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Thoughts on Baylor's 70-6 win over Northwestern State and Week 2 in College Football

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With 6 offensive starters out due to various injuries, Baylor's youth was on display Saturday night. And what a display it was.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After an unexpected deluge caught tail- and sailgaters by surprise Saturday afternoon/evening and even delayed the start of the game by a few minutes, Baylor's young stars announced their presence with authority, running out to a 49-3 lead and nearly eclipsing last week's total yardage in just the first half.  We'll start with the offense, where a back injury to Bryce Petty gave sophomore Seth Russell his first career start.

The Offense:

From start to finish (which was, for him, halftime), Seth Russell was as good tonight as Baylor fans have ever seen him, breaking the Baylor record for yards and touchdown passes in a half with 438 and 5 TDs, respectively.  He finished 16-25 passing for a respectable 64% and showed impressive arm strength, mobility, and decision-making, looking every bit the part of a starting Baylor QB under Art Briles.  I can only recall a couple of throws where it seemed like the game got ahead of him, not at all unusual for a young starter, but you never saw him make an outright bad decision resulting in a turnover.  Going into the game, I think nearly all Baylor fans were looking for some flash, some reason for hope after Petty leaves this year, and were instead blinded by potential.

Of course, it's easy to look good when you have guys like true freshman K.D. Cannon playing wide receiver.  In just his second collegiate game, Cannon caught 6 passes for 223 yards and 3 TDs, all in the first half, setting a new Baylor record for receiving TDs in a single game and spawning gif after unbelievable gif.  The only people not praising his performance openly were those hoping that without Tevin Reese stretching the field vertically for the Bears, our offense might take a step back.  I'm guessing those people just kept it to themselves.

Before the game, I, like most, predicted that Baylor would win by half a hundred or more.  That's what we should do against an FCS opponent like Northwestern State.  But even I didn't expect how we'd do it, with true or redshirt freshmen leading in receiving, rushing, tackles for loss, and sacks, and a sophomore throwing for a school record in a half in his first start.  This game was everything Baylor fans could have hoped for and more offensively, and it came without our top 4 returning wide receivers, senior Heisman candidate at QB, and athletic freak of nature at TE.  Now for a few things worthy of mention:

