Roster Turnover Necessitates Change
One of the reasons preseason projections are so difficult in college football is the amount of roster turnover. Most teams are graduating around 15-20 guys including many starters. Sometimes you have a pretty good idea of how someone will be replaced, but most of the time it is just conjecture mixed with a recruiting ranking.
On offense, Baylor was in an interesting position coming into 2019. They lost 3 starters, including probably their best player in Jalen Hurd. For the majority of conference play, the offense ran through Hurd. He received between 5-10 carries per game at RB and as many catches at WR.
In 2018, Baylor’s offense was very efficient (28th in the country in success rate at 45%) but decidedly not very explosive (55th in explosiveness). It was a sort of ball-control offense run from the spread. There were several reasons for this. First, Baylor’s OL was still below average dealing with very thin depth. They plugged in a true freshman at LT mid-season along with several other new pieces. Baylor could not rely on the OL to consistently protect Charlie Brewer for plays to develop down field. Second, well, Jalen Hurd. A phenomenal athlete at 6-5, Hurd had terrific short area quickness and acceleration for a guy his size, but he was not a burner. Baylor utilized him in the slot basically as a TE, running many slants and option routes.
One of the main questions for Baylor’s offense in 2019 was thus: Baylor’s offense was really efficient in 2018, but lost their most critical piece for being so. How do they move forward?
The answer: let’s just be explosive as hell.
The Emergence of the ‘Quan
In non-conference play, it looked like Baylor’s primary strategy on offense was to replace Jalen Hurd with a similar player in R.J. Sneed. Sneed is only 6-1, but he plays big and has remarkably sticky hands and good short area skills. He’s an ideal guy to throw RPO’s over the middle to, as he will catch the ball and can withstand an incoming hit. Here’s a TD he scored against SFA out of the slot.
But something happened towards the end of non-conference play. Baylor already knew what they had in Denzel Mims. But they realized what they had in Tyquan Thornton. 3rd and 20? No problem.
And of course, Tyquan had his breakout game against Iowa State and continued breaking out against Kansas State, which had me saying “Hit the Quan” even though I still have no idea what that means, other than that it’s a dance (move?).
This established a real quandary for Baylor’s future opponents. Baylor has two receivers worthy of doubling on nearly every play. And when you do that, it opens a lot else up...
Hello, Josh Fleeks
After the establishment of Mims and Thornton, there was a justifiable question of how Baylor would adapt if teams began keying on those two and making Baylor move the ball in other ways. This was well articulated by Ian Boyd over at his website,
I agreed with him, and expected Oklahoma State to do the same thing. But something interesting happened in that game. Baylor said, “Hey, you can bracket our top two dogs, but we have a third guy who is just as fast.” Baylor unleashed the Fleeks.
In honor of Baylor being 7-0, I bring you Josh Fleeks and Charlie Brewer ft. Beethoven's Seventh. pic.twitter.com/wXVZ9Vt1WJ— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) October 21, 2019
This was brilliant coaching and play design. As said previously, Baylor defenses know they need to key in on Mims and Thornton. On the first play to Fleeks, Baylor ran the same play earlier which led to Tyquan Thornton nearly scoring an 85 yard TD:
Sometimes less is more. Thornton slow plays the press CB giving his other WRs time to clear out and then hits the GAS. pic.twitter.com/pKXsWyGQVj— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) October 20, 2019
Thus, having established Thornton as a threat from the this formation, Baylor takes advantage of OSU’s overplay by isolating Fleeks against a safety that also might have to help against Mims. If Brewer could get protection, this was a TD before the snap.
Baylor wasted no time seeing if this would work again. On the first play of their next drive, they called the exact same play. OSU was in the same defense and was burnt again.
This shows how, a la King McClure against Louisville a few years back, Fleeks was probably not a part of the Oklahoma State gameplan. OSU could be doubling Fleeks with their middle of the field safety, but the safety is instead keying on the shorter route to Sneed—the route that was Baylor’s bread and butter to Hurd last year. But no, Baylor will just put another guy with 4.4 speed on the field and make you stay back.
This is a real problem for opposing defenses. Baylor has 4 WR on the field and 3 of them (Mims, Thornton, and Fleeks) have truly elite speed. Their 4th guy is a tough, savvy route runner with great hands in R.J. Sneed that will take 7 yards every time against a LB.
Charlie Brewer: or How I Learned to Remain Efficient but Love the Bomb
Baylor’s offense is really becoming something. They currently are more efficient than last year (46.5% success rate after the OSU game—24th in the country) and WAY more explosive (explosiveness rating of 1.44—5th in the country, right behind OU at 4th).
Notably, the Baylor coaches have learned how to utilize Brewer to create explosive plays. Brewer’s accuracy on “traditional” deep balls has always been so-so. I’m talking your stereotypical, out at the park with your cousins “go long!” route. But Brewer is dynamite on timing routes, even when thrown deep. Those throws to Fleeks, bullets over the middle of the field, are very difficult for most QBs, but Brewer is more than adept.
Baylor’s offense has ascended significantly since conference play began. After being in the mid 40s in offensive SP+ early in the year and largely carried by the defense, they are up to #14 now. A truly incredible rise.