We checked in with out sister site Our Daily Bears to get a feel for Baylor and what that will bring to the table on Saturday. Travis Roeder, football contributor for the site took the time to give us some answers!
1- Year two of Dave Aranda and the Bears are off to a 3-0 start. What is the most noticeable difference for this team compared to last season?
Travis: With Aranda being a defensive coordinator his entire career and Baylor bringing back more or less everyone from last year, the defensive has been as expected just continuing to look better and like a legitimate top 25 national unit. The real difference is on the offensive side of the ball. Baylor was absolutely dreadful on offense all of last year. The scheme, led by Larry Fedora and Jorge Munoz, was totally incoherent and even incompetent. Coming into this season, after Aranda fired Fedora and Munoz and hired BYU OC Jeff Grimes, I was just hoping for a competent, coherent offense that could settle for just being average or even below average (instead of woeful like last year). They’ve looked much better than average. Yes, the competition has been terrible, but reviewing the tape play by play shows a completely different identity and level of execution. Gerry Bohanon looks like a legitimate top 2 or 3 QB in the conference (yes I’m sure your readers will roll their eyes at this – come back to it at the end of the year!). I could get really down into the details but overall the offense just overall looking good is the easiest answer here.
2- Biggest strength and weakness for Baylor to start off 2021?
Travis: Strength – the offensive line as a whole. Baylor has had bad/terrible OL play for 4 or so years now. When Matt Rhule arrived in 2017, Baylor only had 4 scholarship OL. So even when they’ve had a good player or two, they’ve had no depth. This year is really the first year that they’ve had 7-8 guys who are legitimately good. They’re still rotating in guys and it’s not because anyone is struggling. They play 3 OTs and all of them are rated in the top 13 nationally in PFF’s ratings (not opponent adjusted, but if you’re rated that highly you’re not bad). The new wide zone scheme requires that everyone plays in sync and they’re clearly doing that. I expected a lot of mental errors early in this season but there have been very few. Baylor’s running game is tough to stop because the OL is playing so well, they have a running threat at QB, and their RBs are very competent.
Weakness – While the defense has looked good as a whole, Baylor’s pass rush has been poor, both in getting to the QB and containing the QB when they do get pressure. Baylor is unique in that their best pass rushers, Jalen Pitre and Terrel Bernard, are both off-ball linebackers. In pretty much any big passing situation, one of those two is probably rushing the passer. The problem has been that if one of them doesn’t get home then probably nobody is. Furthermore, Bernard suffered a nasty season-ending shoulder injury against Iowa State last year and doesn’t look like he’s fully back yet. I think the pass rush will improve over the year (they have a couple of rushers hurt who are getting healthy) but it is not a strength of the team currently.
3- Give us one player on Baylor that Iowa State fans don’t know yet but most certainly will by the end of the day on Saturday?
Travis: I could try and be cute and come up with a surprising answer, but the correct answer is Gerry Bohanon, Baylor’s QB. I expect that ISU fans have not watched him yet (I don’t know why any non-Baylor fan would watch Baylor play Texas State, Texas Southern, or Kansas), but he’s the real deal. I’m aware of how this comes across – if a fan of another team was declaring a QB the real deal after 3 terrible opponents I’d be skeptical to say the least. But at QB it’s all about the inputs, and Bohanon has shown things already that translate against better opponents. Namely, he has great pocket presence, can go through post-snap progressions, has a tremendous arm, and is a great leader. Baylor centers their offense around the run and the pass game plays heavily off that, with most passing attempts coming on play action and boot game. A big key in this game will be whether Bohanon has enough time when Baylor runs play action against ISU’s great defensive ends and linebaackers, because I think the chances down the field will be there.
4- Iowa State opened as a 6.5 point favorite and one could make the argument that Baylor has looked better all-around compared to Iowa State. Do you think the line was justified?
Travis: I think the line was justified because Baylor ain’t played nobody yet, and I understand why linemakers don’t fully know what to make of Baylor yet. Would I set the line there? No. I think these teams are very evenly matched. Back in 2019, Baylor and Iowa State played about as even of a game as you possible can, I’m pretty sure that Baylor’s post game win expectancy was 52%. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see another similar game.
5- Biggest thing that Baylor will have to stop on Saturday?
Travis: I think there is really two main ways that Iowa State moves the ball. First, Breece Hall is just terrific, and he’s really good at making a one guy miss near the line of scrimmage and turning a 2 yard gain into 8+. Baylor is going to have to tackle well and take good angles against Hall, he abuses defenders who don’t break down and tackle soundly. Second, Xavier Hutchinson is by far ISU’s biggest weapon (Kolar is good too, but Hutchinson is better). If you play off coverage, ISU is great about just hitting him on short routes. When you play press man, they’re great about targeting him downfield (though Purdy’s accuracy has left much to be desired). Baylor’s corners play a lot of press man, so I suspect that ISU will have to target him down the field. I don’t think ISU will regularly move the ball against Baylor, I think they’re gonna have to string together some big plays.
6- Give us your prediction for the game.
- Travis: As I said previously, I think these are two very evenly matched teams. ISU has struggled on offense but the defense remains stout with a great foundation of great DE, LB, and middle safety play. Baylor has looked good on defense but I think they miss some tackles on Hall who rips off a few big runs and Purdy is able to make some plays escaping from the pocket. Overall, I like the matchup more for Baylor in their ability to establish the run (relatively, not just run all over ISU) and hit deep shots on early downs when ISU’s safeties creep up against the run. But I expect this to be a very back and forth game that features a lot of big plays and probably some turnovers.
As far as a score prediction, I usually don’t do that until Friday when I’ve had maximal time to review each team, but since you asked I’ll go Baylor 27-24