Baylor kicks off their 2022 season with a home game against FCS opponent Albany. Frankly, this game should be little more than a tune-up for the returning Big 12 Champions, but there’s still a lot we can learn about both teams based on how they play. Here’s what to look out for on Saturday.
When Baylor is on offense...
Last season, Baylor relied on an unrelenting rushing and highly efficient passing attack. The Bears’ 61% run/pass split was in the top 25 of FBS teams, and their 5.37 yards per carry were 10th in the country. Despite losing leading rushers Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner to the NFL (and another 320+ rushing yards from QB Gerry Bohanon transferring to USF), Baylor’s superb offensive line and talented backs #0 Sqwirl Williams and #22 Taye McWilliams should continue to dominate on the ground.
Baylor fielded the best offensive line in the Big 12 last year, and we predict they’ll do so again in 2022. See our complete Big 12 offensive line ratings here! https://t.co/uwf9Z4pRTJ pic.twitter.com/Dc2USsGEe8— ODB (@OurDailyBears) August 10, 2022
Bigger changes could be coming in the passing game. In 2021, Baylor’s quarterbacks completed 65% of their passes, good for 26th in the country, and threw only 7 interceptions, tied for 23rd lowest in the country. Most of these passes were for short gains, though, and Baylor’s 12 yards per completion ranked 75th in the country.
New starting QB #12 Blake Shapen has a reputation as a gun-slinger, so we could see a more explosive, but less efficient, offense going forward. That said, Shapen had a higher completion percentage, fewer yards per attempt, fewer interceptions, and fewer attempts ten yards past the line of scrimmage than Bohanon in his limited snaps last season.
Do we see the passing game open up to take advantage of Shapen’s talents? Almost assuredly by year’s end, but against Albany, I expect the coaches to keep a relatively closed playbook, as the Great Danes shouldn’t force Baylor to attempt anything special.
Last season, the Albany ranked 101st among FCS teams in rushing yards allowed per game (184.5) and 107th in yards per rush allowed (5.02). That’s only slightly better than our FCS opponent last year, Texas Southern, who we put 419 yards on the ground against.
Albany’s leading tackler returns — redshirt sophomore MIKE LB #43 Jackson Ambush — but their second leading tackler WILL LB Dan Damico transferred to Villanova. His replacement is likely sixth-senior #15 Ori Jean-Charles who transferred in from Maine after initially enrolling at Louisville. Sixth-year senior #41 AJ Mistler reprises his role as the starting SAM LB with a position-leading 6 TFLs in 2021.
To their credit, Albany was 6th among FCS teams in passing yards allowed per game (162.9), but that might have been because teams were content to simply run on them. The Great Danes averaged only 1.7 sacks per game, and they lost their leading (only?) pass rusher when Jared Verse (9.5 sacks) transferred to Florida State. This year, most pressure should come from senior edge defender (and the only returning d-line starter) #9 Anthony Lang.
Almost all of Albany’s secondary returns from 2021, and you have to hope the experience pays off. With only eight total interceptions, seven coming from different guys, there isn’t a particular player to be wary of. Junior safety #7 Larry Walker Jr. has the highest coverage grade of returning defensive backs (74.9 PFF, 8 PBUs), followed by junior cornerback #19 Isaac Duffy (66.1 PFF, 0 PBUs). Baylor might try to pick on the other starting corner, sophomore #5 Christian Lewis (48.4 PFF, 6 PBUs).
When Baylor is on defense...
Last year, Baylor had one of the best run defenses in the country. The Bears held teams to a stifling 3.4 yards per rush (17th in the country) and 42% opportunity rate (10th in the country). They also stopped running backs at or behind the line of scrimmage on 20% of rushes (37th in the country). Baylor’s biggest weakness was stopping the run in short yardage situations, giving up a first down 73% of the time (92nd in the country).
Teams had more success passing the ball against Baylor’s defense, but Baylor still excelled in generating pressure on the quarterback, recording a 8.7% sack rate (19th in the country), and forcing turnovers, collecting 16 interceptions (tied 5th in the country) and 15 fumbles (tied 11th in the country).
With the loss of key defensive players like Jalen Pitre, Terrel Bernard, JT Woods, Kalon Barnes, and Raleigh Texada, it would be easy to predict that Baylor’s defense will take a step back. Fortunately, the Bears return all of their defensive linemen, #96 Cole Maxwell, #62 Siaki Ika, and #95 Gabe Hall, and other key starters like MLB #5 Dillon Doyle.
Baylor’s success on defense will ultimately come down to how well older players adjust to their new positions (like #2 Matt Jones from JACK to WILL, #13 Al Walcott from CB to STAR, and #11 Lorando “Snaxx” Johnson from STAR to CB) and if the defensive line’s pass rush can provide enough of a buffer for the young secondary.
Was impressed with Lorando Johnson (Snaxx) on the perimeter today. He’s Pitre’s replacement, very different style players, Snaxx is more of a cover guy but I was impressed with the physicality he played with on the perimeter today.— Travis Roeder (@Travis_Roeder) April 23, 2022
What will the new defense face when they take the field against Albany? A lot of new faces for an offense that averaged only 18.9 points, 213 passing yards, and 91 rushing yards per game last season.
With their previous starting quarterback, Jeff Undercuffler, transferring to Akron, the Great Danes are turning to Old Dominion transfer #7 Reese Poffenbarger to lead the offense. Poffenbarger has yet to take a collegiate snap, but the former three-star recruit was Maryland’s Offensive Player of the Year in high school.
Poffenbarger has Albany’s two leading receivers from last season, #11 Roy Alexander and #82 Jackson Parker, to help him out. Alexander is a true sophomore who lead the team with 37 receptions, 560 yards, and three touchdown; Parker is also a true sophomore who recorded 32 receptions for 461 yards last season. Poffenbarger will likely also target senior tight end #89 Thomas Greaney a couple times — Greaney recorded 17 receptions for 234 yards in 2021.
In addition to quarterback, Albany also has to work in a new running back. Graduating senior Karl Mofor lead the team with 238 carries, 1,009 yards, and 12 touchdowns last season. Replacing Mofor could be junior #26 Lavarey Banton (nine career carries) or Pitt transfer #0 Todd Sibley (69 career caries for 321 yards).
Fortunately for Albany, they have three returning starters on the offensive line to block for their new QB and RB: LT #65 Ozzie Hutchinson, LG #73 Scott Houseman, and C #70 Kobe Thomas. Unfortunately, their overall blocking grades per Pro Football Focus are 41.8, 56.5, and 58.1, respectively. Likely filling in at RG and RT are 2021 backup’s #75 Kevin Singer and #72 Will Marotta — they didn’t grade any better in their limited snaps.
All that to say, Baylor’s first and second string defense should be able to shutout the Great Danes.
Statistics courtesy of NCAA, ESPN, Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, Baylor University, and the University of Albany.