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What to Watch For: Previewing the Baylor Bears

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing loss in Ames to a gritty Iowa State Cyclones team, it’s on to the next one for the 2019 Texas Longhorns.

Come Saturday, the Texas football team will have again made their way north though this time they’ll stop just over two hours outside of Austin in the land of fixer uppers also known as Waco, Texas.

A road dog for the second straight Saturday, the now 6-4 Longhorns are currently set to enter the game as about a five-point underdog against an 8-1 Baylor Bears team that is coming off its first loss (and sixth close game) of the season.

Since their first by week in mid-September, six of the Bears’ eight games have been decided by a single digit. Of those six games, Baylor has won five of them while also tacking on a 31-12 win over Kansas State on the road in Manhattan and a 45-27 win over Oklahoma State on the road in Stillwater.

Maybe this will be a close game in Waco after all.

Similarly, over half of the Longhorns’ games have been decided by a single digit. But unlike Baylor, Texas has struggled to consistently close and has gone 3-3 in those contests.

For Texas to pull off the upset and avoid the fifth loss this season, it will first need to keep the game close against a Baylor team that has recently found some sneaky pop when it can put its offense all together.

What could the Texas defense see from the Baylor offense?

The Baylor offense that head coach Matt Rhule brought to Waco, and that co-offensive coordinators Glenn Thomas and Jeff Nixon continue to coach, is one that incorporates RPO schemes, four-wide receiver spread sets, and the QB run along with some other wrinkles.

Currently, the Bears’ offense ranks just sixth in total offense among Big 12 teams, but the offense is tied for second in the conference for pass plays of 30-plus yards.

Baylor’s “pop” often stems from long passes set up by an RPO, play-action, or a simple drop out of the Bears’ four-wide sets. Once the defenders are drawn in to the action behind the line after the snap, or simply lose a step against speed in space, the opportunity for the Bears to strike deep down the field reveals itself.

Above we see the Bears draw in Iowa State defenders with action behind the line only to then find a streaking receiver lead a group of Cyclones defenders to the end zone for the score.

When the Baylor offense is firing on all cylinders, it’s due in large part to deep passes like that one.

The Bears’ offense is led by junior quarterback Charlie Brewer. The 6’1, 206-pound central Texas native out of Lake Travis High School has posted a 18-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, thrown for 2,532 yards, which ranks fourth in the Big 12 behind Sam Ehlinger’s 2,914 yards, and has completed just shy of 67% of his passes.

To this point, Brewer and has also been a factor in Baylor’s run game, averaging double digit carries in the last five games and totaling seven rushing touchdowns over that span.

Brewer also happens to lead the team in rushing attempts with 112 but the combo of junior John Lovett and senior JaMycal Hasty leads the Bears in rushing production and has produced 1,040 yards and eight touchdowns on 168 carries combined. And that production has been split almost down the middle between the two.

The 5’9, 205-pound Hasty edges out the 6’0, 212-pound Lovett in the passing game with 18 receptions and 156 yards to Lovett’s six receptions and 61 yards.

The leading receiver for the Bears is 6’3, 215-pound senior Denzel Mims, whose 10 receiving touchdowns ranks second in the Big 12, while his 767 receiving yards ranks fourth. Mims is a big-bodied receiver who also has enough speed to be a tough matchup for a lot of college defensive backs.

Behind Mims, it’s typically been sophomores Tyquan Thornton, a 6’3, 176-pound speedster, who we saw run past the Cyclones defense in the first clip, and R.J. Sneed, a 6’1, 200-pound physical slot receiver.

A potential big-play threat, Thornton has emerged for the Bears in year two and has caught 35 passes for 613 yards and three touchdowns. Prior to being bottled up by TCU and Oklahoma in consecutive weeks, Thornton had a stretch of six games where he averaged just under 25 yards per reception.

Sneed, on the other hand, has been a stout receiver the Bears have targeted underneath and over the middle, and has caught 34 passes for 386 yards and three touchdowns.

The fourth receiver the Texas defense will want to keep an eye on is Josh Fleeks. A 5’11, 188-pound sophomore, Fleeks is another speedster that can attack the deep middle of the field right when a defense creeps in on play action or an RPO play.

When Baylor does line up a tight end, it’s usually as an extra blocker to get more size onto the field.

Given that the Baylor offense likes to take shots down field, is led by a quarterback capable of making plays with his arm and legs, and features very respectable speed in its receiving corps, this could be a long day for the Longhorns if the defense isn’t up for the challenge.

I’d expect Texas to base out of its dime defense to attempt to limit the big plays over the top and to close the windows around the field the best they can.

What will the Texas offense be up against with the Baylor defense?

The 3-3-5 is the name of the game for the Baylor defense and defensive coordinator Phil Snow. The unit ranks third in total defense among Big 12 teams, and as Baylor joins the list of Big 12 defenses attempting to hone in on ways to defend the spread, they’ve shown that mixing in dime looks with three down linemen has been a strategy the they’re growing to embrace.

The leading tackler for the Baylor defense has been third-year sophomore Terrel Bernard. The 6’1, 222-pound outside linebacker paces the team with 83 tackles (37 solo).

The sack leader for the Bears is 6’4, 295-pound junior defensive tackle James Lynch, whose 8.5 sacks also leads the entire Big 12 in that category.

Other leaders on defense include linebackers Jordan Williams and Blake Lynch, along with safety Chris Miller and defensive back Grayland Arnold, who’s notched three interceptions over the last two games.

In all, Baylor’s defense has kept the spread offenses of the Big 12 in check, and it has shown as the Bears defense ranks first in points allowed through 10 games and has allowed 30 or more points in just two games, one of which was a double-overtime win against Texas Tech.

In order to force the upset and get back into the winning column this weekend, the Longhorns will need to elevate their play across the board in Waco against a Bears team that has shown it has the chops to find a way to win while limiting what opponents want to do on offense.

And even after a deflating loss against the Sooners this past weekend, expect this Baylor football program to get right back up to take on a team out of Austin that they want to put away in order to set their sights back on the Big 12 title game and a potential rematch against Oklahoma.