Let's face it, Baylor isn't known for their defense, and they’re certainly not known for their secondary, but they do have a lot of athletes on the defensive side of the ball. I used the video Mark posted earlier about West Virginia's passing game and documented each of the 49 passing plays the Mountaineers used against Maryland last week. The more I watched it, the more I came to think that Baylor has a real chance at slowing down this offense, or at least slowing it down enough, to come out with a victory on Saturday. Not that this gives me much credibility, but I played defensive back all throughout high school and I know what it's like to be in a film room breaking down each play again and again for hours on end in order to pick up tendencies and strategize for the upcoming opponent. I used this experience to come up with some things I'm hoping Phil Bennett came up with as well for Saturday's game.
After watching the video on the West Virginia passing game against Maryland one thing became obvious to me. We need to pressure Geno Smith. There's no other way to say this, but we're screwed if we let him stay back in the pocket all game, especially because of the next couple points I'm going to make. I've heard comparisons of Smith to Robert Griffin III the past couple days. I agree that both are great athletes, have strong arms, and are very accurate, but Smith does not have the same escape ability as Griffin. Griffin can get out of trouble in the pocket using speed and agility, while Smith uses crafty moves in the pocket to avoid pressure. While Smith is a great athlete, he does not have the same running ability as Griffin. He will run if everything breaks down, but he definitely isn't Pat White. When Maryland got to Smith he wasn't able to find Tavon Austin or any other of his speedy receivers. My hope is that the Bears will be able to rattle Smith early so he won't get too comfortable sitting in the pocket and sling the ball wherever he pleases.
I haven't seen much press coverage from the Baylor defense, but it is something I would like to see implemented against West Virginia. Similar to Baylor's offense, West Virginia throws a lot of short passes to take advantage of defenses that play off of their receivers, and to also take advantage of the speed they possess from the wide receiver position. (Similar to Baylor) Think of the Sam Houston State game in the first half. The Bearkats pressed our receivers and forced Nick Florence into making some bad throws. Louisiana-Monroe did something similar, but not quite to the same extent, and forced Florence into two early interceptions. Accompanied with the pressure I hope the defense will be getting, if we can press on the outside and bump receivers off their routes to mess up timing, then the Bears may be able to come up with some interceptions in Phil Bennett's ball hawking defense. I admit that Baylor doesn't have the best cover corners in the league, but they are definitely athletic enough to jam someone at the line to throw off the timing of drag routes, slow slants, and search routes over the middle of the field.
The play that many of you have probably seen is the play where the Mountaineers are first and ten, have two backs in the back field, and two receivers split out to the right. Smith fakes the hand off and then throws the ball over the middle to Tavon Austin who was lined up as the left outside receiver on a slow slant route, and Austin then goes on to out run everyone into the end zone for West Virginia's first score of the game. What I want to see form the Baylor defense to prevent such plays is to have the linebackers constantly changing up their responsibility from play to play. Pressure needs to be brought (as I mentioned earlier) but the Bears also must defend the routes over the middle. If the press coverage is able to knock the receivers off of their routes even slightly, it should give Bryce Hager, Eddie Lackey, and Ahmad Dixon enough time to fake a blitz (they can also do this pre-snap) and then fall back into coverage to prevent slot curls, disrupt drag routes, and force Smith to put more touch on the ball to receivers running seam routes. I wouldn't even mind Dixon pressing up on a slot receiver to disrupt him and then check the flats for hitches and curls, as well as forcing a tougher throw on the deep out route.
Safeties maintain the cap
If, and that's a big if, the Baylor defense can do what I've described previously in this story, it won't matter if the safeties can't maintain the cap on the defense. If they get beat deep none of this matters. The safeties must be able to make up for the aggressive style of play going on by the nine players in front of them. The route that is going to be the most difficult to cover in the strategy I've described is the seam route by a slot receiver. It will be hard to jam these receivers without spreading out our defense too much, so our safeties need to keep a close eye on these routes, as well as the post. My hope is that if everything else goes as planned, these throws will be rushed, tipped, or not thrown with the same zip, because we'll have defenders where the receivers are trying to be.
The style of play I'm calling for involves a lot of aggression. Yes, if the Bears do follow what I just wrote, they will get beat on some plays. But they're going to get beat often by an offense as good as the one West Virginia possesses. Luckily, we have a pretty good offense of our own. So if we can get Florence more possessions than Smith on Saturday by way of turnovers, this one could be a lot closer than the experts think.