In 2013 Baylor entered Stillwater, Oklahoma with its best team in program history (and that is likely true to date but we can argue that another time). The Bears were undefeated and looking to overcome a range of injuries plaguing nearly every critical position on the field. However, the game opened just like Baylor fans had wanted. Marching down the field, it looked as if Bryce Petty could trot into the end zone and then ... slip, trip, stumble ... the Bears were stuck at the one.
No matter, Shock Linwood - a recent revelation after sparking the offense against the Sooners a week and a half earlier - could punch it in and an early 7-0 lead could help quiet the crowd in Boone Pickens Stadium. Instead? An ill-advised attempt to stretch the ball over the goal line led to a turnover of monumental proportions. Baylor would never recover.
Flash forward to 2014. It's Morgantown, West Virginia and the now infamous 61-58 game had just been embedded on the minds of college football fans across America. Had Baylor built on their previous season's success? It would not appear to be the case. In fact, if this was your first time watching Baylor play a game of football under Art Briles you would think simply two things:
1) He tells the quarterback to haul back and float it deep to the sideline to a wide receiver on virtually every play.
2) He tells his defensive backs to be literal drapes against the receivers they face.
In both of these games, what has always been the case for a few series or a quarter here and there with the Briles offense, extended to nearly the entire game. The way the system works is a bit like a Nascar (or Indy Car if that's your thing) vehicle. When you get everything clicking and in place, it is honestly terrifying how fast it will go. It is the sort of thing that even opponents will marvel about while helplessly watching rather than defending. However, when that car gets thrown just slightly ajar, it might take more than a few caution laps to get everything in order.
I think it is inarguable that what Art Briles has done with his as-of-yet-to-be-named offense is top notch. It may even be in contention for the best offensive scheme ever created at the college football level. Yet something every Baylor fan can tell you is that when it is broken, it is broken. Putting up four straight 3 and outs while having run a total of 3 minutes of game time? Not ideal. But the magic of what the offense can do means that we all, and by we I mean fans of points, fans of Baylor and even the coaches, are just hoping that a bit of patchwork might fix this thing mid race and we would get to watch an incredible finish.
Enter 2015. Remember the injuries referenced earlier prior to Baylor's game against Oklahoma State in 2013? The ones that were dealt to the top WR, the MLB, the LT, the Safety and the top 2 RBs. Yeah, that was not all that bad come to think of it.
2015 started with National Championship aspirations, grew into a National Championship trajectory and then suddenly things were ... different.
If someone told a Baylor fan as late as October 24th that by the time the Texas game came around, Lynx Hawthorne would be the starting quarterback and Johnny Jefferson would be the one attempting, unsuccessfully, to throw a last ditch Hail Mary to beat the Longhorns you would be laughed back to Fort Worth.
This was not a simple wheel misalignment. Someone threw a wrench in the engine and poured sugar in the gas tank.
What no one knew for certain, is that forcing Art Briles to use a different car has gone to show that it is not so much about the vehicle, or even the driver. It truly is all about the mechanic.
It came out of the locker room on senior day against Texas, and was fully unveiled against the North Carolina Tarheels in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Now it is sitting in every Big 12 Film Room either getting meticulously dissected (Gary Patterson) or avoided in the don't-want-to-deal-with-this-yet sense (Kliff Kingsbury). The problem these coaches are now facing? Let's go back to 2014 first.
It was obvious from early on that the 3 man front Baylor was facing against West Virginia, with the stunts and blitz packages, had presented the problem that would need an additional week's worth of prep to fix. It was also obvious fairly quickly.
Jump ahead to Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. Suddenly a 21 point lead was unsafe and running the ball was impossible. It was obvious that Mark Dantonio had spent the better part of a month focused on stopping Baylor's standard rushing attack in hopes that his athletic, NFL bound, defensive backs would do just enough to keep Baylor in check. In the fourth quarter, it worked to perfection and Baylor fans watched as once again the offense crumbled under its own weight.
To this point, I have essentially given you a long winded breakdown of how Baylor's offense typically works in an immaculate way, but when it is not working it is like watching someone rub their elbow into concrete. What I hope it does, is set up for you just how important the last season's setback may have been for the future of the program.
For a full breakdown of the below, please check out CoachBDud.com's post on the game.
The biggest problem with Baylor's offense is that when it does stutter or when it requires just running the ball, it becomes largely predictable in every aspect of the game. When Art Briles and Co introduced the Wildcat offense with a little bit of Art Briles veer/spread flavor, even when it did get predictable, it proved very difficult to stop.
A team can't prepare for an offense that has consistently led the nation in offense for the better part of 5 years, while also preparing for an offense that can run for 645 yards.
Look at the below concept:
Again, credit to CoachBDud.com for the clip. Does that defensive front look familiar? Or have you blocked this from your memory?
You'll notice the similarities, and the different results. Now - obviously with one example this appears like cherry picking, and to an extent it is. There is no guarantee that if Baylor switches to the Wildcat (WildBear) in Morgantown that the team miraculously pulls out of the rut it got itself into that day. However, if you continue to watch the tape above beyond that one play, you can see how the defense was specifically crafted to take out everything that had worked against TCU the week prior. What might the result have been if the third quarter featured Corey Coleman, Shock Linwood and Devin Chafin pounding the rock instead of Bryce Petty heaving it to a visibly frustrated Antwan Goodley.
Planning for one offense that can put up 700+ yards on you any given day? A handful.
Planning for two offenses that can put up 700+ yards on you any given day? Oh boy.
With this fresh twist in the arsenal, the 2016 season might become Art Briles' masterpiece. I know that is what Baylor fans are hoping for, at least.