The Red Zone Issue

The Baylor Bears set so many records offensively in 2011, that it would be foolish to try and recap them all. However, they do have a weakness.

Baylor had a dynamic offense last season in pretty much every way measurable. The Bears scored the 4th most points per game in football last year, scoring 45.1 points per game. They led all of college football in yards per game with 590.4. They averaged 81 offensive players per game, good enough for 4th in the country. But there was one area where the Bears did not excel at, especially in the middle part of their schedule where they lost three of four games.

Baylor's one weakness last year was its red-zone offense. The Bears finished just 109th overall in red-zone scoring percentage, which count both touchdowns and field goals. That was the 2nd worst in the conference, ahead of only Iowa State. Their 70.31% rate is on the low end for the Bears during the Art Briles era. This has been an area that Briles has struggled with at Baylor:

2008 - 77.14% (84th)
2009 – 66.67% (115th)
2010 – 75% (100th)
2011 - 70.31% (109th)

So how did Baylor overcome those struggles last season to score so many points? Two reasons. First, they got a ton of chances. The Bears got an average of 3.8 red-zone scores per game, good for 31st in the nation.

The second way they overcame their red-zone struggles was the sheer number of big plays they had all year. The Bears scored THIRTY touchdowns of over 30 yards during the season. They scored 4 of these touchdowns in games against TCU and Kansas State. The Bears finished 9th in the country in average points per offensive play with 0.557. Oklahoma State led the nation with 0.634 points per offensive play.

Overall, the Big 12 was a very efficient offensive league, with 5 teams finishing in the top 21 overall in the country. Including TCU and West Virginia that numbers improves to 7 of the top 26 teams.

2011 Big 12 Ranks: (including WVU and TCU)
1. Texas A&M – (2nd overall) - 95.16%
2. West Virginia – (8th overall) - 90.38
3. Missouri – (10th overall) - 90.20%
4. Oklahoma State – (12th overall) - 89.02%
5. Oklahoma – (19th overall) – 87.88%
6. Texas Tech – (21st overall) – 87.76%
7. TCU – (26th overall) – 86.89%
8. Kansas State – (33rd overall) – 85.96%
9. Kansas – (75th overall) – 79.41%
10. Texas – (107th overall) – 71.70%
11. Baylor – (109th overall) – 70.31%
12. Iowa State – (112th overall) – 68.89%

Red-zone scoring is an obvious weakness for the Bears, but why is that? In the past, a failure to perform in the red-zone and more specifically, in short yardage situations has just been a negative to the high scoring spread offenses. However, that is becoming less and less the rule, as more variations of the offense have arisen with a more balanced approach, such as the scheme that Coach Briles utilizes.

Looking at the short-yardage issues, the Bears did not struggle in that area as much as I expected. They finished 23rd in the nation converting 45.16% of their 3rd downs. 4th down conversions were even better. The Bears converted 70.37% good for 12th in the country. In addition to that, the Bears had the 5th most 4th down conversions per game, averaging 1.6 per game. This fits with the Bears aggressive personality especially in the middle of the field.

Was it the personnel that caused the Bears to struggle in the red-zone. With a running back like Terrance Ganaway, at over 240 pounds, running behind an offensive line that averages 320 pounds per man, with a to level running threat also at the QB position, one would think that personnel would not be the issue.

In my opinion, it came down to play calling and a little stubbornness. I think the best example of this is the Oklahoma State game, where the Bears gained 622 total yards, but finished just 3-6 in the red-zone, with 2 touchdowns. Baylor was completely stoned at the goal-line several times, including their first drive that at one point was First and Goal at the 2 yard line. Four Terrance Ganaway rushes later, Baylor was at the four yard line and the OSU band was playing.

I truly believe that during that game, something changed in the Bears. While they would struggle in the Kansas game just 2 weeks later, that Oklahoma State game showed some of the major faults in the Baylor offensive scheme. From that point on, the Bears would not lose another game, en route to their first 10 win campaign since the early 1980s.

With the safety net of Robert Griffin III no longer there for the Bears, their one offensive weakness is an area where they have to improve to remain an elite offense. More than likely, the Bears offense won't have as many big plays, but look more like the 2010-2011 version that was still very good (13th in total yards at 478.2, 30th in points scored at 30.9, .39th in points per play at .420).

Here is a quick comparison between the two offenses in key areas:

Category 2010 2011 Difference
Points Per Game 30.9 (30th) 45.1 (4th) 14.2
Total Yards 478.2 (13th) 590.4 (1st) 112.2
Rushing Yards 196.1 (24th) 232.9 (10th) 36.8
Passing Yards 282.2 (16th) 357.5 (4th) 75.3
Points Per Play .420 (39th) .557 (9th) .134

As you can see, the Bears were worse across the board in all of these categories, but they were still a good offense. I think we will be a little bit better than that with around a 75% red zone rate. However, if we could get that into the 80s, the Bears would be able to get maybe 2-3 more points per game.

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