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2011 Baylor Preview
Baylor QB Robert Griffin
Baylor QB Robert Griffin
Posted Jul 15, 2011 2011 Preview - Baylor Bears

Baylor Bears

Preview 2011

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Art Briles
4th year: 15-22
9th year overall: 49-50
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 25, Def. 23, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 14
Ten Best Baylor Players
1. QB Robert Griffin, Jr.
2. WR Kendall Wright, Sr.
3. OT Cyril Richardson, Soph.
4. WR Josh Gordan, Jr.
5. LB Elliot Coffey, Sr.
6. WR Tevin Reese, Soph.
7. WR Terrance Williams, Jr.
8. DE Tevin Elliott, Soph.
9. DT Nicholas Jean-Baptiste, Sr.
10. S Ahmad Dixon, Soph.
2011 Schedule

Sep. 3 TCU
Sep. 17 Stephen F. Austin
Sep. 24 Rice
Oct. 1 at Kansas State
Oct. 8 Iowa State
Oct. 15 at Texas A&M
Oct. 22 Texas
Oct. 29 at Oklahoma State
Nov. 5 Missouri
Nov. 12 at Kansas
Nov. 19 Oklahoma
Nov. 26 Texas Tech

Sometimes a true believer head coach like Art Briles is so focused on succeeding and so bent on making the program a living, breathing winner that it’s hard to take a step back and realize what has been accomplished. The 2010 season might have ended with an ugly thud, but instead of seeing the campaign as half-empty, and with a sense of unfinished business, it’s not a bad thing to focus a bit on what happened.

Coaches don’t like to live in the past in any way and always want to keep moving forward, but Briles showed that yes, it is possible to win at Baylor, and yes, it isn’t crazy to come up with reasonable explanations to be a winner. The program that didn’t get to a bowl game since the Big 12 was formed, and failed to come up with a winning season since 1995, got to seven wins, got to a bowl game, and created and excitement and buzz going into November.

It doesn’t matter that Texas might have been bad, weird, and lifeless; for Baylor to go into Austin and come away with a win is impressive. It doesn’t matter that the only win over a team that went to a bowl game came at home against Kansas State, and it doesn’t matter that the record was padded with wins over Sam Houston State, Buffalo, Rice, and Kansas. Baylor is Baylor, and it had easy schedules before and wasn’t able to do anything with them. There was a time when the Baylor Bears were 7-2 and had their Big 12 title dreams there for the taking.

Alright, enough with the pleasantries. The team stunk after Halloween.

Reality came calling when the tough part of the schedule kicked up with a trip to Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma on the slate to finish up the Big 12 season, and the Bears got obliterated allowing a total of 150 in the three games. But that didn’t really matter, considering the Cowboys, Aggies, and Sooners were loaded. The big problem was the way the team melted down both physically, and apparently mentally, in the blowout Texas Bowl loss to Illinois.

Illinois was a team that should’ve been Baylor’s own size, at least in terms of matchups and stature, and the game was a joke with the Illini running game flying for 291 yards and four scores, and Nathan Scheelhaase completing 18-of-23 passes for 242 yards in the blowout. So while it really is important for Baylor to realize what an accomplishment last season was, the carrot is still out there to go grab after to show that it wasn’t all a mirage.

Robert Griffin is back to lead an offense that should be even more explosive. The experience is there up front, and the speed is in place in the backfield to crank out a big season on the ground. The receivers won’t get any attention in a conference with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Missouri boasting three of the best corps in the country, but it’s beyond loaded with Kendall Wright leading the way.

The defense has to overcome a late season collapse to be decent, and new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett is going to try to generate a pass rush that was a distant rumor last season. There’s speed and athleticism in the defensive backfield, and there’s decent size up front, but the team has a long way to go after finishing 104th in the nation in total defense.

Briles is in his fourth year, and he has done wonders. Just to get to this point was something to highlight and celebrate, and now more miracles have to happen. The schedule is tougher, with two of the easier Big 12 games against Kansas and Kansas State on the road, and there’s no margin for error, but Briles has had to deal with bigger challenges.

What to watch for on offense: Can the offense work even more about the passing game? It’s a common misconception that Baylor was just a running team last year, and the ground attack was fantastic with Jay Finley and Robert Griffin helping the Bears average 195 yards per game. The passing game was even better finishing 19th in the nation and third in the Big 12 in efficiency with Griffin coming into his own even more as a passer. Kendall Wright and Josh Gordon each caught seven touchdown passes, and they’re both back. Four of the top five receivers are back for an attack that should be able to keep up with almost everyone. The Bears are equipped for shootouts.

