It’d be easy to look at this win as a gimme against a bad, winless team, but it didn’t have to be. Baylor lost to Oklahoma and West Virginia by a combined 10 points. There was a sense that they were poised to knock off somebody, and Texas — playing without its starting quarterback — looked like a good bet to be it. After all, as rival fans are eager to tell anyone who will listen, Tom Herman’s 2016 Houston squad lost three games that it was picked to win by an average of 14 points (as if it wasn’t obvious those players knew their coach was leaving and had quit). This was a solid, suffocating victory by a banged-up football team.
The Best Offense Is a Good Defense
Texas’ defense has scored 15 percent of the team’s touchdowns this season. I don’t know where that ranks nationally, but it’s probably pretty good. Here’s one — DeShon Elliott’s second of the year and nation-leading sixth interception:
Todd Orlando elects to put his cornerbacks on islands against the No. 1 receivers, which gives him three defenders to cover the remaining two receivers. With boundary corner Holton Hill playing as well as he has, Elliott is free to roam. The No. 2 receiver runs a shallow cross, so Malik Jefferson makes an “in” call to let John Bonney know someone’s coming. (I always enjoy it when you can see players communicating on the back end.) That lets Malik look for work, which effectively means the remaining receiver on the trips side is getting triple covered. I don’t know what Zach Smith thought he saw, but it’s clear the pressure by Poona Ford contributed to the high throw. This is team defense.
Team defense gets easier when the offense blows its blocking assignments.
The Bears are trying to run dart, which looks like inside zone except the “frontside” tackle pulls and leads the way for the back on a designed cutback. For whatever reason, Baylor decided to treat Taquon Graham like the most dangerous man on the field and triple teamed him, leaving Charles Omenihu unblocked. The quarterback is reading Bonney on a run-pass option to determine whether to hand it off or sling it out to the Z receiver on a smoke route. The running back is barely on his second step by the time Omenihu is wrapping him up. It’s a shame for Baylor, too, because it looks like this might have been a big play for them. ESPN U’s coverage was terrible, so we’ll never know.
ESPN U Is Trash, Exhibit B
I’m not actually going to break down Exhibit B — Baylor’s lone touchdown — because video of it hardly exists. The play was about a quarter of the way over by the time they started showing it, and the idiot director decided the appropriate shot for the replay was ground-level near the pylon. The play itself was just inside zone, but because of Baylor’s formation (4×0), the only true linebacker Texas had in the box was Malik. I don’t care enough to try to decipher any more than that.
This one I can make sense of. Baylor lines up in a 3×1 closed formation. Texas plays Cover 2 on the closed (tight end) side, with Kris Boyd as the low/force player and Bonney as the deep-half player behind him. Baylor runs what looks like power read, and Bonney — whose job demands that he play the pass until the ball crosses the line of scrimmage — runs up to help. Boyd could have helped him by attacking the H-back’s “block” and making the read clearer, but Bonney still had no business sticking his nose in there.
It’s Nice to Have a Two-Deep at QB
I’m not yet sure what to make of Shane Buechele’s performance because I haven’t studied every snap, but it was good enough to win comfortably. Let’s check out his touchdowns, then his interception.
Buechele threw two touchdowns against Texas Tech last season to Collin Johnson on the concept against roughly the same coverage. Baylor’s in man coverage across the board, blitzing everyone who doesn’t have a man. Texas wisely opts to move the pocket to buy time. The critical block is Chris Warren’s on the edge toward the sprintout. If that guy gets outside and upfield, it forces Buechele to either stop (and get sacked) or to drift away from the line of scrimmage, making the throw infinitely more difficult. The passing concept itself is simple: The two outside receivers run short routes to keep their defenders close to the line of scrimmage while Lil’Jordan Humphrey runs a corner route behind them, away from the defender’s leverage. When it’s blocked well and the intended receiver is 6-foot-4, it’s very hard to defend. The throw is perfect.
Also, Buechele’s ankle looks fine.
This isn’t the only time Baylor gave up a touchdown run with this zone blitz called. They should be OK — they’re slanting toward the run and have one blitzer each to handle the dive and the keep on the zone read. From the end zone angle, however, the flaws are pretty obvious. The defensive end gets washed waaaaaay down; he’s at the top of the numbers by the time he’s out of the picture. That leaves an enormous void for the rest of the defense to fill. The deep safety should still be able to make the touchdown-saving tackle, but he likely had his eyes on the three-receiver side and was late to respond. It’s easy from there.
Buechele had one WTF? throw, and I’ve got three theories that could explain it. One is that he just thought he could get the ball over the cornerback. The other two are brought up in the video: that he didn’t see the coverage change late, or that he thought he had a free play.
Before the snap, it looks like Baylor is playing a one-high coverage like Man Free or Cover 3, but at the snap one defender drops back and the other safety probably shifted so that they could cover the deep areas outside the hashes. A third defender drops back to the deep middle. Buechele may have thought that he just needed to “look off” the single deep safety before throwing the fade the other way, when in fact that fade was being high-low bracketed. Maybe this ball could have gotten through if it was earlier and had more air under it, but I didn’t see an angle that showed that definitively. Buechele is still late on some throws, and I haven’t yet seen evidence that he’s able to update his pre-snap read when the post-snap picture changes (sophomore caveats apply). But again, it’s also possible Buechele thought this was going to be a free play and thus wasn’t concerned about making the risky throw.
Better Runners, or Worse Competition?
The freshman backs definitely hit holes harder and put in more effort to stay upright than the older backs have, but it’s hard to know how much of that dazzling tackle-breaking ability was due to the competition. Let’s look at the runs.
This is the zone blitz from Buechele’s touchdown run – at least, I think it is; it’s hard to know since this is ESPN U. (Did anyone else notice how they kept showing our coaches signaling in plays? What the hell was that?) It’s inside zone again, except instead of having a read element on the edge, Cade Brewer is there to cut off the blitzers. Then Denzel Okafor gets away with a blatant hold. Anyway, a touchdown is a touchdown.
The final touchdown was also on inside zone, with Baylor’s front again stunting all over the place.
It appears they were asking a 7-technique to long stick into the backside A gap, but right guard Jake McMillon kept him from getting there. There was still an inside linebacker and safety who should have been able to clean it up, but they didn’t. A pitiful tackling attempt by a defensive tackle (the Bears’ only four-star signee from the 2016 class) was all that stood between Daniel Young and the end zone.
The blocking has been dreadful, but the older backs haven’t been helping themselves. The freshmen deserve more carries; they’ve deserved more carries for weeks. It sucks that Toneil Carter got hurt, but maybe Young will at least get some touches against TCU now. Other recipes for offensive success next weekend: Get LJH the ball, and pray for Reggie Hemphill-Mapps’ health.