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Baylor vs Duke: What to Watch For in the Early Game

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NCAA Football: Baylor at Duke Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

The early score of a game can be somewhat misleading. Sometimes a team can jump out to an early lead, but a closer inspection sees that they were operating on smoke and mirrors that cannot hold up for a full 60 minutes.

The prime example that always comes to my head is Oklahoma in their first CFB playoff against Clemson a few years back. Oklahoma opened the game driving down the entire field and scoring a touchdown. But a closer look showed that they were in trouble. If memory serves me correctly, they had to convert multiple third downs on that drive and absolutely could not run the ball. And most crucially: their OL was getting whipped, and I mean whipped, on every play of the drive. Baker had some miraculous escapes and throws. And again, if memory serves me correctly, they either never scored or barely scored the rest of the game.

  1. Just how badly is the Baylor OL getting beat?

There are advantages and disadvantages in every game. For most games this year, Baylor’s OL is going to be outmatched by the opposing DL. But just how bad is it? Can the QB sit in the pocket long enough to make the proper reads?

Baylor is going to look to set up a deep shot i the first drive or two of this game. Whether the pass protection can hold up for these shots is a huge question, because...

2. How badly are Baylor’s WR beating the Duke secondary?

This is where a crucial difference exists between this game and the OU/Clemson example I brought up: OU only had one good WR (Sterling Shepard) and Clemson had a ton of good DBs. For this game, Baylor looks to have a huge advantage with WRs vs their DBs.

Baylor will have some big 3rd downs this game. And probably quite a few 3rd and longs, because the run game will come tough against a great Duke front 7. But will Hurd, Mims, and Platt simply bully the Duke secondary so that down and distance matters less?

From my personal prediction stand point, I think this is going to be THE deciding factor in the game. Baylor’s OL probably won’t fare well, so it’s on the WRs to ball out and make big plays. Look for Baylor to move the pocket a lot and utilize quick reads and RPOs. NO DROPS is critical this game, because I think Duke is going to play a lot of conservative coverage with their green corners, so expect a lot of 5-7 yard passes this game.

3. Can Baylor consistently stop the run?

Duke is going to run the ball this game. A lot. Their new QB has more career rushing attempts than passing attempts. And the QB run game causes special issues. Namely, missed gap assignments are even worse against a QB run game than against a standard RB game. Why? Because to stop the QB run game, you have to bring an extra defender into the box (because the QB run effectively means there is one extra blocker. Think about it, if a QB hands the ball off to the RB, he is not blocking. But when a QB runs, the RB is blocking for him). The consequence of this is this usually means there is one fewer deep defender to contain a runner who escapes free. This is why you see so many long touchdown runs on 3rd or 4th and short: bringing guys up towards the line of scrimmage carries extra risk. As an aside, I have a vivid memory of “The Belldozer” running all over Baylor years ago, usually for 5-6 yards per pop. Baylor got tired of it, brought everyone up in the box on a critical third down, and he runs for a 50+ yard touchdown.

Anyway, the thing to look for here is: can Baylor stop the QB run game consistently, and without having to bring a ton of guys down in the box? If they can, they should be able to contain Duke’s big plays and force them to march down the field. This would portend very good things for the Baylor D.

Let me know what else you guys see as key to the game in the comments. Thanks for reading!