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What Baylor-SFA Could Mean for Baylor’s 2019 Season

NCAA Football: Stephen F. Austin at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 of college football is always weird, almost regardless of who one plays. College football lacks a preseason so, in week 1, some teams are just not close to what they’re going to be the majority of the season. Ohio State infamously got beat down by Virginia Tech in a home opener in 2014 .... before they went on to destroy everyone else on their way to a national championship.

This week 1 problem is exacerbated when a team with high aspirations, like Baylor, begins with an FCS team (and a bad FCS team at that.) As my wife and I took our seats before the game, I, like probably many others, was thinking to myself, “What am I going to take away from this game?”

NCAA Football: Stephen F. Austin at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Per my estimation, Baylor had three major problems in 2018 that showed themselves to different degrees in different games. In order of importance, they were as follows:

  1. Big Plays on Defense. This has been written and spoken about ad nauseam this off-season. Baylor’s defense was often OK last year until it suddenly and catastrophically wasn’t.
  2. Inability to Protect the QB. Baylor gave up a lot of sacks last year, but what was more problematic was a pure inability to protect Charlie against good defensive lines. Across the board, Baylor was largely better than both Texas and TCU last year, but lost both games almost exclusively because their great defensive lines absolutely dominated against Baylor’s OL.
  3. Inability to Generate Big Plays on Offense. This was not nearly as big of a problem as the other two. Furthermore, it is compounded by the influence of randomness to big plays. As Bill Connelly elucidates in that article, an offense maintains a pretty stable efficiency rate throughout the season while explosiveness is more random. However, the most important factor for having big plays is to have a more efficient offense (probably because the more efficient you are, the more plays you run and thus the more opportunity to break off a long one). Baylor had a remarkably efficient offense in 2018, but very little explosiveness. Per my semi-learned eye, much of this had to do with Charlie being under too much pressure to wait for deep routes to come open and missing too often when they were. My mind goes to to a play in the Iowa State game last year where we were very efficient all game, then took a deep shot in the 3Q to a wide open Platt but Brewer overthrew him by about 5 yards.

There were of course many other problems as well (not getting pressure on the opposing QB, not generating turnovers, etc.) but I tried to distill into the main 3.

As I sat in the stands this past Saturday I wondered, “Were there signs of these problems against Abilene Christian last year?” If there were, that could mean that what we see against Stephen F Austin could actually mean something for the rest of the year. The problems that reared their head this past Saturday could show themselves for the rest of the year.

NCAA Football: Stephen F. Austin at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Against Abilene Christian in 2018

Baylor’s proclivity for giving up the big play first showed itself. ACU running back Billy McCrary looked like Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn would months later as he racked up 141 yards on only 6 carries. Baylor also allowed ACU’s top receiver to eclipse 100 yards, including a 54 yard catch.

Neither of the other two problems very evident. ACU only logged two QB hurries and Baylor had plenty of big plays as they torched a hapless ACU defense.

Against Stephen F Austin

Baylor rolled out their new dime defense to fantastic results. Big plays were kept to a minimum, as the only two “big” passing plays I can think of were good throws by the QB into a blitz. I really liked what I saw from Baylor’s best defensive players: James and Blake Lynch, Clay Johnston, Chris Miller, and Grayland Arnold.

The main problem area that showed itself in this game was Charlie was once again under too much pressure.

Doing a quick rewatch this morning, it looks like this diagnosis was largely correct. SFA was running lots of twists and stunts with their DL and these sometimes confused the interior OL. Of course, receiving his first start was redshirt freshman Prince Pines, so some inexperience is too be expected. But they’ll have to clean this up.

Another problem was that Baylor struggled to run the ball, at least when JaMycal Hasty was running. The sample size was small, and for his sake I hope it was a bad game, but Lovett and Ebner looked much better in game one.

Finally, while the sample size was incredibly small, Charlie once again struggled on the deep ball. Late in the 2nd Q he overthrew a wide, wide open Denzel Mims by about 3 or 4 yards. Earlier in the game he also underthrew a very open Chris Platt, though that led to a pass interference call. He also threw two balls directly at SFA defenders which should have been intercepted.

Initial Thoughts on Strengths and Weaknesses for 2019

  • Baylor was a very efficient offense in 2018 and brings back nearly everybody. I expected Baylor’s offense to marginally improve this year and nothing I saw against SFA has me changing my mind.
  • I’ve come to terms that Charlie Brewer really only has one weakness, and that is his deep ball. The guy set the national completion percentage record in high school and has incredible accuracy on basically anything under 30 yards. His two touchdowns to RJ Sneed demonstrate his great accuracy in the medium game, something that many QBs really struggle with.
  • Even when Baylor’s defense has struggled over the past few years, they’ve never struggled to play with intensity. They continued that trait against SFA. I’ve long been a Chris Miller stan, and think this new defense really sets him up to be successful. He looked really good.
  • The OL is TBD. Big 12 defensive lines are just so much better than the SFA DL that you can’t really take anything away from it. In Rhule’s first year, the OL was one of the worst in FBS. I stated back then that Baylor just needs to hope for marginal improvement year by year, going from horrible to below average in 2018, and perhaps they can be average this year.
  • RJ Sneed has taken the role of Jalen Hurd. Sneed played almost exclusively in the slot and ran a variety of routes.
  • Trestan Ebner is the best player on the offense.
  • I think Baylor’s offense is going to be a lot like 2018, just a little bit better. The real area for massive improvement in 2019 comes defensively. They showed out great in game one, and I think the new scheme sets them up to be successful. I’m not sure how much more the games against UTSA and Rice are going to tell us, but I really liked new UTSA QB Frank Harris out of high school and he lit it up in week one. He’s a true dual threat that is going to make some plays.