1. Every team has a growth path. You hope that the team peaks at the right times and finishes strong during its most important games. We see it all the time, especially in a playoff championship atmosphere, where a team finally gells at the right time and starts playing to its potential. Last years champion, Ohio State, is a great example of that. Their offensive line got healthy and started dominating the opposition, and they got a huge spark from their third string quarterback.
The path for every team is different, good or bad. The goal is to get better every week, and learn valuable lessons. The hard part is winning while those lessons are learned. Baylor is 2-0. That is really the most important thing to remember about this team. They are not out of it. With their schedule, 1-loss drastically changes the complexion of their season goals. A single loss, a single mistake, could take this team out of the running.
2. With 122 points through two games, everything on the surface would appear to be fine for the Baylor offense. The Bears are averaging 754 yards of offense per game, 112 more yards than any other team in the nation. They are third in the nation in passing yards per game (398, trailing Texas Tech and Bowling Green) and fourth in rushing yards per game (356, trailing Georgia Tech, Air Force and Navy, all triple-option offenses). Corey Coleman is leading the world in receiving yards and touchdowns, and is proving to be the most dangerous receiver in college football. No one has thrown more touchdowns than Seth Ruusell in FBS.
So, why is everyone a little concerned again?
It comes down to feel with this team. The 2nd quarter of the SMU game didn't feel good. The four turnovers against Lamar didn't feel right. With as much talent and experience the Bears have on the field, they should be the top offense in the nation. While Russell is leading the nation in passing tochdowns, he is tied for the 2nd most interceptions as well. The Baylor offensive scheme is so good, Bowling Green and Tulsa (featuring Briles disciples) both have their offenses in the Top-6 in the nation. This is a scheme designed to put up a ton of points and years, and it does. It does it so well, Baylor fans might be acting a little spoiled right now, and that isn't necessarily bad.
The rushing attack, which has been sensational in the second halves of both games, has feasted on tired teams with out much depth. They won't see that lack of depth (and size/talent) when they get to November and the hard part of the schedule hits. Seth Russell has been tentative at times, and way too aggressive at other times. He is still having difficulty in reading defenses. SImply put, he has been amazing at seeing his 1st option open and getting him the ball, especially on deep passes. It is when he has to survey the field, or know the option that the receiver is going to take that is causing issues. Those need to get cleaned up, and should with more practice and specifically, more game action.
3. The Baylor defense on the other hand might be playing worse than what the stats look like. A big qualifer there though is how good is the SMU offense? If they are very good performing offense (and seeing what they do against TCU this weekend will be something I will be watching closely), then the prism with which we view the BU defense will be quite different. The fact is, Baylor has allowed 52 points through two games, and have struggled mightily with the zone-read attack. Both Matt Davis and Lamar's duo of quarterbacks in Carson Earp and Joe Minden were very effective in the running game, and gashed the Baylor defense for big gains.
The Bears are 61st in the nation in yards allowed (354.5) and have been average at both stopping the pass (41st - 166.5 yards per game) but awful against the run (91st - 188 yards per game). They are allowing 20.5 first downs per game (78th) and are allowing a first down on just udner 40% of 3rd down attempts (83rd in the nation). Yes, most of the points against Lamar were off of short fields caused by Baylor turnovers, but they had opportunities to hold Lamar to field goal attempts on two of those drives with long 3rd downs, and failed.
Right now, Baylor is missing too many tackles, not getting good enough play from their linebackers, and are still getting hurt by slot receivers. The thoughts of Sterling Shepherd from Oklahoma lined up against a Bears safety keeps me up at night. This is a defense that is not as good as last years, even with much more experience and better depth. Is it as simple as getting Taylor Young back from injury, and hoping that Grant Campbell or Aiavion Edwards figure it out at the middle linebacker spot? Is it as easy as giving Chance Waz more time at free safety, which he did get in the Lamar game? Is it as simple as getting hyped up and fully committing, something that didn't really happen against Lamar? I hope so.
4. Even with all of the concerns for the Baylor defense, I still worry about one thing more. The return game has been brutal for the Bears, specifically punts. Levi Norwood was so solid for the past 3-4 years, that we tend to forget how difficult that job can be. Right now, too many punts are bouncing and putting the Bears deeper in their own territory. Many of these punts would probably have been fair caught by Norwood in past years, thus saving those hidden yards. Baylor has returned just two punts out of 15 forced punts. In 2014, 20 of 83 punts were returned, and that doesn't include the many that were fair caught and did not give the opposition a better punt. That is 13% versus 24% returned punts resulting in "free" yardage for the Bears.
It confuses me greatly how the Bears can have so much speed and talent at the offensive skill positions, and struggle to find a good kickoff returner. Baylor hasn't had a a kickoff return average higher than 22 yards since 2008. They have ranked 82nd, 53rd, 70th, 96th, 100th, 55th, and 30th in terms of average kickoff return yardage. They have been average, at best, and usually bad every year since 2008. I understand that the Bears offense is good enough to survive losing 3-5 yards per return, but with the speed and talent they have, it makes no sense to me why they have to.
5. Overall, there are quite a few things that are going very well for the Bears. The big plays in the running game, better deep ball coverage from corner and safeties, and the Bears ability to stretch the field vertically with the deep passing game are all running as well as ever. You have to think that with more reps and game experience, Seth Russell will get more comfortable with the reads he has to make, especially when a wide receiver is running an option route. With that, should come less interceptions and turnovers. Decision making, when the games are real, is always different than in practice. Game experience is so important for the growth of a quarterback, and Russell has 3 starts in his career.
Defensively, you have to hold out hope that the Bears are keeping it simple and not showing their whole hand. They simply have not been as good as 2014 at this same time. The linebacker plays has been an issue for the Bears, especially with Taylor Young out for all of the Lamar game, and most of the SMU game. With him healthy, you would expect that position to play better overall.
This is still a very good team, with a lot of upside. Too many are starting too worry. With two weeks to get ready for Rice, plus a full compliment of coaches, you can expect a focused and ready Baylor team for their final non-conference test.