Mike Wilson: The talk in this game has been about the Baylor offense against the Michigan State defense, but the other units carry their own weight, too. What makes the Baylor defense an effective group and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
Kevin Barrera: From the beginning of the season, we have heard about how great the Baylor DL is. With Andrew Billings, and Shawn Oakman the anchors, the defense has been able to provide Baylor with an opportunity to really slow down some of the up tempo teams that are in the Big 12. Baylor has never been able to get a rush with their front 4, until this year, and this has allowed DC Phil Bennett to be very aggressive with his schemes. This is the greatest strength of the defense, its DL.
On the other side of that, the biggest weakness for the Baylor defense are the corners. They are relatively young and somewhat inexperienced, but they do not handle 1on1 situations very well. They are generally slow to make plays, and don’t do a good job of locating the ball. You will see a lot of PI penalties on these guys, because they are just out of position a lot of the time. Luckily this hasn’t hurt them too bad, because their front 7 is very good, but a great running team with a good play action game, will be able to hit some deep plays against these corners.
Wilson: Being left just outside the playoff surely stung for Baylor. Has that served as an added motivation to come out in this one and show it should have been in that final four?
Barrera: The team won’t let you know that it is a motivation, but I would be very surprised if there wasn’t some chatter about it. Baylor respects Michigan State, and after their Fiesta Bowl loss last year, they are hungry to finish this season with a win. Being left out, will just be added motivation.
Wilson: When you look at the Baylor offense, what is it that makes it so explosive and who are the playmakers some Michigan State fans might not know about?
Barrera: Bryce Petty is the glue that keeps this offense explosive. It also doesn’t hurt that you have essentially 5 WRs that have the potential to be All-Big 12 WRs, and frankly, All-Americans. But the biggest misconception is that this offense is an “Air Raid” offense. That could not be further from the truth. This offense relies as much, if not more, on its running game then the passing game. Some have compared this Art Briles offense to the option veer offense. If they can beat you running the ball, they will. But the play action game can be a beauty if it’s on.
Wilson: This has become kind of a game with high-profile assistants landing head coaching gigs. With Philip Montgomery off to Tulsa, how does that impact things for the Bears?
Barrera: You know, I don’t think it impacts things all that much. As with Narduzzi, things with Monty have been a “when” not “if.” Monty has been with Coach Briles all the way back to their Stephenville days, so it is certainly a big loss in that regard, but this offensive staff works as a unit, and everyone else will pick up for his loss. Coach Kendal Briles (Art’s son) has been named the OC, and the only question there will be what type of mark he puts on this offense.
Wilson: What are your couple keys to the game and predictions for Thursday?
Barrera: I think the key for the Baylor offense is to start fast and get the running game going. Tempo will be a big key for this offense, because it allows them to do so many different things with whatever sets they are in. In their only loss, to West Virginia, Baylor just took too many shots down the field. If they can do the things I stated at the beginning of this question, then they will be able to move the ball and score quickly.
On defense, they just need to get off of the field on 3rd down. Against Kansas State, they did a poor job of stopping KSU on 3rd down. It didn’t hurt them, but it very well could have. Also, stopping the run will be key. Baylor has never faced a running attack as potent as Michigan States, so they will need to rely on the DL to make stops at the line of scrimmage. Luckily for Baylor, this is one of their strengths on defense. Stopping the run.
You know, I am so excited about this game because not only does it pit two of the most innovative coaches at their respective crafts (Pat Narduzzi on defense and Art Briles on offense), but it is also a matchup of two unsung units. Units that no one really talks about. There are so many side matchups that could shift this game. In the end, I think that the speed factor will be too much for Michigan State, and Baylor will be able to make the Michigan State offense one-dimensional. This game will be close, but Baylor will wear down the MSU defense and pull away at the end, and win by 10.