I’d never have guessed that this was going to be a major topic in the Big 12, not even in the week or so after Matt Rhule left for Carolina, not until his name was explicitly mentioned for the Baylor job.
For starters, Dave Aranda has never necessarily seemed to be a future HC kind of guy. His specialty has always been defensive coordination and particularly the development of zone blitzes designed to attack pass protections and create free hitters and matchups. It seemed more likely that he’d end up in the NFL where scheming matchups is the name of the game, than that he’d be a head coach somewhere in college. That said, if there’s one place in college football where you can deeply test your ability to gameplan matchups against protections it’s the Big 12. And here we are:
It’s also the case that Baylor was recently a stepping stone to the NFL for another coach, but that was as a head man and program manager and not as a coordinator. As arguably the third most resourceful program in the Big 12, Baylor’s greatest need was for a strong program manager that could get those resources on the field to help the Bears continue to compete for Big 12 championships. Since he’s only been a coordinator in the past, it’s hard to know if Aranda is that.
Here are some of my big questions for a Dave Aranda Baylor program:
What sort of offense will he run?
Aranda came up as a DC for the first time with the 2010 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, who’s QB Bryant Moniz threw for 5k yards and 39 TDs to 15 INT in their spread passing attack. From there he rolled with Gary Andersen at Utah State and then Wisconsin, where they ran spread-option and power-option style offenses. After a few successful seasons with the Badgers he left for the LSU job.
The big question at LSU was how he was going to adapt his multiple, zone blitz defense to Baton Rouge rosters that could out-execute opponents without needing to teach players to move all over the place. The Tigers started pretty simple and eventually added a little more exotic pressure back into the mix as time went on, ultimately winning the 2019 National Championship playing mostly press-man and base defense on standard downs before dialing up crazy zone blitzes on third down. Obviously the big key to LSU winning that championship was pairing Aranda once again with a spread passing attack.
I know that after Matt Canada was fired, Aranda encouraged Ed Orgeron to turn back to Steve Ensminger at OC whom he felt was the right guy for that job. Ensminger added more RPOs to boost the LSU run game from spread sets and then of course they brought in Joe Brady who minimized the LSU run game in favor of the pro spread.
What does Canada envision as the right approach on offense? Matt Rhule has been building the Baylor roster to be more of a smashmouth spread approach, running power to set up chances to throw RPOs and play-action down the field to guys like Josh Fleeks and Tyquan Thornton. I’m guessing Jacob Zeno will be the frontrunner to take over if they maintain that approach.
Many of Aranda’s Wisconsin defenses and all of his LSU units tended to rely really extensively on man coverage. Like most of the well regarded defensive coordinators of his day, he employs more of a MAD defense, and his scheming is mostly oriented around winning battles before they can start with pressure up front. Todd Orlando and Alex Grinch were also well regarded for similar approaches and it worked really well, until it didn’t.
LSU’s success against Clemson largely came down to the play of Derek Stingley at cornerback, who could erase many of Clemson’s most potent counter-attack options.
Baylor is not currently loaded with 5-star, Darrelle Revis types at cornerback and I don’t know that they ever will be. Certainly not to the extent that LSU was and probably not to the extent necessary to hold up in the Big 12. For 2020 they have senior Raleigh Texada.
So how will Aranda look to hold up on the back end in the DC graveyard?
Another area where Aranda’s choices for staff is really going to matter is in recruiting. Aranda is not known as a recruiter, his job at LSU was to maximize the elite athletes that Coach O and the rest of the staff was evaluating and assembling for him.
Baylor has the resources and positioning to recruit well within the Big 12. They’re within easy driving distance of some of the major talent hubs and are no further from Houston than most anyone else except Texas. It’s sort of strange that Mack Rhoades wouldn’t have opted for a stronger recruiter, but perhaps Aranda will keep the ultra popular Joey McGuire on staff in some capacity. That’d be the next domino I’d watch for, whether McGuire or any of the other staff stay in place.
Overall the fit and overall hire here aren’t all that terribly impressive. It’s easy to see Aranda crafting some nice pressures with the various linebackers he’ll find left over from Matt Rhule, but he’ll be up against it facing Big 12 offenses and trying to retool in the defensive backfield. Ultimately Aranda is a really smart and creative coach who’s been around some very strong leaders and programs so it’s easy to imagine him revealing to Rhoades that he has a good plan in place to help Baylor maintain the place in the league they’ve fought for this year.
Read up on Baylor’s rise within the Big 12 in the 2010s in my book: