November 21, 2009

Five keys to a Baylor victory

Saturday's game against the Texas A&M Aggies is the first in Baylor's two game season to get to bowl eligibility. There were lofty hopes for this team in the spring and summer, and most people believed that this would be the year that the Bears would end their more than a decade long drought without a bowl bid. After the unfortunate injury to starting quarterback Robert Griffin a lot of those same people changed their tune and considered the season a loss.

This game is just as important to the Aggies. With five wins right now and only #3 Texas left on their schedule, if they don't win this game then they won't be eligible to go to a bowl game either for the second straight season.

This is a list of five things I think Baylor fans should look out for on Saturday if the Bears are going to be successful against Texas A&M.

1 - Run the ball

Baylor doesn't have to have a high average, but they need to stick with the run and keep trying it. Jay Finley's injury is still hurting him, but Art Briles is still able to mix things up with the running game and use it in many different ways with the diverse talents of Terrance Ganaway and Jarred Salubi. Since his two big games against Northwestern State and Kent State, Salubi hasn't been a big part of the offense mainly because he's still making young mistakes. Ganaway is an experienced and tough runner who is always able to pick up positive yards. He's been reliable late in games to run the clock out and I think he could give the offense a good boost if he's used as a feature runner Saturday afternoon.

One of the Bears' biggest issues when they really struggled offensively this season was they were stuck with too many third and long situations. They wouldn't pick up many yards on first and second down, and would have to try and convert third and eight or worse. If Ganaway is only able to pick up three yards on first or second down, it makes third down much more manageable and gives Briles more options with his playcalling.

Another big reason to try and establish the run is the Aggies struggles this season stopping it. They're currently tenth in the conference in run defense, allowing around 165 yards per game on the ground. In the Aggies losses to Kansas State and Colorado, two teams with comparable talent and records as the Bears, nine of the twelve touchdowns they allowed came on the ground.

2 - Stop the run

I know I'm not breaking any big news to people. Since the game of football was created the main focus of just about every team has been to run the ball and stop the run to be successful. In the pass happy Big 12 conference those focuses have somewhat gone away, but with Mike Sherman's pro style attack it's almost more important for Baylor this week than any other. Jerrod Johnson is a very good player and will be very important for the Aggies, but their bread and butter is the running game with Cyrus Gray and Christine Michael.

Baylor shut down their running game last year which stalled their offense. Johnson was their leading rusher in Waco with 33 yards, but the Aggie running backs only amassed 33 yards on their own. In the Aggies five wins they were able to win the rushing battle in every game. In their five loses they were outrushed every time including outputs of -13 yards and 59 yards in their two blowout losses to Kansas State and Oklahoma respectively.

The "x-factor" in this game could be Phil Taylor. The big defensive tackle is always a key the Bears stopping the run by plugging the middle, but this won't be his first time to play the Aggies. In his last game for Penn State the Nittany Lions defeated Texas A&M in the Alamo Bowl.

3 - Take chances through the air

This is a game where Baylor needs to use the same game plan from Missouri and try to make plays deep against the Texas A&M secondary. The Aggies have the worst pass defense statistically in the Big 12, so Nick Florence and the Bears need to take advantage of that. Briles and the Baylor coaches showed that they trust Nick in the Bears win in Colombia, so they need to take some chances and try to make a big play. This is a day when David Gettis and Kendall Wright need to have big games.

The Aggies are very young in the secondary, starting four underclassmen, so it will be very important for the Baylor seniors, Gettis, Ernest Smith, and Justin Akers, to get open and exploit mismatches that present themselves.

4 - Big day by the seniors

Speaking of the senior receivers, Baylor needs a big output by their senior leaders. This is a group that had one main goal this year, and that was that they didn't want to leave Baylor without turning the program into a winner. They have their opportunity this week to take the next step towards accomplishing that Saturday afternoon.

As I mentioned Gettis, Smith, and Akers will be leaned upon a lot against the Aggie defense. Florence and Smith have appeared to establish a strong relationship on the field and he's looked for the inside receiver a lot during his time as a starter. He and Akers will be key in the short and intermediate zone which should free up Gettis over the top for a few plays.

For all that to happen the two guys on the line JD Walton and James Barnard will have to give Florence the time that he needs to find those guys, and open up running lanes for whichever runner the Bears look to from play to play.

On defense especially, the group of Jordan Lake, Joe Pawelek, Jeremy Williams, and Antonio Jones will all be key players in both stopping the run and watching Jerrod Johnson. The Aggie quarterback is a good runner and he could take off at any time, whether it's a designed run or scramble after a broken play. Baylor has had good success shutting down running quarterbacks like Zac Robinson, Cody Green, and Colt McCoy, but Johnson is probably the best runner of the group.

5 - Protect the quarterback

Blocking and tackling are the fundamental pillars of football, but that's basically what I think this game comes down to for Baylor. Scheme and planning are all secondary, but if Baylor is able to do those two things then I think they have the talent and personnel to not only win, but win big in College Station.

The Aggies come into this game ranked third in the conference in sacks with three per game, while the Bears come into it fourth in the conference in sacks allowed with just under 2.5 per game. Most of Texas A&M's success has been because of outstanding defensive end Von Miller who leads the Big 12 in sacks with 15.5 already this season and he'll be a huge challenge for first year left tackle Danny Watkins.

When given time Florence has shown that he can throw the ball accurately and make good decisions, but when he's rushed he has become erratic and the offense has struggled to move the ball.

Score prediction: Baylor - 31, Texas A&M - 28

The Aggies' defense plays right to Baylor strengths and I think Nick Florence and the Bears will be able to have success and exploit it. I'm expecting the team that was in Colombia to show up and not the one in Ames, but if they're able to rekindle what they had in their win then I think they have the talent and firepower to put up a lot of points. I think they will give up a good number of yards and point on defense, but the Bears will come away with the win in a shoot-out.

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