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The Bend-But-Still-Break Defense

I'm trying to get a read on how Baylor folks feel about our defense heading into the week of the game versus Texas. Oblige me by voting in the poll below.

Layne Murdoch - Getty Images

In my Thoughts post after the game on Saturday night, I talked a little bit about my frustration with Baylor's defensive approach, particularly on third downs, and how it creates a situation where we don't hope to stop our opponent, we hope they stop themselves. All too often our defense does exactly what is asked of it on first and second down only to make a relatively difficult third down conversion look extremely easy. The TCU game is a perfect example as we saw the Frogs convert 13 of 15 third downs for an unbelievable 86.667%. That includes third downs with yards to go of 15, 18, and 16 yards as well as 5 other conversions of 8 yards or more. All 4 of Treyvone Boykin's touchdown passes came on third downs. Only one of them occurred with fewer than 7 yards to go on the down. The phrase "couldn't get off the field" was coined with this game in mind.

On the season, Baylor is now allowing opponents to convert on 63.64% of third downs. That is 120th out of 120 schools in FBS. It's also 17% behind the school ranked 101st in that category and 25% behind the next-worst Big 12 school, which is, incidentally, Texas at 67th in the country. We are allowing a full quarter more third down conversions than the next-worst team in our conference.

I think you get the point that we are brutally, epically, historically bad on third downs, and I think you know as well as I do why.

I don't have the statistics in front of me because I haven't done my customary second look at this past game yet, but I'm willing to bet that we did not line up on a third down play against TCU with a corner fewer than 5 yards away from the receiver he was intended to cover. I'm probably being a little generous to us by saying 5, too. The vast majority of plays were closer to 6 or 7. The only time I recall us tightening up on the edges was the fourth and short that went incomplete. That's it.

I don't know if we made the strategic decision to line up this way because it is our base defense or because we wanted to make Boykin beat us, but we did it. And he lit us up just like any other competent QB in college football would given that set of conditions. If I need 4 yards and you basically give me 7, I'm going to take it. TCU took it, and we couldn't stop them. That's why they had 5 scoring drives of 8 or more plays. Two of those drives took up 16 plays and over 7 minutes off the clock each. That's nearly a full quarter of the game on two drives to negative results. We tried to send more pressure this game than at any previous point in the season, but it didn't work because the QB could get the ball away fast enough. Our DBs were lined up so far off that the blitz couldn't get there. We combined a relatively weak blitz with soft coverage. Of course Boykin destroyed us. Whatever the reason for the strategic decision, we doubled-down tactically by never changing. We didn't adjust at all as the game went on.

I understand in a vacuum why Phil Bennett schemes like he does on defense-- he's afraid. He doesn't think he has the players to play more aggressive coverage and that if he tries, he'll get burned. He's probably right to a point. We would eventually get burned. My question is why it's somehow preferable to be ground into dust by long drives than it is to give up big plays. That part doesn't make sense to me. It also doesn't help that we're getting burned now, too!

The bend-but-don't-break defense relies on the idea that you bend but don't break. It's a remarkably simple concept in that respect. It doesn't make sense to use when you know you're going to break anyway. My firm belief is, and feel free to disagree, that if our defense is going to give up points anyway, and at this point it almost certainly is, I'd rather it be quickly. I'd rather have the chance, albeit a small one, for a positive result defensively than the near certainty of a negative one. We're not stopping people by playing it safe in coverage, so what do we have to lose?