By Chris Derrett
After the Bears’ 55-28 loss at Texas A&M, the numbers are in, and some of them aren’t pretty.
At the beginning of the season, when asked about his potential Heisman candidacy, Robert Griffin III said an award like the Heisman is a team award.
I have no problem with one third of that team. Through six games, Baylor’s offensive unit is ranked seventh in the country out of 120 FBS teams in passing yards, 22nd in rushing yards and third in total offense. Griffin has made sensational plays, his receivers have helped him accumulate Heisman-esque numbers and Terrance Ganaway has emerged as a productive workhorse in a solid running game. By ‘no problem,’ I mean I’m exciting to see the offense take the field and expect points on every drive.
The other side of the ball has not been as spectacular. To put it lightly, it’s got some work to do.
The Bears are 99th in total defense and 99th in third down conversion defense, and only one half sack out of the team’s 12 has come from a non-defensive lineman player.
In scoring defense, Baylor ranks 100th with 32.67 points per game. That’s including a rain-shortened 48-0 shutout of Division I-AA opponent Stephen F. Austin. From the Big 12, only Iowa State (36.33) and Kansas (49.00) have given up more points per game.
I don’t think this is a case like last year, where it became painfully obvious the defensive players were never put in a position to make a play. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has pushed for more press coverage and fewer 12-yard cushions on 3rd and 5-plus yards.
The defense hasn’t worked as well as Bennett imagined when he made the trip from Pittsburgh to Waco.
When you break down the talent level at each position, few have performed up to Bennett’s expectations.
By ‘few,’ I’m talking mostly about the front four, who’ve produced 11.5 sacks this year .Last year’s defensive line produced 12 sacks on the whole year, with other positions adding to the team’s total of 21.
The linebackers have yet to really impact on the game or box score. Blitzes have been all but scrapped, leaving the linebacking corps to stop the run. It hasn’t done that well, either, with teams running over the Bears at 185.5 yards per game. Simply put, the bad reads and missed tackles must stop for the Bears to make postseason play and beat that bowl opponent.
The cornerbacks have been an adventure from the start, especially after projected starters Tuswani Copeland went down before the season and Tyler Stephenson suffered injury against TCU. Four weeks later senior Chance Casey admitted he wasn’t playing at as high a level as he needed, and nobody has made significant strides in shutting down receivers.
If there’s a bright spot, it’s junior Joe Williams. The junior college transfer’s play at Texas A&M wasn’t flawless, but holding standout receiver Jeff Fuller to 71 yards on five catches and no touchdowns was a respectable effort.
Of course the Aggie that did explode on Saturday was Ryan Swope, whose 11 catches for 206 yards and four touchdowns highlighted another area of struggle in Baylor’s defense.
The safeties’ job, by definition, is to defend the deepest part of the field. Their inability to do that Saturday allowed Swope to run free.
Honestly, the talent pool isn’t very deep. No matter what Baylor does, save for moving Ahmad Dixon to safety, the current safeties aren’t going to possess supreme speed. The cornerback position is going to remain thin until more recruiting efforts move in that direction, and even then it will probably be years before Baylor ever produces a lockdown corner.
The fact that Baylor’s former third-string quarterback was once the starting linebacker speaks to how badly the team was looking for an answer at that position.
The Bears’ defense won’t catch up to their offense for several seasons, if ever. As much as it pains Baylor fans to watch an opposing team score on eight of its 10 possessions, there’s not much that can be done quickly.
Bennett’s schemes don’t set up his unit to lose. It’s up to the players, now and in the future, to think more quickly and do their jobs properly.