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Thoughts on Baylor’s Season-Opening Win vs. Abilene Christian

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The previous thread is under review.

NCAA Football: Abilene Christian at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Amid all the replays and reviews, the Baylor Bears beat the Abilene Christian Wildcats tonight at McLane Stadium to something they weren’t able to do last season: win their first game. It was Coach Rhule’s first home win at Baylor, and if nothing else happened, the night is a success for that alone. That they did it while racking up more than 600 total yards and 55 points despite missing our likely starting right tackle (Jake Fruhmorgen) and another likely contributor (Johncarlo Valentin) completely and losing another starter (left tackle Josh Malin) on the second play of the game, is impressive. But we also gave up 466 yards and 27 points to a FCS school.

Still, a win is a win, and we’re certainly not at the point where we can turn our noses up at those. And the good part about having such a varied experience is that it gives us plenty to talk about afterward. Just beating your opponents robotically like, say, Alabama has to be so ... amazing boring. Here’s three big things about the offense, two about the defense, and one about special teams. Then a few more little things after that just for the heck of it.


Rotating Quarterbacks

Let’s start with the elephant in the room. If you came into this game thinking that Rhule was being cagey with our quarterback situation, the existence of a legitimate competition at the position was illusory, and/or Charlie Brewer was always going to start AND THIS IS ALL SO SILLY WHAT IS THE POINT ... our coaches must be extremely dedicated to the bit. Brewer and Jalan McClendon alternated two-on, two-off into the fourth quarter, when McClendon took over to finish things out. And if we’re being honest with each other, McClendon was the better QB tonight by almost any measure. He was certainly the more productive.

Taking out the last drive of the game where the issue was no longer in doubt and we actually got to see Garrett McGuire (Coach Joey McGuire’s son) for a few plays, Brewer finished with 6 drives vs. McClendon’s 7. By total numbers, the offense performed as follows (and please bear with me because I’m going off of ESPN’s drive stats and having to add back in yards hidden by penalties):

  • Brewer (8/15 for 138 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT)—17 points, 28 plays for 221 yards.
  • McClendon (10/13 for 173 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT)—31 points, 26 plays for 353 yards.

You will note immediately that this doesn’t add up to 55 points. That’s because I also took out McClendon’s second touchdown drive because it started on ACU’s 16 after Terrel Bernard’s interception. It still happened, obviously (and the actual touchdown pass to Marques Jones may have been the play of the night), but I don’t want it to count against Brewer because McClendon got the luck of the draw on a short field. It also gives both players 6 drives on the night to make a better comparison in production per drive and per play:

  • Brewer—2.83 points/drive, .61 points/play, 36.83 yards/drive, and 7.89 yards/play.
  • McClendon—5.17 points/drive, 1.19 points/play, 58.83 yards/drive, and 13.58 yards/play.

If you feel like adding back in the 16-yard drive for McClendon, it ups his points/drive to 5.42 and his points/play to 1.36, and lowers his yards/drive to 52.71 and yards/play to 13.18.

All that being said, it’s hard to know how much to take away from these stats considering 1) the level of opponent (although they both played the same opponent, obviously), 2) things like penalties that happen after the QB throws the ball or hands it off and are entirely out of his control, and 3) as I said above, the other 10 guys on the field. You could go further and break down the performances of other players—i.e., did JaMycal Hasty perform better with McClendon on the field vs. Brewer—but I don’t have that kind of time tonight. Suffice to say that my eyes told me McClendon was the better QB tonight and the stats seem to agree, but until we get some kind of statement from the coaching staff or just see what happens against UTSA, we won’t know if anything that happened moved the needle. It’s hard to see how it wouldn’t; though Brewer wasn’t bad and didn’t disappoint, McClendon exceeded all rational expectations.


The Running Game

Started not so great, ended with 295 yards on 36 carries for 8.19 yards/carry. Two different Bears scored two or more rushing TDs (Hasty had 2 and John Lovett had 3), something we hadn’t done since 2016 against Iowa State (when Seth Russell and Terence Williams did it). Both of tonight’s feature backs went over 100 yards (Hasty had 102 on 10 carries and Lovett had 115 on 12). Trestan Ebner also made the most of his limited opportunities with 28 yards on 3 carries in the second half.

But we still struggled to run the ball in short-yardage situations, something that killed us all last season. You can blame some of that on the guys we were missing on the OL and some on the fact that opportunities were relatively limited by having 10 plays of 20 or more yards. It’s still not great, and it needs to get better. We’re not going to just wear down Big 12 teams like we did ACU. The big plays are nice and very encouraging. We need more of the successful shorter runs to go with them.


