Bye weeks can be a good thing. You could make a very compelling argument that the Bears needed a break badly. They had four road games in a 6-week span. It was a difficult stretch in terms of travel, but the first three games were not major challenges on the field. The Bears won the first three games by at least 21 points. The fourth game was always going to be the toughest. Morgantown, WV is a crazy place (as the after-game festivities proved). Add that to an improved West Virginia team, and you have a recipe for an upset.
Speaking for myself, on paper, the bye week was planned perfectly. I have had a family reunion on my wife’s side of the family planned for this past week for over a year. It just happened to be for the week of our bye. We left for New Mexico Friday evening, so I watched the Baylor vs. West Virginia game in foreign territory. After the game was over, I wanted to keep writing about the game more, but I just did not know what else to say.
It was a frustrating game in terms of penalties of course, but also the offensive struggles. The penalties hurt the Baylor defense significantly, but the offense had to battle no bad calls. They simple were out of sync against a tremendous game plan and even better execution by the Mountaineers. West Virginia has played good defense for most of the season, but they had been bitten by the mistake bug. They would miss an assignment and all of a sudden, a big play would hurt them. Against the Bears, the big plays were pretty much eliminated.
As I mentioned in my recap article, the Bears offense has regressed into a big play hunting machine. They are the 280 pound first baseman with three outcomes to their at-bat; a walk, home-run or strike out. The Bears go for the kill shot time and time again. Gone is any pass over the middle pretty much. Gone is any involvement from the tight end of running backs in the passing game, though that has been pretty consistent with Briles.
So, I spent this week enjoying time with family. I had never been to Colorado before this past week, so I was excited to see that part of the country. We went to Durango for a day, and also spent some time up by Wolf Creek. Took my 2-year old son fishing for the first time, and he even “caught” a fish with his grandpa (he was in the boat, but Papa gave him the credit). It was a relaxing time, but my mind never strayed too far from the Bears.
This is a program that has been built into a Big-12 champion as we saw last year, and are contending for one this year (as I wrote about earlier in the week). This is a team with one of the best offenses in college football history returning the bulk of its stars this year, albeit missing some big parts. Gone are the top-2 running backs from the depth chart, the star inside receiver who used his blazing speed to take the top off of defenses, and a multiple year All-American at guard.
Funny that the most accomplished of the players was probably the most overlooked. He was also the most difficult to replace. For the last three years, the Bears had an absolute run-blocking stud at left guard, and were able to build their rushing attack on either side of Cyril Richardson. We needed a few yards on a big play, we ran behind Cyril Richardson. Time and time again, that was the game plan. Well, Cyril is now a member of the Buffalo Bills, and the Bears have struggled to find the interior line play strength that has defined them as a physical spread attack.
With Desmine Hilliard now out of the year, and being joined by tackle Troy Baker, the offensive line will have to replace 40% of its starters halfway thru the year. The line play has been a not been up to the pedigree the Bears have established the last few years. Yes, they went all the way to the Texas game without giving up a sack, but the running game has only really been successful against tired fronts. Instead of being able to dominate from the first snap, we now have to wait till the defense is tired to get the normal push up front.
I said it in my position preview series, but I think that Blake Muir is destined to be an All-Big 12 tackle. That is his best position, by far. He was miscast as the left guard, a position that requires much more power than he has. With Baker out for the season, it makes sense to put Muir at his more natural position ahead of Pat Colbert, who struggled badly against West Virginia.
Coach Briles always says that they want their best 5 players out there on the offensive line. I don’t agree with that at all. I am of the opinion that you put the best group of 5 out there, meaning the five that work the best together as a unit. Yes, that might mean putting a lesser overall player out there, but if he FITS what you want to do, and how to mesh with the rest of the unit better, then you do that. You never want to bet that injuries could put a better unit out there, but that could be the hope for the Bears.
Jarrell Broxton has played well in the last few games, in place of Hilliard for the last two. If he can be that power blocker that the Bears need from their left guard, that could answer a ton of questions for the Baylor offense. I am not saying it will be better, but there is a chance, and the Bears need to hope for it. The offensive line is the foundation of any offense, especially one that uses a power running attack and depends on play action for a large part of their offense. If a defense can defend the run with 5 or 6 guys in the box, then the play-action is useless. Against West Virginia, we saw that play out to full-effect.
So, where do the Bears go from here? For now, they prepare for Kansas. The Jayhawks are in a worst case scenario position, the sacrificial homecoming lamb coming AFTER a defeat. This could get ugly for KU. Hopefully, the Bears are using this bye week not to pout and say any coulda woulda shouldas. Hopefully, they are on the field and in the tape room figuring out their new offensive line and getting that Baylor mojo back for the stretch run of the 2014 season.