Baylor: Beyond the Box Score Preseason Offensive Preview

Confused?  Catch up with the BTBS Primer.

We're to Day Two of everybody's favorite week of the preseason: Baylor Week.  I close my eyes after typing that sentence and see confetti falling from the beautiful green and gold sky.  Ahh, Baylor Week.  Let's get to the stat-nerdy preview!

2008

Record: 4-8 (2-6 in conference)
S&P+: 212.4 (40th in the country, 8th in Big 12)
Scoring Margin: 336-352 (-16)
Conference Scoring Margin: 199-257 (-58)
Wins (S&P+ Ranking in parentheses): Texas A&M (#98), Iowa State (#104), Washington State (#118), Northwestern State (1-AA)
Losses: Oklahoma (#3), Texas (#5), Missouri (#10), Oklahoma State (#14), Texas Tech (#15), Nebraska (#21), Connecticut (#26), Wake Forest (#39)

First impressions from this rundown:

  1. Baylor didn't beat a team ranked higher than 98th last year.  Yes, they came close to beating Missouri and Texas Tech, but they didn't.
  2. Baylor played SEVEN of the nation's top 26 teams according to S&P+, and eight of the top 40.  Ouch.

Baylor was 0-3 in close games (i.e. final score within one possession), and that usually turns around from one year to another.  Of course, all three came against highly-ranked teams (MU, Tech, UConn), meaning they might have overachieved just to keep it close....which doesn't foreshadow an automatic 1-2 game turnaround the next year.

In all, BU had a very respectable #40 overall ranking in S&P+.  They beat everybody ranked below them (and by an average of 30.3 points) and lost to everybody ranked ahead of them (by an average of 17.1 points).  After the first game of the season, a 28-point loss to Wake Forest, Baylor had a point differential of +12 in games started by Hot Tub Griffin III...for what that's worth.

The 2009 slate is maybe a smidge more forgiving, simply because UConn and Missouri probably won't be as good.  Baylor starts with a trip to Wake Forest, then have three winnable non-con games against UConn, Northwestern State, and Kent.  Their conference home games are against Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Texas, and Texas Tech--they'll probably have to win at least two of those games to end up bowl eligible, and based solely on my preseason projections, their two most likely wins out of that batch are against NU and Tech.

Coaching

Head Coach: Art Briles
Record at Baylor: 4-8 (conference: 2-6)
Overall Record (Houston 2003-07, Baylor 2008): 38-36
Career Pythagorean Record: 38.24 wins (+0.0/year)

Simply because he took the Baylor job, we know two things about him: he's fearless (and/or stupid), and he's got himself a healthy ego.  You need those qualities to both accept the Baylor job and win in Waco, and though a 4-8 record is nothing to write home about, not every four-win season is the same.  Just as Mizzou fans were thrilled with a 5-7 season in Brad Smith's freshman campaign, Baylor fans surely feel more optimistic right now than they have this millennium.  Briles is a huge reason why, though the bigger, flashier reason is Mr. Robert Griffin.

Here's the deal, though: based on points scored, Baylor actually had a Pythagorean projection of 5.8 wins, 1.8 higher than what they actually managed.  That's a big enough gap to suggest a poor coaching performance, but I'm not going to make that judgment after just one season.  In five seasons at Houston, Briles' Cougars had a Pythagorean projection of 32.5 wins, or +0.7 per season.  So overall his projected wins have almost exactly matched his actual wins, meaning his coaching probably doesn't hold his teams back too much.

Briles is and has always been an offensive coach.  Flashy offense led him both to a) 172 wins at the high school level, and b) a spot on the Texas Tech coaching staff when Mike Leach came to Lubbock.  He was running backs coach from 2000-02 before accepting the Houston job in 2003.  His five teams in Houston averaged 30.6 points per game but allowed 29.4 (that number improved to 26.4 his final three seasons).  With Griffin at the helm, it's pretty much a guarantee that Baylor will average healthy point totals over the next few years, but it's not yet a guarantee that they'll be able to keep enough points off the board to become a serious threat in the South.

