What to watch for on offense for SMU
SMU will need to protect Neal Burcham. Baylor’s defense is very athletic and the SMU offensive line will need to be at its best communicating who has who up front. SMU needs to commit to running the ball with Kevin Pope. That will allow some time to be eaten up, keeping Baylor’s potent offense off the field. If Burcham can get time and the ground game can get going, with the speed and route running of Cedric Lancaster and Darius Joseph, SMU has a chance to hit some big plays. It will come down to protecting Burcham, who will have to also deal with the crowd noise of the new McLane Stadium if SMU is going to have a prayer of keeping up with the Bears’ offense.
What to watch for on offense for Baylor
The Bears finished with the 13th ranked rushing attack last year, but it’s all about Bryce Petty right? No. Establishing a ground game is crucial to Baylor’s play action game that so many of their throws start with. The running game averaged over five yards a carry and it’s all due to a solid offensive line. Spencer Drango is a stud at left tackle and will certainly be able to give time to Petty so he can survey the field. Watch for a vertical, play-action passing attack from the Bears that is made available because of the running game. SMU has their hands full. Watch for blitz packages from SMU that hope to confuse Baylor’s receivers with different looks.
What to watch for on defense for SMU
The secondary. SMU’s secondary was the weak part of the team last year, but part of the reason was a lack of true pressure on quarterbacks. If the addition of Zelt Minor says anything, SMU wants more pressure out of their defensive line. With the athleticism at linebacker, that should help in that department. Ideally, with added pressure, the weight is taken off the secondary’s shoulders. There’s talent at safety, but unproven talent for SMU and they’ll be tested by Baylor’s vertical attack. If Ajee Montes, Horace Richardson and J.R. Richardson can all step up in a big way, SMU has a chance to matchup just long enough to force a sack on Petty.
What to watch for on defense for Baylor
The defensive line is Baylor’s best in years according to Art Briles and for good reason. Shawn Oakman is a freak of nature, who will be giving Chauncey Briggs the fits. Paired with Jamal Palmer, a speed rusher, on the opposite side, it’s going to be very difficult for SMU to limit the pressure on Burcham. If SMU can get the short passing game going, it could wear down Baylor’s pass rushers if they’re not getting near Burcham they may let up. SMU can go vertical at that point, but one problem is that SMU has to deal with Baylor’s depth along the defensive line. Expect Baylor defensive coordinator and former SMU head coach Phil Bennett to let the Bears pin their ears back and get after Burcham.
Key matchup: Shawn Oakman vs. Chauncey Briggs
If SMU is going to keep Burcham upright, Briggs will have to live up to his All-AAC potential by handling Oakman long enough for Burcham to make some plays.