Baylor Vs. SMU Preview

The Bears and Mustangs battle this Sunday to reignite an old SWC rivalry. Find out who has the edge and who can leave Waco with a perfect record.

Baylor and SMU, it just sounds right doesn't it? I miss games like these, and hope we can keep SMU or Rice on the schedule every year. Love those old school matchups. The Opening game is upon us and I am quite excited to see what the Bears have after the YOTB (Year of the Bear for those uneducated in such manners). Is this year going to continue that lovely trend and turn it into a decade, or is this an isolated happy point for Bear fans?

Standing in Baylor's way of a great start is a lost soul from days gone by, the SMU Mustangs. The Bears and Mustangs have played 75 times, with SMU holding a 36-35-7 advantage.

About SMU

SMU is led by Run and Shoot curator June Jones, the man who ended talk of the Death Penalty in Dallas, and brought Hawaiian shirts to the coaching forefront. Jones is one of the best offensive coaches going right now, and has turned SMU around from a steady winnable game to one that has gone to a bowl game three years in a row (something that Baylor has NEVER done). I am a big fan of Jones, personally.

For those expecting a traditional "Run N Shoot" though will be disappointed. Despite playing a favorable schedule, the Mustangs offense was not as explosive as previous June Jones teams.

Total Yards

Passing Yards

Passing Yards /Attempt

Rushing Yards

Rushing Yards/ Attempt

Yards Per Play

SMU Offense

376.8

263.1

7.4

113.8

4.1

5.8

National Rank

66

33

47

96

53

37

I also think that SMU will go with a slightly more run heavy version of the offense this year, as their best player is RB/FB Zach Line. Line is a modern day Mike Alstott, formerly of Purdue and Tampa Bay. He is a large and strong runner that is capable of making guys miss a little. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry last year, and was one of the top running backs in the country, despite missing the last three games of the season.

Along with Line is a player Baylor fans are familiar with in former Texas starting quarterback Garrett Gilbert. To say that Gilbert did not live up to the expectations for him would be quite an understatement. He struggled in his one year as the starting quarterback for Texas, competing just 59% of his passes for 10 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Gilbert was deemed too frazzled to play QB for the Longhorns so Mack Brown went away from him.

June Jones however, welcomed him with open arms. Personally, if there is one coach that can make a more successful college QB than Art Briles, it is June Jones. Gilbert has all of the skills you would want in a quarterback, so it will be very interesting to see what Jones has done with him in his 3 weeks of practice.

While the Mustangs lose their top receiving target from last season in Cole Beasley, they do welcome back several top performers including Darius Johnson, who finished with 79 catches and 1118 yards last year (which led the team). He also led them in touchdown receptions and will be a tough cover for the Bears.

The big losses for the Mustangs came on the offensive line, as all 5-starters to finish last year were lost for this season. However, they do have a few guys with experience coming back, including Byran Collins, Blake McJunkin and Jordan Free. They might not be the most experienced group, but they do have some skins on the wall.

Defensively, the Mustangs lost a big one in fall practice in Jason Richardson, one of their two starting cornerbacks. However, they do have Kenneth Acker who has good experience and Chris Parks who has been with the program for a few years. Ryan Smith is their defensive leader, after totaling 65 tackles last year.

The biggest name on the defense though is Margus Hunt, a mountain of a man who happens to be a world-class thrower in discuss and shot-put. Hunt gave up his chance to compete in the Olympics to focus on football, and the senior to be has a chance to be special. He is a 6-8, 275 pound beast who is even more athletic than you think. He is a special talent, and someone the Bears will have to focus on.

Keys to the Game

1. Keep those chains moving –While I think the Bears offense will still be good, I don't think it will be nearly as explosive in 2012. We have to do a better job of staying on the field and converting 3rd downs. Last year, we converted 45.16% (23rd in the nation) last year, but we only had 12.9 3rd downs per game last year, 111th in the country. In 2010, we had 13.8 per game (76th) but converted 40.36% of them (52nd).

2. Let's see their punter – So, we convert on third downs, we also have to stop them on 3rd downs. Our third down defense was atrocious last year. The defense has to do a better job of getting off the field. Last year, it was a score or a turnover, with very few punts in between. In fact, the Bears forced just 3.5 punts per game, 10th fewest in NCAA, with such luminaries like Kansas, Florida Atlantic and UAB in between us and the bottom. The Bears have to force more punts this year.

3. Make the ‘Stangs work for it on 2nd down – The Bears best chance at getting those stops is keeping SMU to a very little to negative gain on 1st down. If they run with Line, the Bears cannot give them 5 or more yards and allow June Jones to have his full playbook open on 2nd and 3rd down. I have always thought 1st down was the most important, since it dictated the rest of the plays. Keep the Mustangs to less than 3 yards per 1st down attempt, and I will be a happy man.

4. Pressure makes Diamonds – Baylor's team took off last year in the last 1/3rd of the season for a few reasons, but the main reason was an increase in turnovers. As we have mentioned previously, the Bears forced 12 turnovers over their last 3 games. A big reason for that was an increase in the pass rush forcing the opposing quarterback to force some passes. The Bears have to keep that pressure up to get Garret Gilbert uncomfortable. I would like to see at least 4 sacks among consistent hurries and pressure from the defense.

5. Limit the Stupid moments – I could just say don't commit penalties or don't commit turnovers, but honestly, I want to just be blunt. Don't. Be. Stupid. Let's not start with the unnecessary roughness or personal foul penalties this year. We had way to many last year. Also, we need ball carriers to be smart with the football and for Florence to take what they give him and make the smart reads. If I see less than 8 penalties and just 2 turnovers or less, I will be okay with that.

Matchups to Watch

- The new tackles versus Margus Hunt- Can Spencer Drango or Troy Baker contain the Estonian thrower, or will he just treat them like a shot put? Hunt is a special talent, but Drango and Baker are not too shabby either. The problem is, Drango will be making his first appearance for the Bears against a future NFL lineman and Baker is just one year older. Hunt is a senior and has been playing football a little now. The Bears have to control him on those quick passes, because with his size, Hunt could block passes easily at the line of scrimmage.

- Bears Receivers versus SMU secondary – While I think the starters for SMU are solid in the secondary, there are a few questions about their depth. As we saw last year to open against TCU, Briles will find that weak spot and just pick and it for 3 hours if given the chance. Baylor's depth at WR has never been better, and will have a multitude of weapons to find that weak spot.

- Zach Line versus the Baylor Front 7 – Yes, I think it will take all 7 defenders to corral the big running back from SMU. He is that good. The Bears have to stay in their lanes and get off blockers, something they struggled to do at times last year (especially from the Linebacker spot). Look for Hager and Lackey to follow the action and attack the football, because Line is not a big cut-back guy. You can go after him hard, and then slow him down till help arrives to bring him down.

Prediction

Bears come out hot and heavy, but the Mustangs answer. The Mustangs running attack really concerns me, as Zach Line should be able to find running lanes through our defense. However, the secondary for the Mustangs has seen better days, and should allow for mid-range passes that give the running backs plenty of room. I think this game comes down to SMU having the ball with about 6 minutes left and a chance to tie/take the lead with a TD. The Bears defense stops them and the offense gets the FG/TD needed to make it a 10 point game, tying the historical series at 36-36-7. Bears win 38-28.


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