Offense

Overall Stats

S&P+: 110.4 (#37)
Success Rate+: 100.9 (#58)
PPP+: 122.8 (#25)

Standard Downs S&P+: 102.1 (#59)
Passing Downs S&P+: 109.2 (#44)

Redzone S&P+: 111.7 (#37)

Q1 S&P+: 119.5 (#32)
Q2 S&P+: 116.0 (#26)
Q3 S&P+: 99.2 (#73)
Q4 S&P+: 85.8 (#108)

1st Down S&P+: 87.6 (#100)
2nd Down S&P+: 122.7 (#19)
3rd Down S&P+: 105.7 (#51)

Rushing Stats

Rushing S&P+: 116.0 (#28)
Rushing SR+: 106.8 (#50)
Rushing PPP+: 130.5 (#24)

Standard Downs: 104.0 (#58)
Passing Downs: 133.8 (#19)

Redzone: 101.9 (#65)

Line Yards+: 103.8 (#57)

Passing Stats

Passing S&P+: 105.1 (#47)
Passing SR+: 91.9 (#88)
Passing PPP+: 120.6 (#25)

Standard Downs: 103.8 (#51)
Passing Downs: 107.0 (#50)

Redzone: 139.3 (#10)

Sack Rate+*: 67.3 (#105)


* I've finally converted the sack rate figures to the "+" format used for everything else.  This has also allowed me to change the way I rank offensive and defensive lines below, so some of the rankings have changed.

Some initial thoughts:

  • If you think about it, it makes sense that Baylor's PPP+ figures were much better than their Success Rate+ figures.  They had a true freshman quarterback, and while they had their share of big plays, they didn't have enough of them to offset the lack of down-to-down success.
  • Their fourth-quarter struggles make sense when you remember that a) most of their wins were blowouts, meaning the first-stringers probably weren't in the game for a lot of fourth-quarters, b) most of their losses were blowouts, meaning the same thing, and c) they executed very poorly down the stretch in the close games in which they were involved--they averaged just 3.8 yards per play in the fourth quarters of their three close losses (UConn, MU, Tech).  All of that adds up to pretty poor fourth-quarter numbers, no?  It's still a little disconcerting that they were so much worse overall in the second half than the first.
  • I'm not sure I've seen bigger splits between 1st-, 2nd- and 3rd-downs.  They were horrendous on first downs, very good on second, and okay on third.
  • As you would expect, they had solid success rushing the ball on Passing Downs--that's one of the more prevalent times where a QB will end up running with the ball, and we know that Griffin is one helluva runner.

Really, we'll know the Baylor offense is truly starting to come together when the efficiency improves.  With Griffin at QB, the threat of the big play will always be there; but it's really hard to win, week in and week out, relying on the big play.  You have to be able to stay out of trouble and move efficiently too.

Quarterback

2008 Unit Ranking: #28 in the nation (#8 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
Hot Tub Griffin III (6'3, 200, So.)
Blake Szymanski (6'4, 205, Sr...Blizzle Szyzzle!)
Nick Florence (6'1, 180, RSFr.)

One thing's for certain right off the bat: Baylor's QB unit may have ranked 28th in overall quality in 2008, but they were a distant 1st place in QB Nicknames.  Just when I thought nothing could top Blizzle Szyzzle (from the esteemed and departed Bear Meat), along came our boy rptgwb with Hot Tub Griffin III.  No idea what to do with Nick Florence's name (here's his bio pic...any thoughts?), but while the Baylor QB legacy hasn't led to many wins (yet), who needs wins when you've laughed this much?

