As Mark did a great job of researching and pointing out after the game Saturday, Baylor held OU to 4.56 yards per play, their worst output since 2015 and by-dent their worst output of the Lincoln Riley era.
How’d the do it? Baylor’s defense has been pretty good this year, ranking in the 30s nationally by most advanced stats. They just gave up 31 points to a not very good Kansas State offense. How’d they turn around and play so well against OU?
Well, in short, they just played a lot better. They also made a few schematic tweaks and broke some tendencies on passing downs which really confused OU QB Spencer Rattler. Let’s dive in.
Stopping OU’s Base Down Run Game
Baylor was phenomenal against OU’s run game, which is really the heart and soul of their entire offense. No doubt Riley ultimately wants to knock you out with deep routes, but he wants to get 8 yards with a run on 1st down so he can take that chance on 2nd and 2. OU had very few successful runs in this game which set them up in a lot of long passing downs where Baylor could dictate the situation.
Thankfully for us, Aranda pretty succinctly summarized what their plan against the OU run game was. Against OU’s G-T counter play—their bread and butter play where both their OG “G” and OT “T” (thus, G-T) pull to the playside—Aranda said he wanted the initial defender to blow up the first pulling lineman which would then allow the following linebacker to come over the top and get to the RB. This is perfectly demonstrated by this following play. Watch the first defender (Jalen Pitre) submarine the first OL which mucks things up and allows LB Abram Smith to come over the top and get the RB for a loss.
Lol at Pitre here, this is awesome. But seriously, this is how you defend G-T counter. You just create chaos in the backfield. It's not as much about gap integrity as it is blowing blockers up. Exactly what Aranda said: blow up the puller, allow LB to scrape over top. Perfecto. pic.twitter.com/PigxBZzmQw— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) December 6, 2020
One tweak that Baylor sometimes made was, instead of playing their boundary OLB (the JACK) directly on the line of scrimmage, they would play him off the line of scrimmage which allowed him to attack the pulling lineman with depth and more force. Watch #34 Ashton Logan here. I wouldn’t want to be this OL that he is submarining.
BAYLOR DEFENSE REVIEW vs OU.— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) December 6, 2020
A truly remarkable performance. Let's see what they did.
The 1st play demonstrates they were all in on stopping G-T counter. Look at #34. Lined up from depth outside the OT, not where he usually is, so that he can get max force against pullers. pic.twitter.com/K2qUONXD4M
The other main run scheme that OU utilizes is the zone-stretch (AKA outside zone) play where the OL aggressively blocks zone to one side trying to reach the outside shoulders of the defenders in their way and wall them off. OU didn’t run this too much and when they did Baylor as able to hold up for the most part. The one exception I found was this play where new starter for Terrel Bernard, Abram Smith, is just a little late seeing it which lets the hole open. There are other guys playing suboptimally on this play to be sure (you’d like to see the playside DE stack and shed that OT, for example).
This is the only successful 1st down running play that I've seen so far. Zone stretch. You can see Doyle messaging with his arm to Abram here to get wide but Abram doesn't see it. Once the C reaches him and the IR bodies up Pitre the RB is in a great position. pic.twitter.com/29WBEAV0mM— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) December 7, 2020
But basically other than this play, Baylor more or less completely shut down OU’s base down running game and which put OU in a lot of obvious passing situations, which I’ll detail next.
Breaking Tendency on Passing Downs
For the vast majority of the year, Aranda and Roberts’ modus operandi on passing down was pretty straight forward (and effective). They’re gonna get some really versatile linebackers on the field and do a variety of different pressures which ultimately end up sending 4 rushers. Basically, it’s a thousand different ways to end up with 4 rushers.
Aranda/Roberts' "a thousand different ways to get 4 man pressures" has been as advertised. https://t.co/3AlFTRBq82— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) October 20, 2020
Versatile linebackers are necessary here because the offense can’t know who is going to come before the snap. Baylor’s most deadly pressures this year came when they were inserting Terrel Bernard, probably Baylor’s best pass rusher along with WBK.
