Baylor Football: Beyond the Box Score 2007

By god, I'm putting the same energy into this as I have for the others.  Or I'm at least going to try.  Or try to try.

Initial Stat Assault

It's easy to pin Baylor down in a "bad offense, bad defense, bad everything" mold, and to some general degree you'd be somewhat correct in doing so, especially last year.  After showing increments of progress in 2005 and 2006, the wheels came off in 2007.  But let's try to figure out specifically where Baylor was proficient and woefully overmatched.

Offense (Success Rate / Points Per Play / S&P)

Overall: 38.2% / 0.25 / 0.630
Rushing: 39.9% / 0.30 / 0.695
Passing: 37.5% / 0.22 / 0.599

Overall (close): 38.7% / 0.25 / 0.637
Rushing (close): 36.6% / 0.27 / 0.638
Passing (close): 39.7% / 0.24 / 0.636

Passing Downs: 29.0% / 0.13 / 0.422
Non-Passing Downs: 43.1% / 0.31 / 0.739

Redzone: 33.6% / 0.16 / 0.497

Q1: 41.1% / 0.19 / 0.603
Q2: 36.3% / 0.37 / 0.734
Q3: 33.3% / 0.16 / 0.497
Q4: 42.3% / 0.26 / 0.685

1st Down: 40.4% / 0.26 / 0.663
2nd Down: 37.7% / 0.28 / 0.657
3rd Down: 35.5% / 0.14 / 0.492

  • First key to success when implementing a spread offense: be able to throw the ball.  Baylor couldn't.
  • The quarter-by-quarter numbers are pretty telling here.  In Q1, Baylor was able to move the chains a bit, but they had no explosive potential whatsoever.  By Q2, the need to pick up more than 3-5 yards at a time took over, and the success rate plummeted.  And then in Q4, when the game was likely out of hand, the numbers picked up a bit again.
  • And predictably, they were terrible on 3rd downs.

Defense

Overall: 48.6% / 0.34 / 0.830
Rushing: 51.8% / 0.36 / 0.874
Passing: 45.3% / 0.33 / 0.784

Overall (close): 47.8% / 0.30 / 0.778
Rushing (close): 52.3% / 0.30 / 0.820
Passing (close): 43.5% / 0.30 / 0.739

Passing Downs: 30.6% / 0.08 / 0.383
Non-Passing Downs: 55.5% / 0.45 / 1.002

Redzone: 45.1% / 0.36 / 0.811

Q1: 45.7% / 0.25 / 0.704
Q2: 52.5% / 0.34 / 0.862
Q3: 48.7% / 0.40 / 0.889
Q4: 47.5% / 0.39 / 0.864

1st Downs: 54.0% / 0.45 / 0.990
2nd Downs: 47.3% / 0.33 / 0.805
3rd Downs: 36.7% / -0.02 / 0.351

  • Leave it to Baylor to be one of the worst 1st down defenses in the country...and just about the best 3rd down defense in the country.  The Bears were murderous on 3rd downs and passing downs...but they just couldn't force many 3rd downs or passing downs.
  • As with the offense, they came out guns-blazing in the 1st quarter and resembled a decent team...and then the regression started.
  • As with many below-average defenses, stopping the run was the main problem.  They were downright decent against the pass.  Not great, but decent.
  • Seriously, I may need to check on the accuracy of those 3rd-down numbers.  That's pretty sick if it's true.
  • Yup, it's true.

'+' Numbers

Offensive EqPts+: 68.91 (#107 in the country)
Offensive S&P+: 79.59 (#106)
Offensive Rushing EqPts+: 56.59 (#108)
Offensive Passing EqPts+: 88.00 (#74)

Offensive S&P+ (close games): 81.57 (#98)
Offensive S&P+ (passing downs): 76.57 (#96)
Offensive S&P+ (non-passing downs): 88.34 (#100)

Offensive Line Yards+: 86.04

Defensive EqPts+: 85.82 (#105)
Defensive S&P+: 75.55 (#108)
Defensive Rushing EqPts+: 59.83 (#109)
Defensive Passing EqPts+: 85.88 (#84)

Defensive S&P+ (close games): 77.74 (#96)
Defensive S&P+ (passing downs): 147.56 (#5)
Defensive S&P+ (non-passing downs): 86.28 (#90)

Defensive Line Yards+: 84.66 (#112)

  • What can I say?  Passing Down Defense aside, that's pretty much equally craptacular across the board.

