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Thoughts on Baylor's Season-Opening Shutout against the SMU Mustangs at McLane Stadium

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The world changed for Baylor Nation yesterday with the opening of a brand-new, gorgeous stadium unlike any in the country. Baylor Football came home.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

In this post, I'm going to try to walk you through a transformational day in the history of Baylor Football.  I say try because I'll probably fail; I'm not nearly a good enough writer to convey the palpable excitement in the air or the anticipation evident in every face.

The Stadium:

In a word: unbelievable.  From the moment you set foot on the bridge from campus to the stadium and perhaps even before, you realize that this place is nothing like anything you've ever seen connected to Baylor Football.  McLane Stadium itself is a marvel of form and function, aesthetically pleasing from the brick exterior to the canopy, big enough that I couldn't find a seat with a bad view in the whole place (and my wife and I looked), and chock full of every possible amenity a 2014 football fan could want.  You've probably read so many glowing pieces on the Stadium here or elsewhere that you think people have to be exaggerating.  They're not.  Baylor Football set out to build its team and fans a home unlike any in the country, and they succeeded.

All that said, there were a couple of glitches that need to be mentioned:

  • The Secondary Pedestrian Bridge -- Across the little inlet into Briles Bay (or whatever they're calling it) is a bridge that's probably a car lane or so wide.  Unless you want to go all the way around the bay or swim, this is the only way to get to the tailgating areas on the north side of the river.  That makes it a natural choke point and potential problem.  Yesterday, it was a problem.  There were so many people just wandering around, seeing everything the stadium grounds had to see, that the flow of people over and back slowed to a trickle and the bridge itself actually started to sway a bit.  Thankfully, I think the newness of the whole setup will wear off quickly, and the only people that will probably be using it in the future will be those actually needing to get to the tailgate area, not everyone and their dog who just wants to check things out.
  • The Restrooms -- This was more of my wife's complaint than my own, but apparently the restrooms don't have air conditioning of any kind.  Since it was 95 degrees outside, that was a big problem, both in terms of heat and smell.  She said it was basically a sauna in there, and you had to hold your breath the entire time.
  • The Stadium WiFi/App -- I've seen others report that they had no problem with either one here, but after the game started, I was never able to get either one to work consistently.  I actually never got the live video feed to work at all, before or during.  The app was nice as a resource for rosters and stats, since I could run that part off the cellular network (which was great).

Honestly, the entire experience was fantastic.  I didn't get a chance to eat all of the food choices presented, but what I had was great.  The sight lines mentioned above were outstanding even at the very top.  Virtually the entire stadium was shaded by the end of the first quarter, and the wind actually made it quite nice.  Before the game started, they put up a graphic showing how much bigger the new scoreboard was, then tore the old one down as part of the intro everybody was raving about.  It was all really well done, and there were people everywhere trying to help fans get situated or find whatever they were looking for.

Let me know if you have any other questions about the stadium.

The Game:

Our seats were in the endzone opposite the scoreboard, giving us an all-22 view I actually enjoyed a lot more than I expected.  Depth was a factor since everything was either going toward us or away.  I've also now watched the game in totality twice, though once was between 2 and 4 AM last night.

Offense:

Not going to spend a lot of time here since we've talked about it before.  Bryce Petty's injury makes everything, from the running game to the pass, very difficult to assess.  It was almost immediately apparent that Petty was hurting after the opening drive, and everything about his game suffered as a result.  By my count, he missed 3 TDs he would have hit a year ago, then nailed one over the top to Cannon that was vintage Petty in action.  Antwan Goodley also left the game very early with the same kind of quad injury that limited him early in Fall Camp.

On the good side, Baylor's young skill position players stepped up in a big way when called upon.  Davion Hall was second on the team in catches in his first game, K.D. Cannon showed a Tevin Reese-like ability to stretch the field vertically, and you felt like Johnny Jefferson was just a heartbeat from breaking it basically every time he touched the ball.  That's in addition to Tre'Von Armstead showing he can actually catch the ball before hilariously chunking it into the band, Lynx Hawthorne getting a little run, and Jay Lee having easily the best game of his career.  Even without Goodley, Corey Coleman (hamstring), or Clay Fuller (broken clavicle), Baylor showed it had weapons all over the field.

One thing to watch going forward is the offensive line.  Despite the fact that we averaged over 5 yards per carry, I never felt like our offensive line dominated at the point of attack.  A lot of that was probably SMU's experienced, deep DL causing problems.  At least, I hope that's what it was.  At LG, Blake Muir started and received the vast majority of the reps from what I could tell.  Spencer Drango and Troy Baker both looked great in pass protection, exactly like we expected.

