Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Baylor without Seth Russell and other thoughts on the Big 12

The Big 12 dropped two bombshells on Monday with some big time ramifications for the league.

The first being that Seth Russell was going to need surgery on his neck that would sideline him for perhaps as many as six months and certainly the rest of this season.

The second bombshell was that Paul Rhoads and Mark Mangino had reached such a serious point of disagreement on who the starting QB in Ames should be that Rhoads evidently fired Mangino. The reason was apparently that Rhoads loves what has been happening in the Iowa State running game this year and couldn't convince Mangino to tweak the offensive philosophy, play-calling, and personnel (i.e. starting QB) to feature this run game.

Let's start with that Iowa State bombshell before moving on to how Baylor will make do without Russell:

In Mangino we trust


Mark Mangino turned the Kansas-freaking-Jayhawks into a BCS bowl-winner. He won a national championship with Josh Heupel as his QB at Oklahoma. The only reason he isn't still the head coach at Kansas is because it turned out he was verbally abusing his players, not because of any major flaw in the results his methods were producing.

Paul Rhoads has overseen crap offenses at Iowa State for some time now. The program has gone downhill since he lost Tom Herman and since he graduated the players that Gene Chizik left for him. The Cyclone's calling card under Rhoads was physical toughness and sound defense but they haven't played good defense in a few years now.

He snatched up Mangino to oversee the offense and give him his best chance at saving his job and spoke bluntly after hiring him that he was going to pretty much have carte blanche to do what he needed to do. Now Mangino is gone, and there's no one left with anything on their resume to suggest that they can turn a perennial doormat like Iowa State into a competitive team in this conference.

I suspect that Mangino had good reasons for not wanting to start Joel Lanning and not wanting to go hog wild with the run game like the defensive-minded head coach prefers and I'm fairly confident that this will go poorly for the Cyclones and Paul Rhoads will be fired at the end of the year.

Perhaps then Paul Rhoads will be hired to try and build a physical, sound defense in a location with an offensive-minded head coach who will undermine him and demand that he blitz more. Lotta potential for irony here and if Rhoads is fired I'll have some thoughts on what the Cyclones should be looking for in terms of a coach who could bring some success to Ames.

Is Baylor finished?


Probably, in terms of winning the Big 12 and reaching the playoffs at least, but not necessarily. The truly unfortunate part of this story, besides the fact that a really impressive young man just lost his season and may see his career seriously altered because of a devastating injury, is that Baylor's schedule is back-loaded this year and they weren't able to milk their precious time with Russell to get more wins against the league's top teams.

Now they are left with a true freshman trying to lead college football's most explosive offense against the toughest part of their schedule with the weight of championship expectations on his shoulders.

On the positive side for the Bears, the first thing to note with their offense though is that much of it is relatively simple. The spacing clears up the reads for the QB and the better part of their offense is RPOs (runs with pass options) and play-action bombs where the QB can often just stare down a single receiver and throw him open deep.

Stidham is the back-up as a true freshman for a reason and it's that he can handle this stuff and he has the arm talent to hit the throws, as you can see on this tape of all of his snaps this season. (Quick aside, if you are a Baylor fan who reads this blog but doesn't read ourdailybears.com then you're impoverishing yourself as a consumer of Bear coverage).

The second thing to note with Baylor is that they are perfectly designed to handle having inexperience at the QB position. Corey Coleman is a god of war right now and much of their playbook is just designed to get him in space and allow him to destroy man-to-man coverage. Their run game has a deep stable of backs and a very talented and very veteran OL. The rest of the WR corps is fantastic and includes some up and coming options (Davion Hall, Ishmael Zamora) that he's been throwing to in practice and garbage time.

Now here's what could hurt Baylor about having a true freshman trying to lead the way for them as they compete for a third consecutive Big 12 title and a first playoff berth...besides the fact that this is a ton of pressure for a freshman to handle and he may not have the needed experience and wisdom of how to schedule his time, take care of himself, and lead his team in such a pressure cooker situation.

