I've never really been a huge fan of the bullet point style I've used in the past on these posts, so this time I'm going to keep it in paragraph form. Hopefully that will keep me from throwing down 1800 words like I've done in the past.
The first thing I wanted to say in this post is that I am extremely proud of the way the vast majority of Baylor fans have reacted to last night's disappointing, disheartening game in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Sure, a very small minority have reacted with abject horror, decrying everything about our program from the uniforms to the starting QB and everything in between. Those people are going to be out there, regardless. No result other than a dominant Baylor win would likely have satisfied them, and every misstep, no matter the size, means the sky is literally falling.
A loss need not lead to a referendum on the state of the program. A loss need not mean that we're awful and the season is over. What happened last night is that we ran into a team that has improved tremendously over the last several weeks, exactly as every team hopes to do. They're worlds better than they were when West Virginia shocked them, and it shows. Our team, on the other hand, is probably not as good today as it was early in the season, and it's not because of coaching, desire, discipline, or anything I'd call controllable. Injuries to critical players have ravaged the 2013 Baylor Bears on both sides of the ball. My biggest failure in the run-up to this game was that I didn't recognize just how much those injuries would mean.
Starting on the offense, I said on twitter a few minutes ago and I'll say now that we miss Tevin Reese. We've talked over and over again about trying to replace his production, and that might be possible in the long-run. Replacing him is not. This year's offense was built with his game-breaking speed in the mind. Our vertical passing game, as we've seen in all or part of the last three games, relies on the threat of his presence, even if we're not actually throwing the ball to him. Not having him out there allows teams to shade toward Antwan Goodley, wherever he is, and robs us of our ability to make them pay for it with anything close to the same ruthlessly efficiency. If there is a big takeaway from last night, it is that I'm not sure we'll see the same record-breaking Baylor offense without him again, at least not this year. That's not to say we can't still break records; we're just going to have to do it differently. Looking back on it now, I've underestimated Tevin his entire career, both when he played and when he didn't. That's a hard lesson to learn.
On the other side, recognizing that Phil Bennett has forgotten more about football than I will ever know, I don't understand why we reacted the way that we did to the loss of Bryce Hager. Instead of changing as little as possible and relying on Aiavion Edwards to fill Hager's immense shoes in our defense, we moved OLB Eddie Lackey to MLB, NB Sam Holl to OLB, and S Ahmad Dixon to NB. The underlying reasoning is fairly self-evident: we were more concerned with OSU's ability to run the ball than to pass it. Why we thought those moves were necessary isn't, since it appears to have resulted in being weaker at 3 positions rather than just 1. That weakness was particularly acute at safety, where redshirt freshman Orion Stewart, despite his promise, is no Dixon. The coaches would probably respond that without Hager in the middle, this was a Morton's Fork situation: you either suffer against the pass or against the run. In that respect, perhaps it makes sense to play the percentages against Clint Chelf. I just don't see how it's possible that Edwards was so bad that this was necessary.
Really, though, I'm not upset at the defense for how this game turned out. Though OSU was able to pick on our corners, especially Demetri Goodson, for big gains, they did it against what looked like decent coverage. You don't have to suck to get beaten, especially when the opposing QB plays the game of his life as Chelf did last night. Gundy and his staff also deserve credit for playing the underdog role to the hilt with trick plays and wrinkles that all seemed to work exactly as they planned. I'm much more upset, and concerned, about the offense, which came in scoring 61 points a game and left with 17. After the turfmonster robbed Bryce Petty of a touchdown and Rashodrick Linwood fumbled the ball at the 1 two plays later, it took Baylor a quarter and a half to put together another drive of more than 40 yards. In that stretch, we went 3-and-out 4 times. By the time we did put together another drive of substance in the closing minutes of the second quarter, we trailed 14-0. That drive ended on a field goal on 4th and 2 at the OSU 12 that really didn't change anything and I didn't agree with at all.
How OSU gave us so much trouble on offense isn't really a mystery: because they were able to stop our running game with basically just their defensive line, they didn't have to help with safeties or linebackers and could drop them into coverage. That cost us in the play-action, because the safeties didn't really have to care what was going on in the backfield, and Petty didn't make the throws necessary to beat them straight-up until the outcome wasn't really in question anymore. They played man on our receivers on the outside, doubled Goodley when he got free down the field, and challenged Petty to put the ball through tight windows in coverage. It's basically the exact same concept we've used against everybody else this season, and it worked.
As far as everything else, a few quick thoughts:
- We found out yesterday that Bryce Petty has a lot left to learn about how to play QB in this offense. He's developed a bad habit, born of confidence, of holding on to the ball too long in the hope that a receiver will shake free down the field. He has to be more decisive in either dumping the ball off or running. I feel bad for him that his Heisman candidacy appears to be over despite the fact that he still has incredible numbers, but it probably is.
- Shock Linwood isn't ready to be the primary back just yet. He's not the home run threat of Lache Seastrunk or the power back of Glasco Martin, and we needed both of those against a good OSU run defense. In fact, I actually thought that Devin Chafin looked better on the whole than Linwood, but a lot of that might have been the circumstances presented to them (late in the game vs. early, an OSU defense more concerned about long pass plays while up big, etc.). I still have every belief Shock (and Petty) will be better a year from now than they are today.
- Two plays stand out as really poor calls that I really didn't understand. There are probably more. The first was the handoff to Goodley on third and 2 at our own 20. Coming from an empty backfield in short yardage, the eventual decision to hand off to Goodley could not have been more obvious. If you don't want to criticize the call in the first instance, you'd say Bryce should have kept it himself. You'd be right. The second was the option call on 4th and 4 at the OSU 20. Down 21-3 after OSU scored to open the second half, Briles decided to go for it on fourth down. That is a completely defensible move. Calling the option with Petty and Linwood to the short side of the field, however ... I don't get that. I don't get that at all.
- On the positive side, I was very impressed once again with both of our freshmen defensive tackles. Andrew Billings may actually be the best DT we have already, and it's probably not close. Billings and Byron Bonds have been a revelation on the defensive line this season, and they're only going to get better.
It's important to remember that if Baylor wins out the rest of the way, we'll finish the regular season 11-1 with a share of the Big 12 title. We've never done either of those things before. What we can't have happen is to let OSU beat us twice by dwelling on the failures of this game and losing a game that we should win. The focus has to be on getting healthy, beating TCU and Texas, and then winning whatever bowl game we get to finish 12-1. We don't have to worry about the BCS or anybody else anymore (I'll still do the BCS post tonight, regardless). Just play Baylor Football and let the chips fall where they may. All we can control is how we respond.