Overreaction Central - Baylor Vs. SMU

Top ten offense AND a top 10 defense? Robert Griffin who? Art Briles for president? Get your tickets ready for Miami??? Join us as we overreact inside BearsIllustrated.com.

The Bears, fresh off of a program defining season and the loss of a program defining player had a few questions to answer heading into the season opener against SMU Sunday evening. To say that all of those questions have a final answer already would be well, overreacting. But to say the answers sound pretty good so far would be right in line.

Baylor easily defeated the SMU Mustangs on Sunday, 59-24 behind the steady play of their new starting quarterback and a very good defensive performance. The defense allowed just 3 points in the first 42 minutes of action, and the Bears physically dominated the Mustangs on both sides of the ball.

I will try and do some different things in this recap. You will be able to read game summaries anywhere and get your fix in that regard. Here, we will try and have a little fun, and hopefully get you to see the game differently. So, let's get started, shall we!

Fun Stats of the Game

---Zach Line finished with 156 total yards. He had 135 rushing yards, on 25 carries. On paper, that is a good day, however lets look a bit deeper. On Line's last 5 carries, he rushed for 66 of those yards. With being a bigger back, Mustangs expect Line to wear defenses down and get those yards late. However, those last 5 carries came after the Bears went up 45-3. Before that point, he had 20 carries for 72 yards. That is a measly 3.2 yards per carry.

---I think the Bears defense wishes they could play Garrett Gilbert every week. Over his two games started against Baylor (2 years ago with Texas and last night), Gilbert is 56-98, 57% completion rating, 517 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. Most importantly, the Bears are 2-0 in those games.

---With their 3 turnovers against SMU, the Bears have a total of 17 turnovers over their last 5 games dating back to the Oklahoma game last year. They had 2 against OU (1 fumble, 1 interception), 3 against Texas Tech (1 fumble, 2 interceptions), 5 against Texas (1 fumble, 4 interceptions), 2 against Washington (2 fumbles) and 3 against SMU (1 fumble, 2 interceptions).

The Word of the Game

Here, I will give you one word to describe the offense and the defense, and then explain a little bit on why I chose that word.

Offense: Familiar
Well, I guess expecting a slight regression in the offense was a bit premature. The Bears put up 59 points, fifty two of which came from the offense. The Bears average scoring drive was just 94 seconds. They scored on plays of 50 yards, 36 yards and 37 yards. They racked up 613 total yards, with a balanced attack of 220 rushing and 393 passing. Last year the Bears averaged 351 yards passing and 235 yards rushing.

Nick Florence orchestrated the offense very efficiently, completing 70% of his passes, and getting into a good rhythm. The Bears rushing attack was led by Jarred Salubi, who got 13 of the 32 total rushes for the Bears. Glasco Martin was the second running back out there, getting 10 touches. Both running backs scored a touchdown, but Salubi was electric at times, averaging 7 yards per carry. It took a while for the debut of the much anticipated third running back to arrive, but Lache Seastrunk showed what he is capable of, with an electric run of 34 yards announcing his presence.

The Bears leading receiver had a pretty average day, if you count 7 catches for 138 yards average. I guess it could be considered average for an Art Briles offense. Terrance Williams was excellent all day, running a much larger variety of routes that were usually designated for Kendall Wright over the last four season. Lanear Sampson caught two touchdown passes and showed himself very well as a reliable target for Nick Florence. Tevin Reese, Levi Norwood and newcomer Darryl Stonum also had more than 40 yards receiving each, with Reese and Stonum catching touchdown passes.

Defense: Surprising
Color me surprised. I expected much more from the SMU offense. However, it is hard to say if the results were due to the Baylor defense, or if it was just due to the major struggles at the quarterback position for the Mustangs. Garrett Gilbert was bad. He missed open receivers, he threw behind them, he threw short of them, long of them. If there was a 4th dimension, Gilbert would have found a way to miss them that way too.

He threw too hard when a lob pass would have gotten it done. He just kept reading the play late, and deciding that hey, I can just throw it real hard, that will make up for it. All of that to say, he was the same as two years ago with UT. I feel silly for expecting more. June Jones is a great coach, and with some more time with Gilbert, maybe he can save him and turn his tremendous tools into something workable. Gilbert literally has everything you would want physically in a quarterback. His best throws were all of the 10-20 yard out routes, the hardest for a quarterback to throw.

On the flip side, was anyone else surprised with how well the Bears were tackling and hitting. Led by Bryce Hager's 14 tackles (we will get to him more in a minute), the Bears handled the very tough load of Zach Line incredibly well through three quarters. The Bears came to hit, and really put a hurt on several of the SMU players. I thought the tackling was very reliable and we saw very little arm tackling. The linebackers especially did a great job of wrapping up and taking the ball carrier down.