More vintage @T_streets26 . Basic Rover blitz that we've been discussing for months, a staple of Aranda's defenses. The JACK drops into coverage, Rover (Bernard) inserts. B/c Baylor has blitzed Pitre from the field so much, OL fans towards him leaving RB 1 v 1 vs Bernard. Easy $ pic.twitter.com/D1oWp0NisE— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) September 27, 2020
This is important because I think Bernard’s absence is part of the reason you saw the changeup Baylor delivered against OU. Without him, guys like Dillon Doyle and Abram Smith just aren’t nearly as good of pass rushers, so the defense doesn’t feel very threatened by either of them.
Thus, Baylor switched it up against OU. Instead of primarily doing a thousand ways to rush 4, they instead alternated between rush 3 / drop 8 coverages and zero pressures (so called because there are zero extra defenders covering, everyone who isn’t in man coverage is blitzing). Stylistically, this is much close to what West Virginia has been doing the past few years and what Snow dabbled with last year (Baylor pretty exclusively played drop 8, but would go with zero blitzes when the time called for it). Here’s an example of a drop 8 coverage:
3rd and long, OU is running a bunch of stick routes, I think it is the same play that Stoops had the awesome catch on on the first drive. One of the few times all year Baylor only brings 3. Good rush from WBK forces Rattler to flush early. Great stuff. pic.twitter.com/YvDNedxCGa— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) December 6, 2020
You can tell this really confused Rattler. When you know a D is going to drop 8 you can feel relatively comfortable in the pocket and go through multiple progressions. He just looks at one guy here and then unnecessarily scrambles.
Next is an example of one of Baylor’s zero blitzes:
After playing drop 8 coverages on most 3rd and longs this game, Baylor goes with a zero blitz here. OU calls slide L to slide towards WBK which leaves both Logan and Abram free on the R. Abram takes a greedy angle allowing Rattler to escape and leads to the PI by Morgan. pic.twitter.com/xs9rcXhOYO— Travis (@Travis_Roeder) December 7, 2020
Zero pressure from #Baylor on 3rd— @The_Coach_A (@The_Coach_A) December 6, 2020
RB steps up to take the 'backer
No one for the Safety off the edge
One was coming free
Make the RB wrong!
is the "sticky" watching for screens
Brings back good memories #ArtofX | #BUvsOU pic.twitter.com/YaTEfazmy7
Notice how pre-snap, these all look the same. Baylor plays really athletic linebackers so they can creep up towards the line of scrimmage and still get back in deep zones after the snap.
Baylor changing their up their passing down packages resulted in a very confused young Spencer Rattler. They were able to get him off his game and paid huge dividends. OU was still able to make some plays, but as discussed at the beginning of this post, they made fewer plays than they have against anyone in years.
This Defensive Staff is Awesome
I argued all off-season that Baylor has a ton of talent, because they do. This coaching staff wasn’t walking into an empty cupboard. However, one aspect that I continue to be amazed by is what Aranda and Roberts are getting out of this defense with the front 6 they have. Not to disparage anyone in paticular, but due to COVID and other injuries, Baylor is not rolling out an extremely talented DL right now, and guys like TJ Franklin that I’m very high on are clearly playing injured. Dillon Doyle has been playing hurt most of the year and Abram Smith is starting as an inside backer after years of playing running back. It’s not that these guys are no good, I just think Aranda and Roberts are fully maximizing the talent we have on defense and it is awesome to see. The defense is clearly in good hands going forward.
I won’t spoil this post with too much offense talk because I’m pretty tired of it, but suffice to say as positive as I feel about the defense now and going forward, I pretty much feel that negative about the offense. I’ll be looking for some changes on that side of the ball—whether it be scheme, staff, personnel, etc. They have too many weapons on that side of the ball to be this bad. Baylor’s defense handed the offense a terrific opportunity this past Saturday and they couldn’t do anything with it.
Aranda and Roberts are awesome. And the asssistant coaches too, if you watch the DL closely you’ll see how well Meatball is coaching and the same with the cornerbacks and coach Brian Stewart. They’re in great hands and just put out one of the great performances of the past few years. Cheers to them and Sic ‘em.