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Baylor vs. Texas Preview Part II: David and Goliath's Infant Brother

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Far be it for me to suggest our defense is capable of really stopping ... anyone, but this week's matchup might give them the chance if Texas QB David Ash isn't 100%.

Wesley Hitt

Sorry this is coming out so late, everyone. I meant to post it this evening and then didn't get it done in time. My apologies!

The second installment in this week's preview for the Texas Longhorns looks at the the area of primary concern for most rational Baylor fans: the Texas offense against the Baylor defense. It may surprise you to learn that despite their horrid game against the Sooners last weekend in Dallas, the Longhorn offense has actually been quite good this season on the whole. Good enough, anyway, for a OFEI (offensive efficiency) ranking of 28th in the country. Opposing them will be our own 124th-ranked in DFEI (defensive efficiency) gorgadiplop (I had to make up a word since ours doesn't really qualify as a "defense").

Leading the way for the Longhorns this season has been David Ash, who will be making his first career start ever against the Bears. Last year's game, if you recall, we faced Case McCoy. As I mentioned last night there was some concern over whether Ash would be able to play this week, but that concern has apparently dissipated with his participation in practice. It probably doesn't matter much which of the two we'd face, but I'd definitely prefer the one who had barely played this season over the one who may or may not be injured. Still, Ash's sore wrist will be something to watch on Saturday night and Baylor may attempt to take advantage of potential problems receiving the snap from center by bringing heavy pressure. Or at least what we call heavy pressure, anyway.

The Players:

Before getting to the macro level this week, let's take a look at the latest publicized depth chart. That way we at least know who is torching us before we find out how it will happen. Luckily, Texas' website has an version that is easily copied.

OFFENSE
Position No. Player | No. Player | No. Player
Wide Receiver (H) 8 Jaxon Shipley | 16 Bryant Jackson OR 27 Daje Johnson
| 9 John Harris
Wide Receiver (Z) 84 Marquise Goodwin | 26 D.J. Monroe OR 4 Cayleb Jones
Tight End (Y) 18 D.J. Grant OR 81 Greg Daniels | 89 Barrett Matthews
| 85 M.J. McFarland
Right Tackle 78 Josh Cochran | 77 Luke Poehlmann
Right Guard 72 Mason Walters | 79 Thomas Ashcraft
Center 55 Dominic Espinosa | 73 Garrett Porter
Left Guard 75 Trey Hopkins | 66 Sedrick Flowers

Left Tackle 51 Donald Hawkins OR 77 Luke Poehlmann | 68 Kennedy Estelle
Wide Receiver (X) 1 Mike Davis | 2 Kendall Sanders | 80 Marcus Johnson
Quarterback 14 David Ash | 6 Case McCoy |
7 Connor Brewer
Tailback 24 Joe Bergeron OR 32 Johnathan Gray | 28 Malcolm Brown
| 5 Jeremy Hills
Fullback 30 Ryan Roberson | 13 Chet Moss |
Place-Kicker 9 Anthony Fera | 28 Nick Jordan | 23 Nick Rose

Their offensive line is a big, experienced unit that has come a long way from a year ago. They returned four starts this season with only Hawkins (JR, 6-5, 310), a JUCO transfer, not having more than 10 starts under his belt coming into this game. The most experienced of the group is Walters (JR, 6-6, 320), the right guard, who now has 31. Hopkins (6-4, 301) and Espinosa (6-4, 298) are both sophomores, while Hopkins (6-4, 301) is also a junior. As a group they are better at blocking for the run than the pass, but they've only allowed 6 sacks on the entire season and have performed well as a group.

Texas uses a ton of different formations to test opposing defenses and will often switch pre-play from one to another. If Texas co-OC Bryan Harsin believes he can trick the defense into lining up against the run, for example, he may put a TE in the backfield with two RBs and then motion all of them out. The next play might see that very TE back in the set with another in an double-tight formation. They only rarely go to a spread set as we've come to know the term, preferring instead to stick to 3 receiver formations Shipley and Davis, both of whom I told you about last night, as the primary pass-catchers and Goodwin as purely a deep threat. Harsin also absolutely loves the screen game to Hills and Johnson, something that could be a huge problem for us if we get too aggressive trying to create pressure on Ash. Altogether, theirs is an offense with incredible talent and, up to the Oklahoma game, the results to go along with it.

Another thing we absolutely need to watch out for is trick plays. Harsin uses them far more often than the average team and I wouldn't be surprised to see one straight out of the gate. It might be a reverse, WR pass, or even a combination thereof, probably using Shipley. He hasn't thrown any passes yet this season but there's no time like the present.

The key to Texas' offense on Saturday is probably going to be their talented running back combo of Bergeron and Gray. As of this moment it doesn't seem like Malcolm Brown, probably the best of most well-rounded of the Texas backs, will play on Saturday, and that might be good news. Gray is still extremely young and may be guilty of looking for the big play he wants rather than the little play he actually has. Bergeron is much more of a power back, so we may see him used to try to pound us inside. I hope we have a plan for stopping that from happening.