  • Love the emphasis early this season on passing to the RBs.  It's something we haven't seen a lot so far in the Briles Era and a definite area of potential improvement.  Rashodrick Linwood, who hasn't really gotten going this year in the rushing department, looked especially good catching passes out of the backfield.  Besides Cannon, this was the most exciting development of yesterday's game on offense.  Even if it looks that way, it's not an easy thing for a QB to do, since it requires patience, touch, and the willingness to check down if the need arises.
  • Our pass protection was phenomenal last night.  The stats sheet says that Northwestern State registered two QB hurries, but I would have believed it if you told me they had none.  Keeping Russell comfortable in the pocket in his first start was absolutely critical, and the OL delivered time after time.  I believe I said it last week, too, but our tackles are extremely impressive in this regard.  That will pay dividends in conference play.
  • On the flip side, I'm not entirely sure what to think at this point about our running game.  So far, we haven't really seen the dominant rushing attack expected from a line bringing back three starters, though it feels a bit weird to complain about 5.3 yards per carry across the whole team.  Part of what we've seen, I think, comes from the fact that both SMU and NWState threw 7 and 8-man fronts at us to try to stop the run.  Part of it, though, is an offensive line that I don't think has gelled completely yet.  Turns out that replacing an All-American at LG in Cyril Richardson has been pretty tough, after all.  Plus, I have a sneaking suspicion that Troy Baker isn't going to grade out very highly in run blocking in this week's Trench Warfare.  Hopefully we'll see more success in this area against Buffalo Friday night, since it is our last non-conference game of the year.
  • Johnny Jefferson had the first 100-yard game of his career with 108 on 20 carries.  I bet he gets another this Friday.  Pretty crazy to think that we could have had even more points had he not fumbled that ball twice on the same play.
  • So glad to see Jay Lee having success in his junior year with Antwan Goodley sidelined.  Though he leads the team in receptions through 2 games, I don't think Davion Hall is entirely ready to be the go-to guy on the outside, so Lee stepping up is a huge relief.
  • Our top two receivers in yardage through 2 games are both true freshmen.  If you predicted that before the season, you're a sage.
  • Baylor didn't throw a single pass in the fourth quarter, and only threw 3 after halftime.  While it sucks for Chris Johnson in that he didn't get to show off what he could do, it's a more than adequate defense to any charges that we were running up the score.   Two of our last three drives are below (I omitted the second one because of a weird formatting issue):
Bu 1-10 at Nwla49 BAYLOR drive start at 13:35.
Bu 1-10 at Nwla49 Jefferson,J. rush for 2 yards to the NWLA47 (Medcafe, Damon;Roussel, Tyler).
Bu 2-8 at Nwla47 Jefferson,J. rush for 12 yards to the NWLA35, 1ST DOWN BU, out-of-bounds (Jones, Adam).
Bu 1-10 at Nwla35 Jefferson,J. rush for 9 yards to the NWLA26 (Jones, Adam;Sellers, WaDerr).
Bu 2-1 at Nwla26 Jefferson,J. rush for no gain to the NWLA26 (Medcafe, Damon;Chapman, Marion).
Bu 3-1 at Nwla26 Jefferson,J. rush for 3 yards to the NWLA23, 1ST DOWN BU (Roussel, Tyler).
Bu 1-10 at Nwla23 Jefferson,J. rush for 7 yards to the NWLA16 (Chapman, Marion).
Bu 2-3 at Nwla16 Jefferson,J. rush for 2 yards to the NWLA14, out-of-bounds (Claiborne, Imoa).
Bu 3-1 at Nwla14 Jefferson,J. rush for 3 yards to the NWLA11, 1ST DOWN BU (Medcafe, Damon).
Bu 1-10 at Nwla11 Clock 11:01.
Bu 1-10 at Nwla11 Jefferson,J. rush for 4 yards to the NWLA7 (Jones, Adam).
Bu 2-6 at Nwla07 Jefferson,J. rush for 5 yards to the NWLA2 (Chapman, Marion).
Bu 3-1 at Nwla02 Jefferson,J. rush for 2 yards to the NWLA0, 1ST DOWN BU, TOUCHDOWN, clock 09:57.
Callahan,Chris kick attempt good.
Bu 1-10 at Bu45 BAYLOR drive start at 10:04.
Bu 1-10 at Bu45 Clock 10:04.
Bu 1-10 at Bu45 Clock 10:04.
Bu 1-10 at Bu45 Nacita,Silas rush for 21 yards to the NWLA34, 1ST DOWN BU (Myers, Wilbur).
Bu 1-10 at Nwla34 Nacita,Silas rush for no gain to the NWLA34 (Clark, Lyn;Roussel, Tyler).
Bu 2-10 at Nwla34 Nacita,Silas rush for 11 yards to the NWLA23, 1ST DOWN BU (Clark, Lyn;Collins, Chase).
Bu 1-10 at Nwla23 PENALTY BU false start (McGowan,LaQuan) 5 yards to the NWLA28.
Bu 1-15 at Nwla28 Black,Baylor rush for 1 yard to the NWLA27 (Ross, Roderick).
Bu 2-14 at Nwla27 Nacita,Silas rush for 9 yards to the NWLA18 (Roussel, Tyler;Cryer, Chris).
Bu 3-5 at Nwla18 Nacita,Silas rush for no gain to the NWLA18 (Clark, Lyn).
Bu 4-5 at Nwla18 Nacita,Silas rush for 6 yards to the NWLA12, 1ST DOWN BU (Roussel, Tyler).
Bu 1-10 at Nwla12 Nacita,Silas rush for 5 yards to the NWLA7 (Roussel, Tyler).
Bu 2-5 at Nwla07 Nacita,Silas rush for 7 yards to the NWLA0, 1ST DOWN BU, TOUCHDOWN, clock 04:14.
  • SALSA. NACHO.  Nacita now has 20 carries for 124 yards and 3 TDs this season.  He leads the team in rushing TDs.
  • I said it last night and I'll say it again -- it takes a ton of depth to lose six offensive starters and throw down 70 points and 720 yards.  And it could have easily been 80 and 800, had we wanted.

