Offense vs. Defense
When Baylor has the ball
This is a well-rounded defense that is solid against the run and the pass. They are 22nd in Rushing S&P+ and 44th in passing. The Cowboys use a traditional 4-3 defense, with a give up the short-stuff mentality. They have given up the 9th fewest 30 yards or more plays from scrimmage this year with 30. The Cowboys also have one of the best 3rd down defenses in the country, giving up a first down on just 32.02% of chances (11th overall).
But what the Cowboys do very well, the Bears have done even better. They are 8th in the country in 3rd down conversions with 52% of their chances resulting in a new set of downs. Baylor also has the most 20+ yard plays in the country (86) despite playing one or even two games fewer than everyone else in the top 10. In fact, the closest team with only 9 games played has 31 fewer 20+ yards plays. This is a big play offense that is going against a defense designed to take away those big plays.
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Expect the Cowboys to play a ton of coverage over the top of the Baylor receivers, and trust their front 7 to make plays, or pretty much what Kansas State did to Baylor. While the Cowboys might have more talent in the defensive backfield, their performance in 2013 has not been nearly as strong in the passing game as the Wildcats.
When Oklahoma State has the ball
Out of the four units of offense and defense in this game, the Oklahoma State offense is the worst. Really, they are pretty average, but the Bears offense is great, while the two defenses have been good. The Cowboys like to run out in a 4-wide receiver set. They do have a fullback for certain looks, but you can expect to see them split out wide quite a bit with 4 receivers. Kyle Staley is their primary fullback, and has been a real key the past few games in getting their running game going. He has battled injuries since the summer, but is finally getting healthy.
Like Baylor, Oklahoma State will often keep the running back in as the extra blocker, as without an every down tight end, they need to keep the additional man in to help with blitzes. The Cowboys do involve their running backs in the passing game more than the Bears though, as they have 24 receptions on the year, compared to just 1 for Baylor.
The main worry with Oklahoma State is the yards after the catch. Josh Stewart is tremendous in space and they Cowboys look to take advantage of that often. Bubble screens or wide receiver screens are not quite the same in the OSU offense as Baylor, but they will utilize that option. They have more of a Texas Tech short passing game with hitches, curls and other type of 5-7 yard routes.
Fun Stats to Ponder
-Baylor's offense has suffered just 17 three-and-outs on the year (fewest in the nation), while the Cowboy defense has gotten 58 three-and-outs or one 37.9% of defensive possessions
-Oklahoma State leads the nation with 19 interceptions, while Baylor starting quarterback has only thrown 1 interception all year
-60% of the time it works every time. The Baylor offense has scored 60 touchdowns on their 100 possessions
-Oklahoma State holds offenses to less than 3 yards on first down 53.9% of the time
-Oklahoma State ranks 9th nationally in kickoff returns
Keys to the Game
1. Survive the First Punch – On the road, you can usually except to get punched in the mouth. Throw in a hostile environment and the marquee game in the nation that night and it could be quite a haymaker. The question is, will that haymaker land knocking out the Bear or will it just daze them a bit? It could also miss entirely allowed the Bears a quick counter-strike but enough with the boxing metaphors.
Baylor has to be able to not dig a huge hole like they did against Texas Tech in their last game or against Oklahoma to a smaller degree. It will be much harder to overcome a two touchdown deficit in a pure road game than it is in an NFL stadium in front of as many of your fans as theirs. Oklahoma State also has an offensive attack that thrives with a lead, grounding the ball into the ground with their running attack.
2. Goodley vs. Gilbert –
This will be an incredible match-up to watch, to see if Gilbert can take away the Bears top option out wide and make them go to one of their other weapons or will Goodley get his and force the Cowboys to move a safety over to help and allow one less man in the middle of the field. Of course, Gilbert is a little banged up from last week, as he is battling a shoulder injury that allegedly had him in a sling this week. Assuming he plays, this matchup will go a long way in determining how the Bears will attack offensively.
3. Linebacker Play – The big question for Baylor fans is if starting middle linebacker Bryce Hager will play this Saturday. After leaving the Texas Tech game last week with an injured groin, Aiavion Edwards came in and played well. However, with the lead already at multiple touchdowns and the Red Raider attack being so pass heavy, Edwards was really only asked to be a contributor in coverage. With the Oklahoma State running game being their strength, and a key weapon of that is quarterback runs with Clint Chelf, Edwards will have to make good reads in that area and not fall asleep on the quarterback draws. Against Texas, Chelf ran these to perfection early in the game and even got a touchdown run out of it.
Baylor will need to be disciplined in their coverage of Chelf. The Cowboys will use the draw to sink the linebackers down and bring a receiver in the area they left wide open. With Edwards having no starting or big-game experience, expect Oklahoma State to try and exploit and test the new starter to see if he is ready.
4. Third Downs – These are two teams that do an incredible job on third downs. The Baylor offense and defense are both ranked in the top 15 in the nation in third down performance, while the OSU defense is ranked 11th overall. Their offense though is in the 70s, so that is an area that Baylor should be able to win. However, the play of the Baylor offense on third downs will go a long way in determining the winner of this one.
Oklahoma State has defended 178 third down plays, with 77% of those coming in third and medium (4-6 yards needed) or longer situations. The Cowboys do a tremendous job on first and second down to keep out of third and short situations.
5. Limit the negative plays – While the OK State pass rush has not exactly been getting a ton of sacks, they are good at getting pressure on the quarterback. A strength of the Baylor offense is their vertical attack, but against a good pass rush, that can be limited due to simply not having enough time for the receiver to get down field. They are 8th in the country with 7.8 tackles for loss per game, despite only getting 2 sacks per game (61st). Their sack rate is only 4.8%, which ranks in the bottom third of the country. But do not judge them just on that.
What Oklahoma State does very well though is get into the back field on rushing plays. They allow just 3.47 yards per carry on the ground, which is 20th in the nation. The Cowboys do a tremendous job of getting into the back field with run blitzes and stopping carriers. This is a key attribute on early downs to setup on bad situations in 3rd down, and one of the reasons why they are so good defensively on 3rd downs. Baylor though has done a tremendous job of limiting negative plays in the running game. They allow 4.67 negative plays per game, with 1.44 of those coming via sacks.
6. BONUS KEY – Special teams – If there is one big advantage the Cowboys have over the Bears, it is in special teams and the return game. Oklahoma State also has the 12th most blocked kicks this year with three. But their big strength is in the return game.
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The Cowboys are ranked 20th in kickoff returns and 8th in punt returns. They do a tremendous job of flipping the field and gaining field position in the other third of the game. Baylor has had its struggles on punt and kick defense. They are ranked 45th in kickoff defense and 118th in punt defense; however they have had only 5 punts returned on them all year. The small sample size hurts them in this case, but that has been an area of weakness for several years now. Add in the swirling winds and possible ugly weather and special teams could play a big role. On paper, that edge would go to Oklahoma State.