The Results

For this particular matchup, here are the S&P+ and FEI rankings for the relevant units: Texas' offense and Baylor's defense. This is the first week so far this season that we've had specific unit FEI rankings available, so get excited! WARNING: our defensive rankings are... a bit ugly. National ranks for individual values are in parenthesis.

S&P+ -- Texas Off vs. Baylor Def

Texas Off Baylor Def
Rank 13 107
S&P+ 123.7 82.2
Rush S&P+ 144.1 (2) 88.9 (101)
Pass S&P+ 127.3 (24) 83.4 (100)
Std. Downs 130.8 (7) 90.4 (98)
Pass Downs 123.7 (33) 76.7 (111)
S&P .951 (12) 0.888 (114)
Success Rate 48.9% (21) 48.2% (110)
PPP 0.46 (11) 0.41 (107)

Good Lord that's a lot of three-digit numbers on our side. A few observations.

  • Texas' offense is better than you thought, isn't it? It's not easy to know because their failures are well-publicized, but it's true. They've been very good this season. Certainly better than they looked on Saturday against OU, where they struggled to run the ball to save their lives. It didn't help that they were down big for basically three quarters and couldn't do what they wanted to do.
  • Texas' major strength offensively is in the rushing game, so we should expect for Texas to run early and often on first and second down. That's their MO until the point where they get down in the score. They do that because they are relatively poor, but still good, on obvious passing downs, which are defined second and > 8 and third or fourth and > 5. It's what they did last year, as you can see from the graph on Bill C's season preview of Texas, and it's what they've done this year. The difference so far is that they've gotten markedly better on passing downs. That, in turn, has improved the running game because you can't just stack the box against them anymore.
  • Baylor is 111th on passing downs. 111th. I'm actually surprised it's not much, much worse than that since we're so awful on third downs. If Baylor is going to have any chance in this game of stopping Texas' offense, that has to change in a big way. That may not matter so much if Baylor's defensive line doesn't improve, as well. Against TCU our problems were cyclical; we couldn't get off the field on third downs even when we did stop the run, so our defense got tired and stopped being able to stop the run.

FEI- Texas Off vs. Baylor Def

Texas Off Baylor Def
Rank 28 124
OFEI/DFEI .247 .964
OE/DE .555 (12) 1.049 (124)
FD .724 (39) .814 (120)
AY .572 (18) .666 (123)
Ex .192 (20) .302 (122)
Me .172 (42) .223 (114)
Va .500 (20) .561 (116)
OSOS pvs .407 (80) .470 (65)
OSOS fut .080 (6) .044 (7)

This ... doesn't look much better. It does show that Texas has a bit of a problem with 3 and outs according to First Down rate, but it's not terrible. That contributes to a lack of methodical drives (Me). All in all, their offense isn't WVU 2012, but it's not Texas 2011, either. It's well above-average nationally, as it should be, and the advanced stats reflect that. I was a bit surprised how explosive they've been this season, actually.

One part of their offensive efficiency this season that isn't stated explicitly in the numbers above is turnovers. Even after the OU game, Texas leads the country in least turnovers by their offense. They're not going to beat themselves. If we're relying on them to do so, we're probably going to be disappointed.

Baylor's Defensive Plan

We've got our hands full again this week stopping an offense that is more capable The move inside of Gary Mason, Jr. to DT against TCU that caught so many of us by surprise could actually pay off against Texas like it did early. He's a bit undersized for the DT position at only 265 pounds, but Baylor's scheme involves more gap shooting than gap control, so it might work. Controlling the line against Texas will be critically important as they try to establish the running game and take pressure off Ash. If we can limit that effort, especially early, we can force them to throw. I know what you're thinking-- that approach has hardly been optimal for us this season-- but it may be the best we can do. Given the chance, Texas will gladly grind drives to keep their own defense that has its own problems off the field, and we have to be prepared to stop them if they try.

Mason's move inside opened a spot on the outside for true freshman Jamal Palmer, who is now on the second-team defense opposite freshman Javonte Magee. Magee played a significant amount against TCU in an effort to rotate defensive linemen and I think it paid off. TCU actively avoided running his direction in that game from what I could see on the tape. Hopefully we can take advantage of his size and strength versus Texas and he gets another chance to show what he can do.

Baylor's key to the game defensively will be improving on third downs. In the last two games, we've given up third downs on 12 of 15 and 13 of 15, respectively. That's not going to get it done. We simply cannot allow extended drives of the kind TCU mounted against us repeatedly last week. Our defense already lacks depth and talent, so getting them off the field quickly is the only chance we have at attaining some semblance of effectiveness.

We need to be ready for the near certainty that we're going to give up points to Texas' offense. In all likelihood, we'll score points, too. It will be incumbent upon our defense to at least give our offense the chance, however small, to get up on the Longhorns and put them away. With the way things turned out last week against Oklahoma, this is a Texas team in turmoil. I don't know about you, but it looked to me when Texas was down 36-2 at halftime like they didn't want any more of that. Get a lead again this week and we might be able to do the same thing.