Okay, now to the serious talk about Griffin.  While he was limited in terms of personnel, and while he will eventually need to take more risks passing (which will almost certainly lead to more INTs), it really does take a while to figure out how Griffin (real first name: Robert...who knew?) could have improved on his freshman year, considering the team for whom he plays.  A 59.9% completion rate, 2,091 passing yards, 15 TDs, 3 INTs, 142.0 QB Rating, 846 rushing yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 13 TDs.  He was responsible for 28 touchdowns.  Let's put that in perspective.  Twenty-eight touchdowns is 196 points (with PATs).  In Baylor's long losing streak (last winning record: 1995), they've scored fewer than 196 total points four times.  Seriously.  In all, Baylor's 336 total points were their most since 1994 (the last time they went to a bowl game), and considering Griffin was a true freshman last year, it's not hard to figure out why Baylor fans are excited.

So the question is, what will Griffin do for an encore?  Can we just assume that his numbers will improve?  Will the sophomore jinx kick in as more and more teams attempt to throw the Defending Brad Smith playbook at him, or is he so much better than Brad Smith (BLASPHEMY!!!) that it won't matter?  And potentially most importantly, will he have more help this year?  The longer he goes without serious offensive threats around him, the more likely he will become handcuffed eventually.  Defensive coordinators are (usually) pretty smart guys, and they will figure out how to limit him if the supporting cast doesn't improve.

All I know for sure is, Griffin is likeable.  Really likeable.  Too likeable for a non-Mizzou player.  He's so much fun to watch, and he's got so much potential that it's really hard not to root for him, at high volume, to succeed.  Another good South team would do no favors for Missouri in terms of recruiting in the state of Texas, so it's best if Baylor stays a doormat, but that's not enough motivation for me to root against this guy.

Running Backs

2008 Unit Ranking: #65 in the nation (#7 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
Jay Finley (5'11, 205, Jr.)
Jarred Salubi (5'10, 190, RSFr.)
Terrance Ganaway (6'0, 220, So.)

Here's an area where Baylor is perfectly...fine.  Not great, not terrible, but fine.  Good, even.  Jay Finley averaged 5.8 yards per carry and fared much better than backups Jacoby Jones (now gone) and Jeremy Sanders (now a safety).  He only ranked 80th in the POE (Points Over Expected) rankings and had a PPP+ of 110.4, which means he was slightly above average considering who his yards came against.  Against three of the worst rushing defenses on the Baylor schedule (NW'ern State, Washington State, Texas A&M), Finley had 41 carries for a whopping 326 yards (8.0 per carry).  Against everybody else: 108 carries, 539 yards (5.0 per carry).  Still respectable, but that's how you can maintain a pretty high per-carry average while not ranking in among the Top 75 in POE.  And that's how he managed almost an identical PPP+ to Jacoby Jones (110.6), who had averaged almost two fewer yards per carry.

With Jones and Sanders either gone or at a different position, there is some new blood behind Finley.  First, you've got redshirt freshman Jarred Salubi, a 2-star Waco product from the 2008 class, and Houston transfer Terrance Ganaway, who had a pretty decent freshman year with the Cougars, rushing for 550 yards and 6 TDs at 5.0 yards per carry.  If either one of these guys can give Finley a little competition in the backfield, the Bears will be all the better.

 

Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

2008 Unit Ranking: #70 in the nation (#10 in the Big 12)

Projected WR Depth Chart
Kendall Wright (5'11, 180, So.)
David Gettis (6'4, 210, Sr.)
Lanear Sampson (6'0, 190, RSFr.)
Ernest Smith (6'3, 195, Sr.)
Krys Buerck (5'11, 180, Jr.)
Mikail Baker (6'0, 205, Sr.)
Justin Fenty (5'9, 175, Sr.)
Terrance Williams (6'2, 190, RSFr.)
Kyle Mitchell (6'3, 220, Sr.)

Projected TE Depth Chart
Justin Akers (6'4, 250, Sr.)
Brad Taylor (6'3, 235, Jr.)
Matt Singletary (6'3, 245, So.)

