I've often contended that happiness with a sports team matters not only with how well the team does on the field, but how it does when measured against expectations. Baylor ended up beating Lamar by 35 points tonight, but you'll find plenty of disgruntled Bears tonight. I imagine that some of them are on the coaching staff.
In some respects, it feels that the expectations for this year, for a potentially elite Baylor team, are haunted by the 2013 Baylor team. Most thought that they would run roughshod over their early slate in a similar manner as the 2013 Baylor Bears. That was a team that had finished strong in 2012 and built some excitement, but one with much lower expectations and much less of a target on its back. So I'm ambivalent about the comparison and those lofty expectations. On the one hand, Bill Connelly and the stat-based writers would be the first to remind you that dominating weaker competition is one of the best signs of a good team on the rise. On the other hand, with Baylor already being established in the Top 5-8 teams by the polls, Baylor has to do much less to be in good position come November. Close or disappointing wins are probably acceptable, especially given the carnage that a relatively benign week brought the college football landscape.
For the second time in two weeks, Baylor took on a foe from outside the Power 5 conferences and were favored by over 30 points. This week it was the home opener against Lamar and Baylor was favored by 58 points. The final box score doesn't look terrible, but that largely reflects a dominant second half and overlooks an up and down first half filled with errors.
|3rd down efficiency||4-14||3-11|
|4th down efficiency||0-0||3-4|
|Yards per pass||5.4||9.1|
|Yards per rush||3.8||7.3|
The first half started with Baylor's offense largely reliant on the passing game, especially the deep ball to Corey Coleman. The rushing attack and the work of the offensive line was decidedly mixed. On some plays, everything was clicking and it looked like the Baylor offense of old. And then on seemingly the next play, we saw frustratingly silly penalties, blown blocking assignments or miscommunication between the Russell and the WRs.
On defense, the defensive line largely had a dominant night. This was, once again, more due to the phenomenal play of Andrew Billings than it was Shawn Oakman. I know that Oakman is getting a lot attention, whether it be from blocking schemes shaded his way, straight up double teams, or roll outs away from him, but it would be nice to see him manage to overcome scheme the way that Billings did given that the talent gap is so stark. Regardless, the pass rush was dominant enough that the Lamar offensive attack increasingly relied on roll outs to buy extra time. The rush defense improved as the game went on and Baylor's LBs more instinctively defended the zone read with halftime adjustments. At certain points in the third and fourth quarters, they looked downright dominant.
The Baylor offense started the second half in similar fashion that it closed out the first half. Some great big plays mixed in with frustrating turnovers. The benefit of the Baylor offense is that it's designed to put up points even if it doesn't have savant level play from the likes of Robert Griffin III or Bryce Petty. From what we've seen from Seth Russell so far this year, I think it's clear that he's in the top half of Big 12 QBs and that's probably good enough to win 10 games this year. But the expectations for this year are quite a bit higher than that. For Seth Russell and the offense to lead this team to the playoffs, the offense will have to be more consistent and more efficient.
The inherent bet of the Art Briles offense is that they can run a more efficient offense than the opponent can. If you are confident that you can win that bet, then you want as many possessions as possible to improve the odds that the true efficiency edge is born out. Baylor's offense is highly productive right now, but it needs to be more efficient to once again be one of the nation's best.
Finally, Baylor seemed to set its mind to run, run, run the ball and then run the ball some more. As we've seen in seasons past, once games get to this point, then they cease being contests and end up being little more than endeavors in counting. That's what happened again tonight. I have my doubts that Baylor will always be able to count on such a dominant late rushing attack, but for tonight, it was good enough. Onward.
Corey Coleman - 6 catches, 182 yards, 4 TDs. KD Cannon and Jay Lee also contributed, but right now the passing attack is deadly because of this bad, bad man.
Andrew Billings - I don't know what his stats are, but I'm sure they include at least 2 or 3 hamburgers.
The Running Backs: Shock Linwood, Devin Chafin, Johnny Jefferson, Terence Williams - 56 carries, 412 yards, 7.8 yards per carry, and one the biggest reasons that Baylor pulled away. The depth here is fantastic and I would feel comfortable with any of 4 guys starting the next game.
The...Not So Good
I think it's helpful to remember that these are young amateur athletes, many of whom are getting their first real starting time. So we'll refrain from "the Bad" and "the Ugly" and just point to what needs to get better.
Seth Russell - 23/34 for 342 yards and 4 TDs sounds amazing. 3 Interceptions is decidedly not. And Lamar could have 1 or 2 more. While there are dozens of teams in the NCAA that would take 300+ yards and 4 TDs from their starting QB, Baylor needs Russell to be better if it wants to make the CFB playoffs.
Grant Campbell - Behind a DL that provided quite a few Havoc plays and often dominated, Campbell had a decidedly mixed night. When he is rapidly making reads and filling the proper holes, the Baylor defense looked dominant. When he wasn't, well....yeah. It's early and I think Campbell is capable of better, but Baylor will need better.
Terrell Burt - Benched for Chance Waz. I've defended Burt before as somebody who had a tough job made tougher by playing behind the limited athletes at the NB position, but...I think it was time. And my guess is that it's hard to find many who will disagree.
Tweets! Tweets! Tweets!
RB Devin Chafin hamstring issue not considered serious.— SicEmSports (@SicEmSports) September 13, 2015
Briles on Seth Russell, "as good as he was good, he was bad as he was bad, he needs to balance between being fearless and being smart."— David Smoak (@DavidSmoak) September 13, 2015
"You can't turn over the ball three times in one quarter. That's unheard of and uncalled for." -Art Briles— Shehan Jeyarajah (@ShehanJeyarajah) September 13, 2015
Briles with high praise for Johnny Jefferson. Waiting for him to become a dominant player and not just a "flash" guy. Confident he will.— Craig Smoak (@CraigSmoak) September 13, 2015
Briles on system w/out Kendal Briles and Tate Wallis, "It was a little different, it really was, took us a little while to get used to it."— David Smoak (@DavidSmoak) September 13, 2015
"Coach Bennett originally didn't have our end going down to the QB, but he made the adjustment at halftime." Grant Campbell on the zone read— Shehan Jeyarajah (@ShehanJeyarajah) September 13, 2015
"That INT was on me, not Seth" -Corey Coleman— Shehan Jeyarajah (@ShehanJeyarajah) September 13, 2015
Florida what are you oh ok nm
Not sure you can completely eval QB position in 2 weeks. Check back in a month. Most may be right. But it's early. https://t.co/Ee1LR9VDfw— Travis Haney (@TravHaneyESPN) September 13, 2015
People talked a lot about the system with Mariota but he covered up a lot of Oregon's deficiencies last few years; tonight was an indication— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) September 13, 2015
Last word to Mark:
Well, we've got plenty to fix and two weeks before Rice.— OurDailyBears (@OurDailyBears) September 13, 2015
Well said, fearless leader. Let's get to it.