Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Baylor offense: Bryce Petty edition

Baylor has a big time match-up in early Austin against Strong's Longhorns. You can read a FREE preview of it at Inside Texas.

This should be a toughly contested game. While Baylor is often not as strong on the road, I think that's largely related to Briles and his boys been unused to big games and still lacking the needed confidence to take down a big team in a hostile environment.

Well, Baylor's already beaten Texas in Austin once and stomped them the last two times in Waco so I suspect they'll be more comfortable in 2014 and beyond. Additionally, their leader Bryce Petty has now played in several big games in environments like Jerry World, the BCS game, the game in Stillwater, and the contests with Texas and Oklahoma in Waco.

What's interesting about these future match-ups is how Baylor has evolved their approach with Petty at the helm. With RG3 this was a heavily read-option team that also incorporated pounding the ball on the ground and utilizing the play-action game.

The Baylor OL wasn't quite as good then as it is now and RG3 made things even tougher for them by tending to hold onto the ball and throwing after it was clear that receivers had broken free rather than with anticipation.

Of course, RG3 made up for that by being one of the best athletes the Big 12 has ever seen:

He had the legs to buy time and wait for someone to get open and he had the arm strength and accuracy to hit receivers deep downfield.

Because of his insane talents and the cast of receivers around him, the 2011 Baylor offense is still probably the best Briles offense the Big 12 has seen although the early 2013 Bear unit was a close match before losing Reese, Drango, Martin, and Seastrunk.

Although Petty is a phenomenal athlete in his own right, the offense has changed somewhat from the RG3 days with Petty at the helm to emphasize different parts of the playbook.

Here's the primary feature of the Bryce Petty Baylor offense:

This isn't a read-option play, although it does involve post-snap reads, but is actually just old school play-action with a Baylor flair. There are several points to hit here to explain what makes this a devastating concept.

1. The option routes by the receivers

Most teams are now dropping players in the box to handle Baylor's run game and relying on man-free coverage to jam up and handle the Baylor receivers. Once Tevin Reese (H on this diagram) went down that became a feasible task. Baylor's receivers had to adjust to beating press-man coverage, the run game was made somewhat less effective, and the Big 12 had some truly great corners in 2013.

However, this is still exceptionally tough overall because the receivers are running option routes that adjust to how they are covered. The outside receivers (X and Z) are running downfield. If they can fly past the corners, they will. If they find themselves running into off coverage, they'll peel back for easy yardage on the comeback.

The H slot receiver spot is the hardest to handle because he's basically running to open space in the middle of the field and he's usually doing it against an opponents' 3rd or 4th best coverage player. When that's Tevin Reese or Kendall Wright...good luck.

It's a little tricky to teach college receivers to run these option routes and understand the concepts and leverage that will enable them to make the right decisions but since it's Baylor's identity, they practice it relentlessly and master it.

As Manny Diaz said of this system, "It's genius is in its simplicity." This isn't really a "trick you, gimmick offense" but instead an execution-based offense. Baylor is lining up and just beating you by executing simple concepts that all feed off each other.

They do need a slot receiver to step up who can command attention in the middle of the field and prevent teams from sitting a safety on top of Goodley on the opposite end.

2. The threat of play-action

Baylor is no slouch at running the football, it's a key part of who they are. They'll run this play off split zone, like above, or off their power runs and the defense needs to be aware if it's a running play or else they can get run over.

They've fallen in love with using a tight end, often lined up as an H-back, to lend extra weight and variety to the play and they always have powerful backs that thrive at running through arm tackles or running over the defensive backs opponents put on the field to handle Baylor's spacing and speed.

3. The personnel in the protection

The left tackle for Baylor, Spencer Drango, is the best at his position in the conference and one of the best in the nation. The starting OL for Baylor in 2014 goes:

LT: Spencer Drango: 6'5", 315 pounds
LG: LaQuan McGowan: 6'6", 385 pounds
OC: Kyle Fuller: 6'5", 305 pounds
RG: Desmine Hilliard: 6'5" 340 pounds
RT: Troy Baker: 6'7", 305 pounds

The protections they love to use are "slide" protections in which they slide the entire OL left or right and pick up any blitzers on the side they slide away from with their TE and RB. You can see how this works in the diagram above.

These players for Baylor in 2014 are likely to be

TE: Tre'Von Armstead: 6'6", 270 pounds
RB: Shock Linwood: 5'9", 200 pounds

They essentially have an extra tackle on the field in Armstead to help shore up their protection then with sturdy Linwood to pick up any other defenders that make it through that massive wall of flesh. Or they can put speed back Johnny Jefferson on the field and have him slip out to catch a pass underneath if the downfield coverage is good.

So how do you attack this and protect your DBs from having to defend option routes forever?

Well, if you attack off the left edge you are going up against one of the best left tackles in America and he's already sliding out to meet you with leverage.

If you attack the middle you have to find some players that can navigate 1030 pounds of Baylor lineman.

The traditional way to attack a slide protection is to attack the side away from the slide. Strong and most coaches in America will usually call what's often called the "NCAA blitz" or "America's blitz."

The idea is to overload the TE and RB by bringing first the Sam linebacker (S) and then an inside linebacker after him (W in this case).

The problem against Baylor is that they have a solid right tackle in Troy Baker PLUS what amounts to an extra offensive tackle in TE Armstead. The chances of this blitz successfully overloading the right side of the Baylor protection aren't terribly great.

Undoubtedly great minds like Charlie Strong and Mike Stoops will work hard to overcome these difficulties and find ways to pressure the Bears but most will have to accept that when Baylor has their 
run game going and can run these play-action looks with 7-man max protections, you aren't going to be able to affect Petty as much as you might like.

Look for teams to try and drop eight into coverage some this year and rely on three great pass rushers to eventually work their way to Petty, but also expect Baylor to have even more options and threats from these concepts. It's going to be another fun year watching Briles match wits with the rest of the Big 12. Expect him to win more of these battles then he loses.

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