Poor Kendall Wright.  He had 50 catches for 649 yards and 5 TDs as a freshman last year, which in normal years would have pretty easily made him the best-performing freshman on the team.  Instead he wasn't even the best-performing freshman at an offensive skill position.  Wright certainly acquitted himself well in 2008--he had six catches for 114 yards and a touchdown against UConn, then put up a combined 14 catches for 212 yards and two TDs in back-to-back games against Iowa State and Oklahoma State.  He finished rather slow--14 catches, 176 yards over his last four games--but he remains by far the most proven quantity in the Baylor receiving corps.

Joining Wright will be a handful of players--David Gettis, Ernest Smith, Mikail Baker, Justin Fenty--who, I swear, have been playing at Baylor for nine years and hoping nobody noticed.  Gettis and Smith have had respectable careers, especially White (95 career catches, 1,232 yards, 12 TDs), but both seem to be 30-40 catch guys at best.  There is hope that Lanear Sampson, a former 3-star recruit from Mesquite, can add some much-needed new blood to the unit.  He raced past a few more experienced players on the depth chart this spring.

Offensive Line

2008 Unit Ranking: #87 in the nation (#9 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
C J.D. Walton (6'3, 305, Sr.)
G James Barnard (6'4, 295, Sr.)
G John Jones (6'4, 300, So.)
T Cameron Kaufhold (6'4, 285, RSFr.)
T Danny Watkins (6'4, 310, Jr.)
T Chris Griesenbeck (6'6, 275, Jr.)
G Jake Jackson (6'3, 285, RSFr.)
T Joe Korbel (6'6, 265, So.)
G Courtney Green (6'3, 265, So.)
C Hunter Hightower (6'5, 275, So.)

I've got to be honest: I have no idea how this unit included the 2009 NFL Draft's #2 overall pick.  Unbeknownst to me, Jason Smith was a fortress at one tackle position.  The other four guys dragged the unit to 87th in my OL Rankings.  Ouch.  Now Smith is gone...is there anything good left?  Center J.D. Walton appears to be the best of the remaining bunch.  Both he and guard James Barnard are seniors and two-year starters, and that can't be a bad thing, but Art Briles recruited the JUCO ranks heavily in this past recruiting class, signing three JUCO O-linemen (not to mention four high school OL's as well).  This was clearly an area of concern, and not just because they lost Smith.  This line wasn't good with Smith.

It appears that of the JUCO signees, Danny Watkins, a 4-star recruit from Butte (CA) C.C., has the best chance of stepping in and offering help immediately.  Look for maybe one of the other JUCOs--either 6'7 Marquis Franklin or 6'4 Philip Blake--to jump into the rotation as well.  Plus, you never want to rely on a true freshman to grasp everything he needs to grasp and contribute immediately, but 4-star stud Ivory Wade, from Dickinson, TX, will certainly have a chance to contribute immediately.  This unit needed new blood, and it got it, but there's never any guarantee that the new blood will be any better than the purged blood.

Summary

Like Jonathan Moxon, Hot Tub Griffin III is only one man.  Baylor has a couple guaranteed wins (NW'ern State, Kent State), and a couple of guaranteed losses (@OU, Texas), and the rest are relative tossups.  If Baylor can go 4-4 in these games...

@ Wake Forest, UConn, @ Iowa State, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, @ Missouri (yes, I'm broadly counting it as a tossup), @ Texas A&M, vs Texas Tech

...then they're bowling.  And for them to do it, Griffin's going to need help from both old faces (Gettis, Finley, Walton, Barnard) and new ones (Salubi/Ganaway, Sampson, Watkins/Cameron Kaufhold).  The explosiveness could be there--okay, the explosiveness WILL be there...this is Hot Tub III we're talking about here--but I worry that the efficiency still won't be up to snuff unless the new guys on the O-line can immediately make an impact.  Otherwise Hot Tub III will still be running for his life quite a bit, and while he's as good as anybody on the run, you'd still prefer that he's not on the run a majority of the time.

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