The Passing Game

Having already addressed the QBs above, I’ll note for the record that we gave up a grand total of zero sacks tonight, which is outstanding. I hardly remember our QBs ever really being threatened, either. Pass protection was very encouraging.

Early returns on the Jalen Hurd WR Experiment (TM) are good; he caught 4 passes for 58 yards with a really nice TD from McClendon and generally looked the part. He also fielded a couple of punts, which was more of an adventure than it probably should have been. Seven Bears caught passes on the night, and Hurd was tied with Hasty for the most. Can’t ask for much more than that in a debut.

The leading receiver on the night was Denzel Mims, as you probably expected. He didn’t get in the endzone because of the five rushing TDs from Hasty and Lovett and the TD passes that went to Hurd and Jones, but he did have 3 catches for 80 yards. In his first game back from last year’s season-ending injury against Oklahoma, Chris Platt added 3 catches for 40 yards, and it was really great to see him playing in the green and gold again. He’s an inspiration. Hasty caught 4 passes for 67 yards (for a total of 169 all-purpose yards in the game) and Ebner Ebnered his way to 2 catches for 39 yards. It was a successful night for virtually all of Baylor’s biggest pass-catching targets.


The Run Defense

...was terrible. Though we started out fairly strong on the first few drives, ACU ended up running for 220 yards on 27 attempts for a whopping 8.1 yards/carry. Billy McCrary had by far the lion’s share, with 141 yards on just 6 carries. Most of that came on just two long runs of 75 and 45 yards, and if you could eliminate those, all the numbers look a lot better (110 yards on the other 25 attempts isn’t all that bad, right?). Let’s hope we can eliminate those.

I can think of a lot of reasons why we played so poorly against the run, and none of them are all that encouraging. Yes, we missed Clay Johnston in the middle at linebacker, but the biggest problem wasn’t really in the middle; it was on the edges. We could not keep contain to save our lives and just looked slow laterally. That’s not something that is likely to improve significantly going forward considering how much talented our opponents are going to get and the fact that you have to go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish for. But we’re going to have to do something because this is a potentially fatal flaw that Big 12 teams (not to mention UTSA and Duke) will exploit. This has to be the biggest concern on the team right now if it wasn’t already. ACU shouldn’t have run for 220 on us.


The Pass Defense

...also had difficulty with a couple of big plays but actually wasn’t that bad overall. There were several times when our guys probably could have made a better play on the ball and didn’t but were in the right position to knock it down or make a quick tackle. That’s good, and Bernard’s interception was fantastic. Grayland Arnold had a really difficult night between one of the McCrary runs (I can’t remember which) and ACU’s first TD, a long pass on blown coverage. That’s not good, but I feel confident that he’s going to be better. The pass rush was underwhelming, but we had an idea that would be the case going in, so it’s not all that surprising.

I don’t have much else to say about this right now and won’t until I get to rewatch the entire game focusing on this aspect. I was too upset about the run defense to do so in real time or since.


TEAM MVP CONNOR MARTIN

Connor Martin is a baller. He went 2-2 on the night with a career-long 50-yard field goal in the second half that was just beautiful. He deserves your undying love.


A few other thoughts:

  • I’m going to have to go back and look for Blake Lynch because I didn’t think I saw him enough.
  • I think we’re going to try to redshirt Gavin Holmes and R.J. Sneed if we can. Just a hunch.
  • Can you play linebacker? Do you know anyone that can play linebacker? Is this something we can canvass the Line for like kicker? Think on it.
  • Of our true freshmen, I know we saw Tyquan Thornton, Josh Fleeks, Kalon Barnes, Marje Smith, and Christoph Henle. I think we may have seen JT Woods, Christian Morgan, and one of the OL, too. We did not see Gerry Bohanon or Craig Williams, which I thought was somewhat surprising under the circumstances. This is something we should probably keep track of going forward due to the rule change regarding redshirts.
  • I thought the crowd was great all things considered, and the Baylor Line was fantastic. My favorite moment of the in-game entertainment occurred when “Let It Be” came on during the review of the fumble forced and recovered by our defense. Thousands of cell phones became waving candles in the crowd. That was legitimately funny.
  • No matter what happens, it can always be worse.

That’s it for tonight. If I think of anything else tomorrow, I’ll throw it in the comments.

UPDATE: McClendon finished the game because Brewer hurt his back. I can’t believe I didn’t see mention of that while I was writing this post. No word on whether he is expected to miss any time.