Baylor is a large favorite in this game, however to say they can walk into Floyd Casey and get a victory is incorrect, especially against a very good to even great FCS team in Sam Houston State. So, what are the keys to a Baylor victory?
Keys to the Game:
1. Limit the first down damage – The Baylor defense did a great job on 1st down against the Mustangs in week 1 (One of my keys to the game as well, what can I say, first down is important! Now get off my lawn you kids!!!). The Mustangs passed the ball 11 times, and rushed it 12 times on first down before the game got to 45-3, or as I like to call it the tipping point. From that point in the game, the winner was not in question, so all stats are skewed, even before you consider that backups were in for Baylor.
I expect the Bearkats to rush the ball much more than that on first down, to try and get it to 2nd and medium and 3rd and short. They will try and stay ahead of the chains. Quite a few advanced stats sites believe in the rule of a successful play picking up a % of what the team needs for a first down. On 1st down, you need to pick-up an average of 40%, on 2nd down you need to pick up 66%, and on 3rd down, you need to pick up 100%. So, on First and 10, if you hold your opponent to less than 4 yards, you are ahead of the game. Say its 2nd and 6, if you hold them again below 4 yards, it is a success.
The average rushing attempt for Sam Houston State last year went for 5.48 yards. They did a very good job of not taking losses as well, with only 361 yards resulting from rushes with net yards. That worked out to just 8.6% of their total yards (4200 gained, 361 loss, net of 3839). To compare, Baylor had 9.1% (3370 gained, 307 lost, 3063 net). If the Bears can keep the Bearkats to less than 3.0 yards per carry on first down, I will be a very happy man.
2. Get off to a quick start – With Sam Houston State wanting to control the ball and keep the clock moving to give the Bears fewer chances to score, Baylor will have to force their hand and make them pass the ball. There are two great ways to do that, and we will talk about the first here. Quite simply, if you are head by several possessions, a team will have very little interest in running the clock and taking their time. The Bears have to score early and often to make sure they do not let Sam Houston State hang around and make this a game. When an underdog hangs around, things get tense (ask John L. Smith at Arkansas), and the breaks can suddenly start working against you.
Do not tempt the football gods into making the Bears the latest example of a FBS team falling to a FCS team. Score early, and make them throw the ball to keep up. Score 17 points in the first quarter, and I will be happy.
3. Get them off the field Quick! – The Bears struggled to get t Mustangs off of the field in week 1, and they will have to do a better job on 3rd down. However, not all of the work is there. With negative plays (sacks, incomplete passes, penalties) the Bears can force them to 2nd and 3rd and long situations where they have to pass. This is the second way to force a team's hand and make them do things they don't want to do. And you thought I had forgotten. Shame on you.
Last week, the Bears pass rush was pretty minor in the game plan, as we sat back and let Garrett Gilbert be, well, Garrett Gilbert. This week, I expect the Bears to attack a bit more, especially with run blitzes. The Bears will crash down their safeties and linebackers to fill the gaps created by their 4 (or 3) man fronts.
4. No turnovers – Nick Florence did an excellent job of taking care of the ball against SMU, and with a much more aggressive defense in town Saturday, he will need to continue that job. Last year, the Bearkats averaged 2.9 turnovers forced per game. That is an incredible number for any team at any level. The past few years, the Bears have done a great job of limited turnovers, led by Robert Griffin III and his ability to take care of the ball and not throw interceptions. While Florence has yet to throw an interception this year in just one game, he threw an interception every 29.55 pass attempts in 2009 during his freshman campaign. To compare, Griffin threw an interception every 70 passes. Florence has already thrown 30 passes this season without an interception, so hopefully he keeps that streak going.
While the Bears have limited interceptions at an elite rate during the Briles tenure, fumbles have been a different story. In 2011, the Bears had the 2nd most fumblers per game in the FBS. They also tied for losing the second most fumbles per game at 1.4. This rate needs to get much better against a ball hawking defense that likes to hold the ball carriers up and try to strip the ball. Baylor's ball carriers need to take care of the ball and keep it off of the ground, especially early. If the Bears can have less than 2 turnovers (including failures on 4th down conversions), they will put themselves in great position.
5. Show up to play – Look, Baylor is the better team. They have more talent and are playing at home. They should win this game. Ask Arkansas how that worked out for them though. Teams get upset by lower level squads because they get careless and aren't ready to play. The Bears simply need to show up focused, and ready to beat up on some Bearkats. If they do that, they will win. Simple as that.