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Thoughts on Baylor-Duke

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The defense looks close. The offense has some issues

Baylor v Duke Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Baylor fell to Duke 34-20. That wasn’t much different than the line, or what most of us expected. But the game unfolded a little differently. We’ll take a look at the good, the bad, and then look ahead.

Good:

Hats off to the defense. Liberty dropped 48 points on this team two weeks ago. Excluding Zach’s pick-six, the Bears gave up 27 points to a Duke team that has a good offense.

Clay Johnston was a monster today. Duke’s quarterback, Daniel Jones, had been a menace on run-pass options. When he started running outside, Johnston was ready to make a play. He finished with 13 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack. With Taylor Young active as well, the linebacker corps is a strength of the team.

The defensive line made it difficult for Duke to run. Bravion Roy, Brian Nance, Eric Ogor and Ira Lewis combined for eight tackles for a loss. They added four sacks. Northwestern couldn’t do anything against Duke’s offensive line last week. This week the Bears showed they were ready to make plays.

The Baylor defense also fought hard all game. The Bears had four turnovers, which contributed to Duke having 17 possessions. For the third straight week, the Bears were killed in the time of possession battle. But the defense was ready to make plays. They forced a fumble on Duke’s first play. After a Zach Smith interception (that wasn’t really his fault), Duke took over at the Baylor 17. The Bears forced Duke to settle for a field goal attempt. When Duke had a chance to extend the lead to 14 points before halftime, Henry Black had this interception:

Chris Platt was money when he got the ball. His top flight speed reminded a few folks of Tevin Reese. Platt had four receptions for 148 yards and two touchdowns. If he gets the ball in space, he’s gone:

Bad:

The Bears had 11 penalties for 100 yards. Maybe you can quibble with a roughing the passer call or think that a pass interference shouldn’t have been called. But Baylor once again had way too many penalties. The Bears constantly gave Duke better field position or left themselves with too many yards to go.

Baylor’s offensive line has not been good. The players on the line seem like good people, but they’re not getting the job done. Sam Tecklenburg is a converted tight end. There’s little depth behind the guys playing, and the Bears didn’t have both tight ends in this one. But the Bears line was a big reason the team averaged 2.1 yards per carry. Zach Smith had guys in his face throughout. And the Platt reverse call might have been a touchdown, but two men failed to block one Blue Devil. Until the line improves, the Bears ceiling is going to be much lower than we’d like.

Another game and more problems converting on 3rd and 4th down. The Bears started 0-for-10 on 3rd down attempts. They couldn’t gain a yard on 4th down. And after doing nothing on those opportunities, they finally decided to punt on 4th and 1 near midfield. I’d really like to see the Bears go for it there. If they can’t get a yard at midfield, they’re not going to win anyway. But I understand why they don’t think it’s going to happen.

Baylor’s receivers drop far too many passes. They dropped three easy attempts and four total against Liberty. They were slightly better against UTSA, but they failed to hold onto too many balls today. They dropped slants and coughed the ball up when hit. This is a young receiving corps that seems far from the days of WRU. I’d take Chris Platt, Denzel Mims and Gavin Holmes all day. But I’d prefer to have them in 2018. With attrition, they’re playing a lot in 2017.

Finally, the Bears missed open field tackles. Shaun Wilson averaged 9.8 yards per rush and broke a 65 yard run. In one-on-one opportunities, the Bears struggled to take the proper angle and wrap up Duke’s players. I think this is a very correctable problem, but it kept the Bears from having a chance late.

Looking ahead:

I didn’t include Zach Smith in either category because I think his performance—like much of life—is tough to fit into one category. He fired the ball on slants and helped the Bears receivers make big plays. He also had a few nice runs that kept the offense moving.

Smith turned it over too often. His pick-six was a bad throw where he picked the wrong receiver. Duke forced him into two fumbles. He had a low completion percentage (12-of-34). But with an offensive line that doesn’t provide much protection and a running game missing its top two backs, the quarterback is not Baylor’s big problem.

I would still start Smith. The Bears are playing for the future. When it’s close, the Bears should keep playing younger guys. Anu Solomon’s mobility would be helpful, but Smith’s rocket passes are helpful too. The 2019 Bears might be good with Smith. Solomon will be long gone by then.

You can watch this team and think about anything. We’re three weeks into a new era. Maybe these are the inevitable growing pains of a new system with so many new players. The defense has made massive strides since week one and is still getting guys back. Phil Snow built a dominant defense at Temple, and with more time to work with players, things could really get going.

It’s also reasonable to wonder if this offensive system can work at Baylor. The Bears don’t have much of an offensive identity, and maybe the team will lose so many games that recruiting spirals. Or maybe there’s another reason they won’t get it done at Baylor.

I’m still of the view that this will be a very long season. I have the Bears going 1-11. If you watched any of KU-Central Michigan or KU-Ohio, you know the Bears are better than the Jayhawks. If you’ve watched the Sooners, you know next week’s game against Oklahoma could get ugly.

But I still believe Matt Rhule will win here. He won two games in year one at Temple. He won 10 games his third year at Temple. And in his fourth year, he won 10 games and the American. He’s a bright guy, and the Bears haven’t lost any recruits yet. Instead, they still have a fantastic 2018 class.

The best takeaway from today is that the team fought hard and looked better in many places. These guys really haven’t come to close to quitting. None of us should either.