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October 11, 2012

Five questions: Breaking down Baylor

We had a chance to catch up with Baylor beat writer Jake Shaw this week. Shaw covers the Bears for the Baylor Rivals site, SicEmSports.com. Here's his take on how the Bears' season has shaped up so far, as well as how he sees Baylor matching up with TCU on Saturday:

1. Nick Florence has turned some heads with his play so far. How well do you think he's done filling in for Robert Griffin III?

Jake Shaw: He's exceeded my personal expectations for sure. I'd even guess he has done better than what Art Briles would've predicted, though I don't expect him to come out and say that. Obviously, Florence is not the running threat that RGIII was, but he makes quick, smart decisions, he's very accurate, and he has been solid throwing the deep ball, a huge part of the offense. He hasn't gone up against a great defense yet, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts to pressure in the pocket. But through four games, Baylor couldn't ask for much more from him.

2. Is there any sense that the loss to West Virginia was somewhat of a confidence-builder since the Bears were able to hang with the most explosive offense in the conference?

JS: For the offense, yes. Geno Smith got a lot of deserved attention, but Nick Florence matched Smith nearly throw for throw, and the best receiver on the field that day was probably Baylor senior Terrance Williams, who set conference records with receptions and yards. I think it also helped solidify the new mindset that Baylor will compete with whoever it plays, even if on the road. The defense, however, didn't gain any confidence from its performance. If anything, it revealed a few more trouble areas the coaches must address.

3. What is one aspect of TCU's team -- offense or defense -- that you think Baylor can really exploit?

JS: Baylor doesn't really have the defense to exploit many offenses, so I'd have to go with the Baylor offense. The Bears are very good in pass blocking - both from its linemen and from the RBs and TEs helping with pass protection - so teams that blitz a lot are leaving their DBs in one-on-one coverage with Baylor's receivers, and the receiver corps is so talented that it often wins those battles. If a defense can't get any pressure on Florence with its front four alone, it will probably be a long day.

4. When a defense gives up a 70 points, like Baylor did against the Mountaineers, most criticisms point toward the secondary. In Baylor's case, are these criticisms justified? If not, what other areas of the Bears' defense need to improve?

JS: The defensive backs obviously deserve a lot of criticism, especially the safeties. But after reviewing the game film, the defensive line deserves the bulk of the blame. Geno Smith had way too much time to pass, even when Baylor rushed four linemen. West Virginia scored twice on deep balls that, initially, Baylor's secondary had great coverage on, but with so much time and space in the pocket, Smith simply waited for his receivers to make a move downfield before throwing it deep. There were breakdowns in the secondary, but I fault the defensive line (and the coaching scheme, really) more than anything else. The DL is easily Baylor's most glaring weakness.

5. The Big 12 title race is wide open. The only team completely out is Kansas. By the end of the season, where do you see Baylor fitting into the league picture?

JS: As of now, I see only two teams with the chance to be elite, and that's West Virginia and Kansas State. After that, I think there's a huge middle-of-the-pack, something that makes (in my opinion) the Big 12 the deepest conference in the country. I think Baylor could finish as high as third if the defense can make some general improvements, but I think the Bears could finish as low as 8th as well. The same goes for Texas, OU, TCU, etc. There is so much parity in this league that there's almost no final conference order that would surprise me, other than Kansas finishing anywhere but 10th. The other nine spots are truly up for grabs, so I think it will come down to what teams do best on the road. That goes back to my thoughts about KSU (winning at Oklahoma) and WVU (winning in Austin) and why I think they've set themselves apart so far.


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