After a stunning loss to Liberty, nearly everything about the team is under examination. After looking at Anu Solomon’s performance, I can confidently say he was great in week one. The Bears have a lot to worry about. They shouldn’t worry about him.
I went back and watched every offensive play from the Liberty game. Baylor’s quarterback played so well that a mediocre defensive performance would have ensured a win. But a couple of his mistakes meant that Baylor could not overcome a horrendous defensive game.
We’ll take a look at what Solomon did well, highlight a couple of problems and conclude with what comes next.
What Solomon did well:
A big surprise for many of us was how well Solomon threw the deep ball. If you watched any of his games at Arizona, his arm strength was a lot better than his reputation. But he was rocketing the ball all over the field on Saturday. He had no problem giving his receivers excellent opportunities, including this bomb to Chris Platt:
Liberty did pretty well in one-on-one situations. Solomon put the ball in perfect spots, sometimes the Flames just made great plays:
The Bear’s offensive line remains a big issue. A converted tight end and freshman are starters. Baylor is also working in new blocking schemes. Before too long, this could all work out well. But it hasn’t been too long.
Solomon has no problem launching passes with pressure coming. As the line failed to slow blitzes, he stood in and made big throws:
These plays are especially amazing considering Solomon’s injury history. The last two years at Arizona he’s missed significant time because of injuries. He didn’t let his past impact his future:
Baylor’s offense didn’t get off to the best start. It was apparent early that the Bears were looking to develop the short and intermediate passing game. Solomon’s throws later in the game showed why. He was money on just about every throw over the middle of the field, including this throw to Platt for a touchdown:
A few people might look at Solomon’s stat line and think he wasn’t accurate enough. That’s why watching the games matters. Solomon did finish 14-of-29, which is not an acceptable completion percentage. The problem was not Solomon.
Baylor’s receiver dropped too many passes. As Matt Rhule noted after the game, “I thought he had some drops that could have really helped him.” I could not agree more. Denzel Mims did wonders getting open, and should keep seeing the field. But he had three tough drops. This one would have been a touchdown:
And the Bears look like they will have a very low margin of error. This ball has to be caught:
Not all of Baylor’s drops were easy catches, but Solomon gave Tony Nicholson about the best chance he could with this coverage:
If you adjust four bad drops (there was one more drop I could have included in here, but we’ve got to give some hope these GIFs won’t crash your broswer) to completions, then Solomon would have had a 62% completion percentage. And that’s not all! The offensive line often gave him little time to work. Nobody would have had an RGIII 2011 like percentage the way the line played. Rather than take sacks, Solomon got the ball out and gave the Bears more manageable situations:
Finally, Solomon showed good mobility. With Hasty out at least the next three weeks, John Lovett—who had an awesome game—will be glad to have a quarterback who draws the attention of defensive ends and linebackers. Solomon finished with 97 yards running on six carries. He had a 44 yard run where the play seemed dead. And he made plays for the Bears:
Solomon had a brilliant game. But he made two mistakes. The first was not too catastrophic. As the Bears looked to get a touchdown before halftime, he took off and was about to get a first down. But he fumbled, and the Bears ended up settling for a field goal. Over the season, even the best players make some mistakes. This is a play he’d like back:
The biggest issue was the pick-six. After halftime, Solomon threw to a spot when Mims was facing press coverage. Mims didn’t won the battle, and Liberty would eventually run this interception back for a touchdown:
After the game, Matt Rhule said, “The route he threw the pick six on, you know, he throws the ball to the right read, the receiver kind of gives up on the play and the kid picks the ball off.” He’s right that the wide receiver gave up on that play, but Solomon released the ball when Mims was still in press coverage. The reason I’d still assign some blame to Solomon is that the reward for making that throw against press coverage is low. If Mims wins the battle, he’s looking at a small gain. But he lost the battle and the play resulted in a pick-six. That was the only throw he made that cost Baylor.
What comes next:
Baylor has played one game. That game went terribly—Liberty scored 47 points against a Baylor defense that had a lot of new faces around K.J. Smith and Taylor Young. Former Kansas City Royals manager Buddy Bell was right when he said, “I never say it can’t get worse.”
It can get better too. As Rhule pointed out, “We scored 45 points—I think it was a defensive issue tonight.” The defense can get better. The unit still has Young, Smith, Brian Nance and Bravion Roy. Harrison Hand looked pretty, pretty, pretty good. And the injury report is filed with some of the Bear’s best players. Maybe Oklahoma still throttles Baylor in three weeks, but Grayland Arnold, Jameston Houston, Davion Hall and Taion Sells will be back eventually.
If things go disastrously and the Bears get crushed by Oklahoma to cap off an 0-4 start, then it will probably be time to play Zach Smith and embrace the future.
There’s a reason Anu Solomon won the job. He’s back to being the quarterback he was at Arizona. The Bears have a lot to work on to get bowl eligible and compete with the best in the Big 12. But with Solomon, they have the quarterback to do it.