The Defense:

Baylor showed almost nothing defensively in this game, so there's really not that much to say.  We only went to the 3-man front twice that I recall, and one time was with the backups in and the game well in-hand.  Ultimately, our defensive staff probably knew that it wouldn't need to do much, so they played everything simply and blitzed only when the situation basically demanded it.  Even so, a few things.

  • It's still very early in the season, and you have to take our opposition thus far into account, but I have a hard time not beaming like the Cheshire Cat about Xavien Howard.  Aside from Shawn Oakman, Howard has been probably our most impressive defensive player, looking every bit the part of a true shutdown cornerback with size, speed, and technical ability.  His interception on NWState's first drive of the game last night was easily one of the best individual plays of the game, and that includes everything Cannon, Hall, and Russell did.
  • Howard was so good that NWState basically gave up on throwing to his side, deciding instead to challenge sophomore Ryan Reid repeatedly.  I thought Reid got screwed on a PI penalty that actually just looked like good coverage, and after watching the game again, I'm not down on him like I was in real-time.  NWState only completed one long pass on him, and it was honestly just a really great throw and catch.  Phil Bennett stuck with him the entire time the first defense stayed in the game, so they obviously believe he's their best option opposite Howard.
  • Because we rarely stunted and even more rarely blitzed, the defensive line looked relatively pedestrian compared to their dominant performance against SMU.  That's fine for the reasons I said.  Andrew Billings played the best of the four starters with 2 tackles for loss and a sack.  K.J. Smith also looked really good in the second game of his redshirt freshman season, putting up 2 tackles for loss and a sack himself.
  • It seemed like Northwestern State was having a lot of success through the air for a while, then you look at their stats and they only completed 8 passes in the entire game.  That's because they ran the ball 41 times in an attempt to slow the game down.  On those 41 attempts, they averaged just 1.9 yards.
  • I really like Taylor Young as a blitzer, but I don't know how much we'll be able to rely on him against Big 12 offenses.  That's my response to people I've seen calling for him to play over Aiavion Edwards.

Miscellaneous Stuff:

  • Can't imagine how annoyed people were when the TV signal went out with more than a minute to go in the first quarter.  As far as I can tell, you only missed about 12 minutes of actual game time, but that's still too much.  I would have never guessed that a large-scale TV production would rely on generators in this day-and-age.  Just seems like asking for trouble.  If you saw me tweet a lot in the interim, it was because people were beginning for play-by-play info, which I tried my best to provide.
  • I was going to include some conference stuff, but I'll keep that for the Power Rankings post tomorrow.  Elsewhere, you can probably go ahead and count the B1G out of the playoff picture, though obviously nothing is official.  Michigan State lost by 19 to Oregon, Ohio State by 14 at home to Virginia Tech, and Nebraska very nearly lost to McNeese State at home, as well.  Oh, and Michigan got shut out for the first time since 1983 by Notre Dame.
  • If preseason polls didn't exist, I think Oregon would be the #1 team in the country right now.  I don't know where we would rank.
  • I thought the crowd last night was fantastic, if a bit small due to the weather.  The Line, in particular, seemed small.  Not sure why that is since you could just go back to the dorm and wait out the rain.  It's not like you had to travel to be there.  I felt bad that they didn't get to run, though.
  • Don't quote me on this, but I think either Coleman or Goodley was on crutches on the sideline.  Not trying to freak anybody out with that, I'm just saying. UPDATE -- I'm going to leave this part so you know what we're talking about in the comments, but I've been told my eyes deceived me.
  • Speaking of WRs-- someone asked me on twitter after the game last night who would be my top 4 when everyone comes back, assuming everyone comes back healthy.  I think the answer has to be Antwan Goodley, K.D. Cannon, Levi Norwood, and Jay Lee.  Then you mix in Fuller, Coleman, and Hall.  That's 7 legitimate starters for 4 spots.
  • "If you're a wide receiver and you want the numbers, and you want the facilities, why look anywhere else than the Baylor Bears?" -- That should go in one of Ted's videos, I think.