Win Correlations (WinCorr)

Okay, so what stats were most important to Baylor in 2007?

  1. Offensive EqPts (0.881)
  2. Offensive S&P (0.872)
  3. Offensive PPP (0.845)
  4. Offensive EqPts+ (0.842)
  5. Offensive Passing EqPts, 2nd Downs (0.839) ????
  6. Offensive Passing PPP, 2nd Downs (0.817) ????
  7. Offensive Passing S&P (0.817)
  8. Offensive Passing EqPts+ (0.814)
  9. Offensive Passing Success Rate, Q3 (0.809)
  10. Offensive Rushing Success Rate, 2nd Downs (0.807)
  11. Offensive Success Rate (0.805)
  12. Offensive Passing PPP (0.802)
  13. Offensive Passing Success Rate (0.802)
  14. Offensive EqPts, 2nd Downs (0.801)
  15. Offensive Passing EqPts, Q3 (0.799)
  16. Offensive Passing S&P, 2nd Downs (0.795)
  17. Offensive Success Rate, 2nd Downs (0.789)
  18. Offensive S&P, 2nd Downs (0.785)
  19. Offensive S&P+ (0.782)
  20. Offensive Passing S&P+ (0.774)
  • Seriously?  Only Baylor could have their fates tied so much to two completely random friggin' things: 2nd downs and 3rd quarters.  Seriously, what the hell am I supposed to make of that??
  • Again, it came down to the passing game.  10 of the 20 measures on the list were passing related, while only 1 was rushing related.  They created an offense that emphasized the passing game...and couldn't pass.
  • And as I mentioned earlier, the biggest problem was the explosiveness.  Right now on NCAA 09, I'm trying to move my Create-A-Team up through the ranks of the Sun Belt Conference (I live a life that is too exciting for words), and my offensive personnel is so bad all the way across the board that I've come to view a 7-yard gain as a rousing success.  In other words, I've created the video game version of Baylor.  I mentioned the explosive potential of WRs David Gettis and Thomas White yesterday.  Well...they're going to need to develop some of that potential, and STAT.

Questions for 2008

Will Baylor's offense improve in 2008?

Let's look at this in two parts: quarterbacking and Art Briles' track record.  The RBs and OL are not amazing, but they're not the primary problem.  And the WRs will be covered in the next question.

Quarterbacks

I'm pretty sure RMN posters pehs and Uribe Auction both started games at QB for Baylor last year.  Guy Morriss came into 2007 with a returning somewhat-starter in Blake Szymanski...and was so confident in him that he gave every other guy on the roster a shot at the job before relenting to Szymanski's inherent mediocrity.  Michael Machen (35.5% passing success rate, 6 INTs in 59 passes)...Tyler Beatty (15.8%, 2 INTs in 18 passes)...some dude named John David Weed (25.0%, only 1 INT in 16 passes!  And that can't be his real name)...Ryan Roberts (14.3%, ugh)...they all got their shot.  And sadly, it was beyond clear that Szymanski (39.8%, 18 INTs in 461 passes) was the best option. 

Szymediocre, Beatty, Roberts, and Weed all return, but...does that really matter?  The starter will emerge from a pool of Szymediocre, Miami transfer (and one-time blue chipper) Kirby Freeman (22.4% passing success rate at UM last year), and a true freshman, Robert Griffin.  Griffin appears to have loads of potential, but...a true freshman manning the reins is rarely a good idea for immediate success.

Art Briles

It makes sense to take some time to look at Art Briles' track record.  Honestly, you've read about the pedigree--he built Houston into a top-tier Conference USA team that had athleticism and the potential to give bigger schools a run for their money.  And he seems to be, from all indications, an offense-first coach.  Looking at S&P+ numbers, Houston was #32 in overall offense, #48 in rushing offense, #52 in passing offense, #50 in close games, #22 on passing downs, and #64 on non-passing downs.  Their offense dropped off a bit in 2007 while breaking in a new starting QB.  To compete in the offense-heavy Big 12, Baylor will need to put up '+' numbers really close to that to compete, and that's probably unlikely in Year One.

Also, Briles' teams followed the Baylor trend of topping out in Q1 before trailing off in Q2 and Q3.

