Baylor was a common dark horse pick for 2019, at least to be a competitive team if not a legit B12 title contender, due to the accumulation of three factors. Charlie Brewer as QB, a third offseason for Rhule to establish his program, and then a favorable schedule.
We’re seeing that third factor play out favorably for the Bears, who’ve only faced Stephen F. Austin and UTSA thus far, but Baylor laid absolute whoopings on each. Since the Big 12 conference is now showing condensed replays of their games on YouTube it’s going to be very easy for me to take in a large number of league games this year and offer breakdowns and thoughts here.
I’m not gonna bother with that SFA game but I did take the chance to watch some of Baylor’s battle with UTSA.
As a reminder, my concerns for Baylor before the season were:
-An offensive front and cast of skill players that is still relatively unproven.
The Baylor offense flashed potential last year but it’s still that, we haven’t seen it all come together quite yet. The defense is the bigger concern since that unit has given away games for two years now.
Against UTSA, Baylor won 63-14, so things are off to a promising enough start. Here’s what I saw on a closer watch.
Contrar-Ian says the glass is half empty
There were a few concerning notes in there for the Baylor defense. First of all, UTSA is terrible and they barely know what they’re doing in this game. I spent a freshman year at UTSA and they sold shirts that read “UTSA Football: Still undefeated.” You see, way back then (2004) they didn’t even have a football program. I got out of there in time to attend Texas in 2005, which at that time was more or less the polar opposite in terms of football.
The Baylor base defense is now clearly a 3-2-6 dime and the “robber” safety is evidently the boundary guy and not the middle safety whom they call their “free” safety. Those designations make sense, as always it gets confusing when teams aren’t uniform in who is labeled as what.
They played a few different fronts against UTSA but did mix in some two-gapping looks that ask an awful lot of Clay Johnston.
Nose tackle Bravvion Roy draws a double team that washes him out, the LT reaches Clay Johnston while he’s trying to track the flow of the RB, and the will LB gets buried by the RG getting parked in his lap at the snap. Not a terrible play though because the robber and nickel safeties fill quickly and DE James Lockhart does a great job fitting into the B-gap at DE and preventing the RB a clear downhill path behind the double team and advancing guard.
A nearly identical result here:
James Lockhart beats the reach block by the RT and that prevents the RB from capitalizing on the otherwise downhill parting of the sea that’s occurring in the A-gaps. Small wonder they gave that guy a single-digit jersey.
What makes the 3-safety/dime effective is when you can spill the ball up front so that all your DBs have a chance to close on the ball, which is what is happening here. But if your DBs have to start flying up because the DL can’t maintain the line then you become vulnerable to play-action, RPOs, etc.
Bravvion Roy looks a bit iffy at the crucial nose spot here and at 6-1, 333 you worry about how he’ll look going up against B12 HUNH attacks. The OLBs are also really aggressive in a lot of these looks, which won’t work so well against RPO teams that will flip the ball out into that space. Can the Bears still stop these runs when Blake Lynch and Jordan Williams can’t fire downhill because they have to respect the pass option to the inside receivers?
Overall though it looks like the Bears have worked out how to run a lot of their favorite stuff from the inverted Tampa 2 structure and this scheme at least gives them a chance to get beat repeatedly on 3rd and 3 rather than allowing free touchdowns. That’s definitely better and you can give yourself a chance by making teams prove they can work their way down the field in smaller chunks without shooting themselves in the foot.
Another concern I had watching was how often they subjected Charlie Brewer to hits with their option-game. For instance…
…you really need to run zone-read from 12 personnel against UTSA? That’ll be a useful scheme in key moments of big games but why subject Brewer to mesh charges and potential pulls when you have a pair of 250+ pound blockers that could just be mauling that DE.
Granted Iowa State nearly blew it against UNI by refusing to run PFPurdy but they did pull it off and consequently spared him some hits. Baylor ran a PFPurdy offense for Brewer against the Roadrunners and some of these things happened:
Fortunately they got him out of there pretty early in the game. Charlie Brewer is 6-1, 206 and essential to Baylor’s hopes of contending for the league title. They don’t need him taking those shots and accumulating body blows to drop 60 on UTSA.
That said, this stuff will definitely be useful this season and it’s nice to have in the playbook because it clearly gives Gerry Bohanon the best chance to come in and win games if Brewer is hurt.
Establishing the #RhuleofLaw?
Obviously there are some other positives from Baylor’s early play that don’t really have caveats. The main one, beyond the physical tackling from their secondary when playing from depth and closing on the ball, is the play of Denzel Mims. He looks back to 2017 form, which was an essential development.
That’s 12 personnel again, the tight zone play, and then an RPO read where Brewer is pulling the ball to hit Mims down the field on a fade vs 1-on-1 coverage. It’s pretty easy to get 1-on-1s for outside receivers when you can pound the ball on schemes like this.
The way the Roadrunners got some penetration through that required the RB to take an absolute shot in pass protection is a little bit alarming. This is a reason why RPO teams should consider just running play-action when they know they’re getting man coverage, that protects the QB considerably better than these run blocking sets. Texas regularly checks into their tight zone look only to run play-action when they see an opportunity to take a deep shot, but the QB needs to have some authority to audible the offense into that for that style to work.
Brewer throws a good ball and he’s pretty darn accurate, no shock given his HS numbers and performances, and showed some savvy getting the ball out against the blitz from pro-spread concepts like this one:
Motion makes the defense give away the call and then Brewer flips it out for a first. The Roadrunner defender also remarkably fails to make this tackle so the play went for an extra yard or two.
The Bears have some obvious upside in the form of a young OL that should get better over the course of the year (especially at RT), at least one weapon in the passing game that can win 1-on-1s and deliver knockout blows, and then a QB that knows how to operate it all. If that holds together then their schedule should indeed allow them to make things interesting this season.
In three weeks Bears begin a slate that goes Iowa State, @K-State, Texas Tech, @OK State. If they can go 3-1 or better in that stretch they’ll have a shot at appearing in the Big 12 championship game.
If you enjoyed this breakdown of Baylor schemes, there’s an extensive chapter in my new book on how Art Briles established the smashmouth spread and broke football.