What to watch for on defense: The 4-2-5 alignment. The Bears are going to try to get even faster and even more active in the back seven, and they’re going to try to do more swarming and do less beefing up to stop the power running teams. The defense wasn’t even close to coming up with plays in the backfield and didn’t do anything against the pass when good quarterbacks got comfortable, and now Phil Bennett’s defense will try to get more production by flying around. It couldn’t hurt; Baylor’s defense was a disaster against the better offenses.

The team will be far better if … The defense can generate some semblance of a pass rush. Last year, BU had to go up against TCU’s Andy Dalton, Texas Tech’s Taylor Potts, Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden, Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, and Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase. The Bears lost all six games against those passers. In those six, the defense came up with a grand total of four sacks – two against Texas Tech and two against Illinois. In the seven wins, Baylor came up with 16 sacks. The secondary was ripped to shreds because it didn’t get any help from the defensive front, and it showed with just two of the ten interceptions coming in those six games.

The schedule: The Bears get a chance to make a big national statement from the start against TCU, but if they lose, they get help from an easy next few games with layups against Stephen F. Austin and Rice before starting out the Big 12 slate against Kansas State and Iowa State. If BU isn’t 4-1, it’s going to be a fight to get back to a bowl game with a harsh back half of the slate. It’s a plus to get Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas Tech at home, but it’s asking a lot to come up with more than two wins in those big games and it’ll likely be a plus just to get to 1-3. BU can’t give away the home game against ISU and it’ll have to come up with a win at Kansas in November before dealing with the Sooners.

Best offensive player: Junior QB Robert Griffin. One of the nation’s best all-around quarterbacks, Griffin returned from a knee injury to come up with a whale of a sophomore season completing 67% of his passes for 3,501 yards and 22 touchdowns and eight picks. One of the fastest quarterbacks in college football, he didn’t bust off enough big runs averaging 4.3 yards per carry and with 71 of his 635 yards coming on one dash. Even so, he always has to be watched out for and always has to be contained, while his accurate passing ability will make defenses pay for hanging back and not attacking.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Elliot Coffey. The defense desperately needs more playmakers, and it has to hope that Coffey goes from being good to being a special all-around defender. He came up with 61 tackles with 4.5 tackles for loss, and now he’s going to get to do even more in the 4-2-5 defense. Smart, tough, and quick, he’s built to be a 100-tackle linebacker with everything funneled his way as much as possible. He could end up being a bit of a pass rusher, too.

Key player to a successful season: Senior DT Nicholas Jean-Baptiste. Phil Taylor was taken with the 21st pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2011 NFL Draft, and he’s going to be tough to replace on the inside after gumming up the works last year. The 6-2, 315-pound Jean-Baptiste isn’t nearly the talent that Taylor was, but the former walk-on has the bulk and the strength to stuff things up. He might not get into the backfield, but he has to hold firm on the inside so everyone else up front can work around him. This is his line to anchor now.

The season will be a success if … the Bears get back to a bowl game. It’ll be a tall, tall task to get to six wins, and it’ll take a meltdown from someone and a few big upsets, but the offense should be good enough, and the defense should be improved enough, to make it close. Stephen F. Austin and Rice are must wins early on, and there can’t be any misfires in the winnable games against Kansas and at Iowa State. Forget about upsetting TCU, Oklahoma, or Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M might be an automatic no, too. Even with the tougher slate, anything less than a second straight bowl appearance will be a step back.

Key game: Oct. 1 at Kansas State. There are few winnable road games on the Baylor schedule, and this, along with the date at Kansas, is one of them. Baylor won a fun 47-42 shootout last year, but is 2-6 all-time against the Wildcats. With a win in Manhattan, if BU can beat Iowa State in the home game the following week, a 4-1 start is likely before going to Texas A&M.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Penalties: Baylor 108 for 1,007 yards – Opponents 83 for 692 yards
- Red Zone Scoring: Opponents 49-of-58 (84%) – Baylor 36-of-47 (77%)
- Punt Return Average: Opponents 12.5 – Baylor 6.5

- 2011 Baylor Preview | 2011 Baylor Offense
- 2011 Baylor Defense | 2011 Baylor Depth Chart