BAYLOR 101: Air Bears Let Fly

BAYLOR NARROWLY MISSED in ‘05 their first bowl invitation since 1994's Alamo Bowl with WSU as Guy Morris effectively removed the doormat stigma that's plagued Waco for 10 years. But opening '06 with a strong defensive showing against No. 21 TCU, their new spread offense lacked the punch to pull off the upset. With WSU, they face a similar offense, but one that looks to be firing on all cylinders.

THE BEARS ON OFFENSE

Players to Know
Shawn Bell, QB: Bell has run the offense well in the first two games. He's completed 64% of his passes for 574 yards and 5 touchdowns. The senior throws with precision but not a lot of power. He can sometimes struggle in the red zone and isn't a big threat to run. Nevertheless, he will cause problems for the Cougs if they don't get pressure on him.

Dominique Zigler and Trent Shelton, WRs: Baylor thinks highly of these two seniors, but both were held in check against TCU. Zigler sat out last week with a minor shoulder injury and Shelton quickly became Bell's primary target. He caught 9 balls for 158 yards and a score.

Overview
Baylor imported Texas Tech's version of the spread offense and throws the ball a ton. Perhaps a better way to put it is that they simply opt not to run the football with 24 total rush attempts this season and they have a vast selection of short passes that essentially supplant normal running plays. The offense is dependant on great timing and utilizes a lot of misdirection and abnormal formations.

Strategy
It's not surprising that the Bears are opting not to run the ball because all evidence suggests that they can't, at just 2.4 yards per attempt so far this year. Bell will try to keep the Cougs honest with a few deep balls, but it isn't the primary concern -- The Bears live and die by short and intermediate range passes. The Cougar linebackers need to play well and diagnose plays quickly. Expect the Bears to run a lot of screens too, as they proved successful against the Cougs at Auburn. WSU should avoid blitzing if they can generate a pass rush without it. Getting pressure on Bell while effectively mixing up man and zone coverage could be the best way to disrupt the Bears' offense.

Cougars (1-1) vs Bears (1-1)
AT A GLANCE
KICKOFF:
2:00 pm Pacific Time

WHERE:
Qwest Field (67,000)

TELEVISION:
None

RADIO:
The Cougar Sports Radio Network covers much of the West. Click here for listings.

THE LINE:
WSU by 13.5

LAST MEETING:
1994 Alamo Bowl, WSU won 10-3

THE SERIES:
Baylor leads the series 3-1

CF.C PREDICTION:
Cougars 31, Bears 17

THE BEARS ON DEFENSE

Players to Know
CJ Wilson, CB: Wilson would be a contender for Thorpe award honors on a better known team. Simply a terrific football player in every respect with good size and speed. He tackles well, will pick off errant throws, with three interceptions already this year. He leads a secondary that is solid overall.

Marcus Foreman, DE: Foreman is Baylor's best defensive lineman. A senior with all the tools needed to be great, he has so far struggled to develop as a pass rusher.

Overview
Baylor runs a 4-2-5 — a solid all around defense that relies heavily on a talented secondary. The Cougs shouldn't be misled by the base nickel formation, the Bears prioritize run defense but have struggled with it in the past. The linebackers remain a question mark and they may keep the safeties in run support if the corners show they can handle themselves against WSU's talented receivers.

Strategy
Attack, attack, attack. When the Cougar offense has played passively against teams like this, it leads to trouble. The Cougs may be best served by pushing the issue, a high scoring affair favors them considerably. Alex Brink showed a lot more trust in his receivers to fight for balls in coverage last week and that seems the clear way to go here. Though the strength of the Baylor defense is the secondary, the Cougs could benefit by going right at them. WSU simply has way too many offensive weapons not to be the aggressor in this contest.

THE BEARS ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Baylor has the reigning Ray Guy Award winner in punter Daniel Sepulveda, so 50 yard punts aren't out of the question but Sepulveda is coming off a knee injury this spring and has yet to regain his form through two games. Kicker Ryan Havens is accurate enough from inside 40, but lacks big time range.

INJURY REPORT
Out IndefinitelyZach Enyeart (8/23 knee sprain), Joe Eppele (9/7 shoulder surgery), Scott Friberg (8/22 hip/right knee sprain), Arkelon Hall (8/12 fibula fracture), Ansley Jean-Jacques (9/9 thumb surgery), Grady Maxwell (8/11 knee surgery), Matt Mullennix (9/6 ACL surgery), Andy Roof (8/11 thumb surgery), Jason Stripling (shoulder surgery recovery).
No Practice – Fevaea'i Ahmu (8/29 partial stress fracture, foot), Markus Dawes (9/2 high ankle sprain)
LimitedDon Turner (9/2 hip contusion), Michael Willis (9/2 shoulder sprain), DeMaundray Woolridge (9/2 thigh bruise)

As noted in previous CF.C reports, starting outside linebacker Scott Davis strained an Achilles tendon Tuesday and is day-to-day for the remainder of the practice week. X-rays on Cody Boyd's injured hand were negative and the senior tight end practiced Tuesday.
All starters are expected to be available for Baylor

FINAL THOUGHTS
If you are a fan of that new fangled "forward pass,' this game ought to be a treat. Both sides have great receivers and love to throw the ball. WSU has run the ball very well in '06, and that should give them the edge. However, Baylor was able to take away TCU's running game and they will try to do the same against the Cougs.

Though coming off an impressive showing against Idaho, the Cougars have absolutely no right to take the Bears lightly. Baylor had a better record than WSU did last year and they do plenty of things well.

The Bears have been really close to some big upsets, but simply haven't come through in crunch time. If this game is tight, one of these two teams is finally going to have to find a way to finish.

NOTABLE NOTE:
Beginning this season, the game in Seattle will heretofore be called the Cougar Gridron Classic sponsored by the Washington Beef Commission. The state's beef producers will be out in force at Qwest Saturday, with samples and more. For ticket information, click here.

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