Key Play of the Game

The Bears were up 14-0 relatively quickly, scoring their second touchdown in as many possessions relatively quickly. Then, the Bears hit a lull, something that we did not see very often to end last year. The Bears then would punt on their next 3 possessions, gaining only 40 yards total on those three drives. Spencer Roth had okay punt to the SMU 18. With the score now 14-3, the Mustangs went on a five minute plus drive all the way down to the Baylor 9 yard line.

With a chance to get the score to 14-10, the Bears blitzed and forced Gilbert to throw the ball early. Darius Johnson did not expect the ball and he only noticed the pass after it hit off of his legs. The ball bounced right at Mike Hicks, who hit it with his right hand, then tried to bring it in, but bobbled it two more times. It then went over his shoulder, and into the waiting arms of Eddie Lackey. Lackey would run the ball out to the 25 yard line, and after just 3 plays, the Bears would score a 50 yard touchdown pass to Tevin Reese, putting the game at 21-3.


Players of the Game

Offense: Nick Florence, 21-30, 341 yards, 4 touchdowns, 24 yards rushing

Nick was good. Real good in fact. He wasn't great and you won't see his name on any Heisman lists. You won't see him on any of the "Top Ten Plays" on the sports networks. He just isn't that dynamic type of player. But he is steady and he is good. He showed that time and time again.

Nick spread the field well, completing passes to 7 receivers throughout the game. The best part, I can't remember a single pass that was even CLOSE to being intercepted. He made the right read, and even took more chances than I thought he would. But even those risks were good risks, throwing the ball deep or putting it where it could not be intercepted.

Honorable Mention - Jarred Salubi, Terrance Williams, the whole Offensive Line, and the starting right defensive end for his willingness to jump offsides.

Defense: Bryce Hager, 14 total tackles, 1 forced fumble

To say that the young starter was everywhere on defense would be an insult to the word everywhere. With 14 tackles, Hager controlled the defense and took advantage of the steady performance of the defensive line. Several times, Hager went one on one with the SMU battering ram of a running back, Zach Line, and either took him down or held him to where he was. Hager was aggressive and attacked the line of scrimmage.

Honorable Mention - Garrett Gilbert (thanks for being, well, Garrett Gilbert), Eddie Lackey, Ahmad Dixon

Keys to the Game Follow-Up

1. Keep those chains moving- The Bears got 26 first downs, and were helped immensely on their first drive by 4 penalties that extended their touchdown drive. Thanks again right defensive end! We converted just 2 of 8 third downs and punted 5 times. Not a great day for extended drives, so their 3rd down conversion rate was not indicative of the offense's performance.

2. Let's see their punter- The Bears struggled to get off the field again on 3rd downs, allowing 12 of 20 3rd downs to turn into first downs for the Mustangs. However, the Bears did force 5 punts, and stepped up when it counted. Defensive Coordinator Phil Bennett had a definite strategy of bend-don't break in this game. We blitzed very rarely to start the game, and spent a large amount of plays with a 3-man defensive front, with 2 linebackers and 2 down safeties acting as a hybrid 3-4 defense. The 5 punts forced was okay,but it could have been much better with a few more stops on 3rd down.

3. Make the ‘Stangs work for it on 2nd down- The Bears held the Mustangs to just 2.2 yards per play on first down in the first half. That is a tremendous effort. The Mustangs had 17 first down plays. One of those lays was a pass interference penalty on Baylor. The Mustangs ran the ball 7 times, for an average of 2.14 yards per carry. They passed it 9 times, and got just 19 yards. Gilbert was just 3-9 on first down. Big win for the Bears here.

4. Pressure makes Diamonds- No sacks and very few quarterback hurries. The Bears did not blitz very often, and rushed only 3 defenders for a good part of the game. This was a complete whiff by me.

5. Limit the Stupid moments- No turnovers, no real bad plays, and just 2 personal foul plays. The first was a lineman sticking up for Levi Norwood, who was slammed down to the ground by a defender and then speared for a late hit. Personally, I loved this foul. The bears lost a bit of their "nasty" on the offensive line. I was glad to see we still have some big-uglies that will protect their guys.

Summary

It is hard to define a 59-24 win as workman like, but personally, that is what it felt like to me. Up 45-3 very late in the 3rd quarter, you would have to try pretty hard to nit-pick anything. Outside of a 3-drive stall in the first half, the offense consistently moved the ball and put up points. The defense for the first 3 quarters was excellent. They gave up some yards, but forced the Mustangs to commit turnovers or make a mistake that would force them to punt. Even the special teams was solid, with no big returns made against them, no missed kicked, and no turnovers committed.

There are a few areas where the Bears need to get better (0 sacks, 12-20 allowed 3rd down conversions), but you could even hear a glimpse of happiness in Coach Briles' voice at the end of the game. Enjoy this one Bears, and try and wait patiently for the next game in 2 weeks.

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