Give Briles some time, and get some at least somewhat competent athletes on defense, and you figure he'll be able to put a decent product on the field.  He's got a 4-star dual threat QB to mold and develop, and he should be able to lure some pretty decent Houston-based athletes to the program.  It's just that...this is Baylor.  Good coaches don't succeed at Baylor--Briles has to figure out how to be a great coach.

You mentioned explosive potential...will there be any?

Maybe, but doubtful.  The good news is that, of the 200.78 EqPts generated by the passing game last year, the people who accounted for 77% of it return.  They lose only RB Brandon Whitaker (25.34 EqPts), Krys Buerck (15.80--moved to CB in the spring), and two other minor contributors.  Thomas White (by far the leader with 45.19 EqPts) returns.  His 2.034 S&P was easily the best on the team, and you have to figure they'll ride him as far as he will take them.  Beyond that, you should see the likes of Justin Akers (28.05 EqPts, 1.373 S&P), the aforementioned David Gettis (19.54 EqPts, 1.469 S&P), Brad Taylor (24.30 EqPts, 1.494 S&P), and Ernest Smith (11.49 EqPts, 1.425 S&P) comprising the receiving corps. They also inked a couple of 3-star WRs--6'0 Lanear Simpson and 5'10 Romie Blaylock--in their 2008 recruiting class. 

The main problem is, unless Simpson or Blaylock can immediately jump into the fray with energy and super speed, the Baylor receiving corps is big but not particularly fast.  I've mentioned a few times that White and Akers have potential, and White was able to deliver on that potential somewhat, but you'll need more weapons than that, and I don't know where those weapons are going to come from in 2008.

Is the defense good enough to win some games for Baylor?

No, but I will say this: the success the defense had on passing downs should be encouraging for Baylor, as it shows that a) there's some overall potential there, and b) I guess they're pretty good at blitzing.  But if my leverage idea holds true, then the Baylor defense can get significantly better by forcing opponents into just a few more passing downs per game.  And to see how likely that is, we'll take a quick look at who made last year's successful plays, and how many of those "playmakers" (in quotes because, well, how many plays did they actually make?) return in 2008.

Defensive Line

All major playmakers return on the D-Line, led by DEs Jason Lamb (23.5 in 2007) and Leon Freeman (21.0).  In all, players who made 80.3% of the D-Line's successful plays return.

Linebackers

Well, Joe Pawelek (35.5) returns...that's pretty much all you need to know.  He was easily Baylor's main playmaker, though 35.5 isn't a tremendously impressive total.  Baylor loses Nick Moore (25.5), but thanks to Pawelek, players who made 70.3% of the LBs' successful plays return.

Secondary

This is the least-experienced unit--only 61.4% of its successful plays return--but Jordan Lake (24.5...a decent total for a DB) and Jake La Mar (20.0) make for a nice pair of returning safeties.  Holes need to be filled at CB, but...well, they're not very big holes now, are they?

Really, all Briles can ask for in his first season is a smart, experienced unit that takes advantage of its opportunities.  As I mentioned above, there's a decent amount of potential here if they can scrounge up a few more stops and force a few more passing downs.

Oh yeah, and how is the Special Teams unit?

Yeah, uhh...about that.  Only one D1 team was worse at special teams than Baylor...and that was Duke.  Ouch.  David Gettis was a pretty decent kick returner, but Joe Bennett was unimpressive at punt returner, Derek Epperson was an average-at-best punter (and their punt coverage was bad), and Shea Brewster was not a very good kicker.  And they all return in 2008!  Hooray!

(And for the record, Houston was #99 in my special teams rankings, so this doesn't appear to be one of Art Briles' strong suits.)

Summary

There's more potential with this Baylor team than has been seen in green and gold for a while.  But that's not saying much.  Kirby Freeman was highly-recruited out of high school but pretty much flamed out at Miami--he's got potential, but if he doesn't get the QB job, a brand spanking new 4-star QB (with loads of, you guessed it, potential) is available to give it a shot.  Briles' first (partial) recruiting class featured quite a bit of potential and speed, and that's probably what the Bears have been lacking most.  They have a potential go-to WR in Thomas White, a potentially strong O-Line, and a couple potential big-time defenders in Pawelek and Lake.

But let's be honest--every other team in the Big 12 (aside from maybe Iowa State) has more potential at the moment, along with more proven commodities. To turn this ship around in one season would require not one, but a series of miracles, and while Briles has proven himself to be a good coach...he hasn't proven himself God.  Sorry, ghtd36.  Ain't happening.  :-)

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