Baylor soundly defeated their first opponent of the season, the University of Albany Great Danes, 69 to 10. Fellow Our Daily Bears staff members Joe, BNT, Mark, and Peter have all shared their thoughts from the game already — be sure to check out those links below.
Consider this post a more detailed breakdown of the game, full of all the stats and gifs you could want!
Shapen sharp as ever
Even those who watched quarterback Blake Shapen complete seventeen consecutive passes in the Big 12 Championship Game last season should be impressed by his performance on Saturday. Shapen went 17 for 20 for 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, but those few incompletions were a pass tipped at the line, a derpy basketball-esque toss to a running back, and a dropped (behind the receiver but catchable) pass.
Most remarkable was Shapen’s expanded range of attack. Last season, only 25% of Shapen’s passes were to targets 10+ yards past the line of scrimmage, and he connected on 68% of them. Against Albany, 40% of his passes were to targets 10+ yards past the line of scrimmage and all but one were caught.
As we’d hope against an FCS opponent, Shapen didn’t have to use his legs to pick up many first downs, but he showed off his versatility in a two-minute drill with a 16-yard improvisation on Albany’s 18 yard line and followed it up with a diving touchdown two plays later. If he decides to leave the pocket a second sooner, I doubt he needs a second try.
We can’t talk about the quarterbacks without also mentioning Kyron Drones. Baylor’s back-up QB proved his worth with 5 completions for 100 yards on 7 attempts, including a beautiful 50-yard bomb to Jaylen Ellis in the 4th quarter. All of his passes had great velocity to them.
Wide receivers pass first test
Baylor’s starting wide receivers entered the season with two combined receptions — a position group of conspicuous inexperience on the depth chart. Reassuringly for Baylor fans, receivers Monaray Baldwin, Hal Presley, and Seth Jones did everything you’d want to see in their first game, hauling in 9 receptions on 10 targets for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Senior tight end Ben Sims picked up from where he left off last year and led all receivers with 5 receptions for 37 yards. As I wrote in my depth chart review, Baylor will need Sims to be a reliable option this season as the young receivers gain experience against tougher opponents.
Running back Taye McWilliams contributed another 4 receptions for 20 yards as Shapen’s check-down option. His nifty 9 yard catch on 2nd and 14 set up a manageable 3rd and 5, continuing a drive where Baylor would score three plays later.
A tale of two rushing halves
You’d be forgiven for expecting Baylor to come out and exert their will on the ground. Baylor leaned heavily on the run last season (61% of plays) and dominated our previous FCS opponent with 419 rushing yards. But by the end of the first half on Saturday, Baylor had only 49 (non-sack) rushing yards on 13 attempts for a disappointing 3.8 yards per carry. The Bear’s primary back, Taye McWilliams, had 21 yards on 7 carries.
The worst of it came in the second quarter when Baylor ran a lot of two- and three-tight end sets. Oftentimes one player (be it Byers, Sims, or Dabney) would miss their block and an Albany defender would quickly collapse on the running back. Also keep in mind that Baylor only had three possessions in the second quarter, and the last one was in hurry-up mode to end the half, so Baylor had fewer opportunities to run the ball in the first place.
Baylor came out in the second half with a renewed focus to run the ball. On their first drive, Baylor ran six-straight plays for 80 yards and a touchdown — Monaray Baldwin’s 50-yard jet sweep didn’t hurt! For the entire second half, Baylor rushed 26 times for 216 yards and a respectable 8.3 yards per carry, led by Richard Reese’s 62 yards and 2 touchdowns on 9 carries.
Minimal miscues from young secondary
Pre-season prognostications had Baylor’s pass-rush as the strength of the defense while an inexperienced secondary a likely source of growing pains. The opposite seemed to be true against Albany.
Baylor’s secondary held Albany quarterback Reese Poffenbarger to 50% passing for 150 yards on 26 attempts. Most of the 13 completions were for short gains against soft coverage that led to immediate tackles, and Albany gained only 31 yards after the catch all game.
Baylor credits the defense with an impressive 9 pass break ups. One of the best came from back-up corner AJ McCarty — Poffenbarger underthrew the pass but McCarty played the receiver perfectly.
Only a couple instances stand out where a Baylor defender was legitimately “beat”. Fortunately only one of them led to a touchdown.
Baylor defense like running into a brick wall
Baylor’s run defense was consistently good all game. Albany’s starting running back, Pitt transfer Todd Sibley, eked out 18 yards on 9 carries. As a team, Albany’s backs had only 42 yards on 18 carries for 2.3 yards per carry.
If there’s anything to nitpick, it’s a lack of tackles for loss. Baylor credits the defense with only 3 TFLs, and Sibley picked up a 1st down on 3rd and 1 in the second half. This was their only first down conversion from a running back, as Albany backs were 1 for 2 on 3rd down attempts.
Needs improvement: Pass rush and QB contain
Given the experience and talent on the defensive line, you’d expect Baylor’s pass rush to have dominated Albany’s offensive line and brought Poffenbarger to the ground most of the day. While the defense did generate a ridiculous 25 QB hurries on 26 pass attempts (per Pro Football Focus), they struggled to get to Poffenbarger before he could throw the ball or escape the pocket.
Poffenbarger’s elusiveness was evident from the first drive of the game. Excluding sacks, the Albany QB rushed 10 times for 55 yards and picked up a couple key conversions on 3rd down.
Frustratingly, Poffenbarger seemed to excel under pressure. Pro Football Focus gave him a 77.0 passer grade when blitzed and a 59.7 passer grade when kept clean in the pocket. I think it’s safe to say he won the starting job for next week.
It wasn’t all rosy for Poffenbarger as Baylor did tackle him for a loss a couple of times. Alfonzo Allen had a nice sack in the second quarter, and Gabe Hall and Jaxon Player combined for a second sack.
Special teams are special
Sixth-year senior Gavin Holmes has missed two seasons due to knee injuries, so it was awesome seeing him make an impact on special teams with a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Punter Isaac Power only had one punt, but it was a beautiful 57 yarder to pin Albany back inside the 5. We won’t talk about kicker Noah Rauschenberg’s punt...
Baylor took care of business against an out-matched FCS opponent. Expecting perfection in the first week of the season is unrealistic, but the position groups with the biggest question marks did everything you’d want to see to give you confidence going into next week.
Statistics courtesy of BaylorBears.com and Pro Football Focus.