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November Bears — Baylor Is Playing Its Best Football When It Matters Most

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NCAA Football: Baylor at Kansas State Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports

That Was A ‘Whoopin

A final score of 20-10 might not seem like one team dominated the other, but Baylor really controlled the game. It was a slow burn, but when you look back at all the stats, Baylro dominated in nearly every category.

Here are some of the most fun ones. Baylor held Kansas State’s offense to a 27.5% success rate, a stat which measures how efficient a team is on a down-to-down basis (success rate is calculated as gaining 50% of available yards on 1st down, 70% on 2nd, and 100% on 3rd or 4th). It’s a somewhat crude stat as any individual statistic is, but overall meaningful.

27.5% is insane. The average across college football is around 42%, and the vast majority of games each team will be somewhere between ~35-50%. Kansas State came into game averaging 50% on the year. 27.5% is the lowest mark Baylor has held a team to all year—the previous low was 33% against Texas—and it was against a veritable top 25 offense that had been really good all year.

Essentially, Kansas State came into the game averaging a “successful” play on every other play. Baylor only allowed them a successful play every 4 plays.

Havoc

Another one of my favorite things from yesterday was how much defensive havoc Baylor was able to create. Baylor and Oklahoma State are far and away the leaders of the Big 12 in “havoc rate”—havoc refers to sacks, tackles for loss, forced fumbles, passes defended, and interceptions—at 19% and 20% of plays, respectively. Those are awesome numbers, and Baylor was at full force against Kansas State, creating havoc plays on 23% of plays.

So, combine these two stats and we see that Baylor nearly had one havoc play for every successful Kansas State play. It’s impossible to reliably move the ball on offense when that is happening. Baylor simply beat Kansas State up. And they did it with a lot of tackles for loss, sacks, passes defended, and the like.

Peaking Late In The Year

Coaches always talk about wanting to be playing their best late in the year. For some it happens, for others it doesn’t. Baylor is certainly playing their best football right now. After a middling start to the season defensively, Baylor is turning into the top 10-15 defensive unit that we knew they had the potential to become if they put everything together. Over the past 6 weeks or so, they’ve reliably shut down every running game they’ve faced. And even though Deuce Vaughn went over 100 yesterday, they accomplished their gameplan as every player outside of Vaughn accumulated a total of 89 yards. 89 non-Deuce Vaughn yards allowed!

Because offense is so rhythm-based, most offenses tend to improve throughout the year, even if they have been operating in the same scheme forever and have a bunch of veteran guys. But this expected improvement especially applies to new offenses like Baylor’s. At the beginning of the year they probably only had ~50% of the plays installed that they’re regularly using now; Bohanon and Thornton had little of the chemistry that they currently have; the OL was learning how to play together on their combo blocks, etc. Even though the offense is still having their fits and spurts struggles, they clearly are playing coherent ball and are committing far fewer busts than they did early in the year.

The mark of a great coaching staff is maximizing the talent they have. College football is capable of frustrating fans in many different ways, but undoubtedly one of the most frustrating ways is when a team isn’t living up to their potential. Teams like Iowa State brought back nearly everybody and rate very highly in most advanced metrics, but have struggled to put together consistent games and aren’t in the Big 12 title hunt. Nebraska has lost 7 one score games this year.

Aranda and his staff are maximizing this Baylor team. And that has to have Baylor fans very excited about the future as they continue to install their schemes and culture.

Controlling What You Can Control

The situation this week is undeniable. To make the Big 12 title game, Baylor A) must beat Texas Tech and B) Oklahoma State must beat Oklahoma. There is no other way. Crucially, Baylor can only control one of those. As fans, we are thinking about stuff like this all the time. I was thinking about the Big 12 title race 3 games into conference play. But most players really tend to live day to day, even hour by hour. Usually they don’t even know who they are playing the next week.

The hope for Baylor is that, this week, they stay consummately focused on the task at hand. All they can do is put their best foot forward and beat Tech. Do that, and we can all collectively develop stomach ulcers relying on Oklahoma State beating OU that night.

Regardless of what happens in Bedlam, this season has undoubtedly been a success. I wrote in my season preview that I thought 95% of the time, Baylor was winning somewhere between 5-8 games this season. Well, they already have 9 with clear opportunities for 10, 11, and maybe even 12. I didn’t think the offense could be this good this year, and the defense has been as good as you could have possibly expected. There is a lot ahead of Baylor this year, and it requires that the team remains focused and bought-in. Everything we’ve seen from this team thus far tells me that we should expect this to be the case.

Beat Tech, let’s see what happens.