First would be the team that can disguise their looks and muck up Stidham's reads in their option game and at the line of scrimmage. Baylor loves to go fast but they also love to have their QB direct things and make adjustments at the line, which they'll probably have to abandon with Stidham. Can they maintain their pace and will he understand what Patterson's Frogs are doing?

The next challenge would be the team that elects to play man coverage, brings numbers to stop the run, and dares Stidham to actually beat them by out-executing coverage in the passing game while also navigating blitzes. This used to cause Petty some problems, particularly if he didn't have Tevin Reese on the field to simplify things for him, and will likely be the approach that Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas bring against Stidham.

How will he respond if someone can take away Coleman, force him to make progressions, and slow down the run game? What if that happens on the road?

Here's how the rest of the Baylor schedule goes:

bye week


Couldn't have come at a better time.

@Kansas State


The Wildcats are bad. They're tweaking their defense in ways that will make them stouter but they are as simple as can be in terms of scheme. The only scary thing here for Baylor is just that the Wildcats may still have some juice left to try and salvage their own season with an upset win at home. Thursday night games in Manhattan aren't fun. On paper though, this is a good place for Stidham to start.

Oklahoma


Here's a big one. The Stoops brothers should be highly motivated to avenge last year's drubbing in Norman and they've been working on a coverage-heavy defense to help them handle Baylor's stresses. It's at home, but this will be a tough one for a freshman QB. The hope here is that Baylor's D will show well at home and that OU won't have any answers for Corey Coleman.

@OSU


Possibly the hardest game on here because it's against a good team that knows how to play Baylor, has a hostile home field advantage, and the contest is sandwiched between the two biggest games of the year. I'd go so far as to say this might even be the most likely loss.

@TCU


Disregarding intangibles, this is the hardest game on Baylor's schedule. Trevone Boykin is going to light up the Baylor defense and Stidham is going to have to match him with a big performance of his own against all of the wizardry and disguise that Patterson can conceive of to make this difficult. If the Bears get through this one it'll probably be because their run game carried a lot of water for them and prevented the Frogs from being able to shield their green CBs from having to play Cannon and Coleman on islands down the sideline.

bye week


I bet they wish this happened before the TCU game.

Texas


It'll be interesting to see how much Baylor has to play for in this game. Texas will be fired up regardless, looking for a chance to make the season with a big win over the upstart Bears, and they have the kind of formula as a team (really physical run game+stout defense) that K-State has used to make things difficult for Baylor in the past.

This should have been a nearly automatic W for the Bears but things could get interesting now that Russell is gone.

One last thing to remember though is that Art Briles has worked at a disadvantage for much of his life and he absolutely THRIVES in this role. If he hadn't lost his QB he would have manufactured some other reason to believe that the world was aligned against him and that he was going to have to fight and claw for everything he got.

Baylor will probably show up big for their two home games against the perennial powers, Texas and Oklahoma, the big question will be if they can transition to the type of mindset that sets one up to go into a place like Ft. Worth or Stillwater and "put down the rebellion" so to speak. That's actually a mindset that's easier to come by as a traditional power with big time confidence and years of experience at putting down teams that are trying to challenge the crown.

When you feel like you're up against the world and are raging like a bull that can help you take down a bigger opponent or protect home field, but it's hard to maintain that mindset and energy through a brutal stretch of games like Baylor is about to face. If anyone can do it, Briles can, but I don't think 2015 Baylor and their freshman QB will be able to handle that task.

4 comments:

  1. You seriously think TCU's defense is going to be Baylor's biggest challenge? You apparently haven't watched what Oklahoma is doing in defense. They have the top defense in the league not TCU.

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    Replies
    1. It's a big deal that one of those games is in Waco and one of them is in Ft Worth.

      What's more, OU may be able to try and man up with Baylor, TCU is going to look to confuse the heck out of Stidham.

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  2. No bye week between TCU and Texas. They play at TCU on Black Friday, then Texas in Waco the following Saturday.

    ReplyDelete
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