From his days as a high school football coach, Art Briles has been on the cutting edge of offense. On a year-to-year basis, the Bears have put up one of college football's most dangerous, scoreboard-exploding units, one built around spreading the field horizontally with extraordinarily wide splits for their receivers and attacking vertically, be it with a better-than-advertised running game, or an explosive downfield passing game.
The Bears aren't extraordinarily complex in what they do, particularly in the passing game, but Baylor runs a number of vertical option routes that require precision and execution, something they've been able to accomplish with any number of quarterbacks, from Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence and now on to Bryce Petty.
The Bears jumped onto the scene this year, throwing up PlayStation-type numbers as people questioned the caliber of their competition. But FootballOutsiders.com's S&P+ rankings, which take into account competition, have the Bears ranked second nationally on offense, including high marks on standard downs (second) or passing downs (third) and while either throwing the ball (second) or running it (12th).
Let's put it a more conventional way: even taking out Baylor's easy-as-pie non-conference slate, the Bears are still averaging 50 points per game in Big 12 play. Their conference per-game averages include the league's No. 1 total offense, No. 1 rushing offense and No. 2 passing offense. They're averaging 591.5 total yards per Big 12 game.
So, how do you beat 'em? Last year, Texas pulled out a 56-50 win largely by holding the Bears out of the end zone once they entered the red zone, and a similar strategy has often worked this season, with Baylor scoring just 24 touchdowns in 39 red zone attempts in conference play. As trite as it sounds, holding the Bears to field goals is often a victory. And while Baylor's third-down conversion rate is pretty strong, the Bears aren't nearly as effective on third-and-long situations when they can't use their run game, or even the threat of their running game.
At the helm of arguably Briles's best offense is Petty (6-3 230), who hasn't been quite as accurate — completing 62.4 percent of his passes — as his predecessors, but exchanging that accuracy for an astounding hit-rate downfield. Averaging 11.2 yards per attempt is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and he's at 17.9 yards per completion. Add to that the fact that Petty doesn't make many mistakes, hitting on 28 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, and the fact that he can test a defense at times with his legs, scoring 11 touchdowns on the ground, and he's been outstanding this season.
The Bears have some injuries right now (more on those in a bit), but they've also been aided in that both Lache Seastrunk (5-10 210) and Glasco Martin (6-0 230) have a clean bill of health after suffering ailments earlier in the season. Simply put, a healthy Seastrunk is one of the best, and most explosive, running backs in the country. Even with the missed games, he's rushed for 982 yards and 11 touchdowns at 7.8 yards per carry. Martin is the team's power back, plowing ahead for 388 yards and five touchdowns so far this year.
But Seastrunk's absence allowed the Bears to tap redshirt freshman back Shock Linwood (5-8 200), who appears to be Seastrunk's heir apparent after averaging 7.0 yards per carry himself. Linwood has 848 yards and eight touchdowns on the year, giving the Bears a pretty nasty one-two-three punch.
Baylor is deep and talented at receiver, though the Bears lost arguably their top (and maybe the Big 12's top) receiver when Tevin Reese was knocked out for the year. One of the Big 12's fastest players, Reese was averaging 25.0 yards per catch and had over 800 yards receiving despite playing in only seven full games before getting injured. That injury reduced their dynamic duo to a solo act, with Antwan Goodley (5-10 225) catching 59 passes for 1,205 yards and 12 touchdowns. Goodley's a fascinating player to watch because of his short, squat power and the fact that he pairs that with excellent downfield speed. Inside receiver Levi Norwood (6-1 195) has helped to make up for Reese's loss a bit, catching 39 passes for 634 yards and six scores. That includes a game-best seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown in an airtight game last week with TCU.
Clay Fuller (6-1 210) and Corey Coleman (5-10 185) combine to give the Bears more speed and big-play ability at the inside receiver positions, catching 50 passes for 795 yards and four touchdowns between them. Jay Lee (6-2 215) is the starter opposite Goodley on the outside, though he hasn't totally gotten off track yet, making 17 catches for 229 yards and a touchdown.
The Bears can rotate through two big tight ends in Jordan Najvar (6-6 265) and Jerod Monk (6-4 285), though they aren't huge threats in the passing game, making a total of 10 catches between them and not finding the end zone this season.
As big as the loss of Reese has been, the loss of left tackle Spencer Drango might be just as important. Drango was playing at an All-Big 12 level before he got hurt. And while it's really difficult to extrapolate how much one offensive lineman can impact a game, and the drop-off also occurred when the Bears ran into some better defenses, it's worth noting that Baylor has seen bigger offensive struggles in its past two games. In the first nine contests, all started by Drango, Baylor allowed 13 sacks and averaged 6.1 yards per carry. In the last two, against Oklahoma State and TCU, the Bears have allowed five sacks and averaged 2.9 yards per carry.
Kelvin Palmer (6-4 290) has taken over for Drango on the left side after starting the previous 10 games on the right. When Palmer went to the left, Pat Colbert (6-5 305) started on the right, although Troy Baker (6-6 310) is listed as the guy at that position this week. Palmer should be next to All-Big 12 guard Cyril Richardson (6-5 340), an All-America candidate who does a fantastic job of opening up holes in the running game. Stefan Huber (6-4 295) at center and Desmine Hilliard (6-4 330) at right guard make up the rest of the line.
Aaron Jones (6-3 190) hasn't been consistent as a kicker, except on short-range kicks. He's 5-of-5 from 20-29, but just 6-of-12 otherwise. He does have a strong leg, making a 51-yarder earlier this year. Coleman's speed makes him a dangerous kick returner. He's averaging 30.5 yards per return with a touchdown on the year. Norwood has returned two punts for touchdowns this year.