some luck on turnovers but it didn’t make a difference. Duke still thoroughly dominated a top 50 S&P+ team.
Hopefully Baylor can limit Jones’ rushing and set up longer 3rd down plays. Duke finished outside the top 75 in adjusted 3rd down distance last season. If the principles from Baylor’s simpler defense against UTSA translate to this consent, then the Bears might get Duke off the field enough to shock some people.
This could be a big week for Taylor Young. With Jones’ mobility and Duke running so many roll-outs, how well he positions himself could make a big difference. Jalen Pitre—an eternal fan favorite—gets another start. He’ll have a challenging week against Duke’s mobile offense.
I’ve loved the changes Rhule has made this week. Smith gives the team a new dimension at quarterback, and Wilson is probably Baylor’s best man on the o-line. Chris Platt seemed so close to taking over with Solomon, so maybe he’ll connect with Smith and the Bears offense finally explodes.
The Bears are rebuilding and facing a much tougher opponent in their first road game of the season. Vegas has the Bears as 14.5 point underdogs because Duke has looked awesome the last two weeks. There’s a legitimate case that the Blue Devils are the most underrated team in the country.
My guess is that Baylor looks a lot better this week and covers the spread. But the Bears have struggled too much through two weeks for me to take them in this game. I hope I’m wrong, but I have Duke winning 35-27.