Overall, our scheme seemed extremely vanilla once Petty left the game at halftime.  The pace slowed significantly as the offense became much more deliberate under Seth Russell, only showing flashes of the tempo we've come to know and love.  I hope we bury that weird little stack screen to the WR deep in the playbook; it took a couple of circus catches to get anything out of it, and it seemed like it allowed two WRs to be covered at once each time we tried.

Defense:

Incredible, especially on the defensive line.  Here we had the opposite problem from Petty's injury: they were so good that it made assessing everyone behind them nearly impossible.  Shawn Oakman was the best player in the entire game for either side and basically lived in SMU's backfield.  Baylor lined him up at DE, DT, and stand-up rusher, and he just dominated.  He was there to kick ass and eat chocolate cake, and he was all out of chocolate cake.

One big thing worth noting is that we finally saw the much-ballyhooed 3-man front in action throughout the game last night.  That alignment saw what was basically a 3-4 or perhaps even a 3-2-6 with Oakman, Andrew Billings, and Jamal Palmer up front, Aiavion Edwards and Bryce Hager playing in the middle flanked by Collin Brence and Travon Blanchard, and then the normal group of Ryan Reid, Xavien Howard, Orion Stewart, and Terrell Burt in the secondary.  We were able to do it against both the run and the pass because the line got pressure consistently without blitzing, letting us drop 8 into coverage if need be.  That was easily the most exciting schematic portion of the game to me, and it seems Ian Boyd agreed.

Looking at a couple of the individual question marks going into the game:

  • Didn't get to see much of Xavien Howard or Ryan Reid in coverage, but I liked what I did see.  Howard looked particularly good in the couple of deep throws SMU had time to attempt.  They just didn't have any answer for our DL, so it was a pretty boring game for the secondary.
  • When I rewatched this morning, I did so with Aiavion Edwards in mind.  He did not disappoint, making more than one play through his speed on the boundary.  He also forced and recovered a huge fumble that set us up for an offensive TD and was credited with half a sack.
  • I didn't see much of Orion Stewart or Collin Brence at all, so I can't answer any questions there.  Hopefully somebody else did.
  • Did see Brian Nance!  How he wasn't credited with a QB hurry or two and a tackle is beyond me.
  • Also saw quite a bit of Grant Campbell with the 2s in the second half.  That unit had Nance, Suleiman Masumbuko, Byron Bonds, and K.J. Smith on the line, Campbell, Taylor Young (who also played with the 1s), and Blanchard at LB, and Tion Wright, Chance Waz, Alfred Pullom, and Terrance Singleton in the secondary.  I was very happy that they managed to keep the shutout intact through the fourth quarter.

The story of this game was definitely our defensive line almost single-handedly dominating the SMU offense.  Baylor had so little respect for SMU's ability to throw down the field that we often lined up without anybody more than 5 yards off the ball, leaning on our defensive line to blow up the play.  Then they did.  By the end of the game, I actually felt bad for both SMU's QBs and their tackles.  Both were getting dominated physically, couldn't do anything to stop it, and didn't do anything except exist to bring it on.

Miscellaneous Stuff:

  • Keep an eye going forward on the wind situation.  I made note of it last night on twitter and after the game, and I really do think it made a difference.  Coming in from the SSE, the wind went right between the scoreboard and the edge of the bowl/canopy, deflected off the press box/suites on the west side of the stadium, and then swirled around the seating bowl back to the east side of the stadium.  At any given point, the flags on the top of the goalposts could be facing entirely different directions.  Whether that is something that only matters when the wind is exactly the same or keeps being a problem remains to be seen.
  • RGIII unveiled his own statue, gave the invocation, participated in the coin toss, led the band at halftime, took selfies with the crowd and recruits, and was reportedly gladhanding like crazy in the club for most of the game.  The guy was everywhere.
  • Good gosh, it was hot.
  • Matt Davis was awful.
  • Huge props to Ms. Josie Drago for the beats throughout the game.  Halftime and the weirdness of the third quarter really sapped a lot of the energy from the crowd and team, but she managed to keep things going about as well as possible.  Once it became clear that the offense wasn't going to score 60 points, her job got a lot more difficult.
  • Props, as well, to the biggest Baylor Line in history!  They showed up, shouted loud, and stayed longer than quite a few of their contemporaries in the crowd.  I was very impressed with the resiliency of the Class of 2018!