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BOUNCE BACK #9 Bears Need to Start Fast Against Horned Frogs

Nov. 29, 2013

By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Insider

While it's certainly true that Baylor's explosive offense hasn't scored on its opening drive since a 35-25 win at Kansas State on Oct. 12, don't be so quick to label the ninth-ranked Bears (9-1, 6-1) as slow starters.

They scored on their second series the next week en route to a 71-7 pasting of Iowa State, put up 21 first-quarter points in wins over Kansas and Texas Tech and had a 24-5 lead on 10th-ranked Oklahoma by halftime.

The only real "hiccup" came in last week's 49-17 loss at Oklahoma State, when Baylor didn't score a touchdown until the fourth quarter. But even then, the Bears drove into Cowboy territory on their opening drive and then fumbled inside the 1-yard line after quarterback Bryce Petty's inexplicable stumble.

"Scoring when you've got a first-and-goal at the 1-foot line on your second possession of the game," said Baylor head coach Art Briles, when asked about how the Bears could avoid another slow start offensively.

"Not losing five yards on second-and-8 at the plus-39 on your opening drive after moving the ball from your 25. We were in shape to do right, we just didn't. That's something that's pretty uncharacteristic for what's happened this year. We've been pretty fortunate with the things that we've created and had things go our way, both sides of the ball. So from that standpoint, it was a good growth game for us, because we haven't been in full 60-minute games very often. . . . It was a situation where our backs were against the wall from the get-go. We had a good opportunity to change it, we just didn't do it. And we'll learn from it."

The Bears will try to take lessons learned to the field on Saturday, when they face TCU (4-7, 2-6) at 2:30 p.m. at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

Petty, who has thrown for 3,351 yards and 26 touchdowns with only one interception through the first 10 games, said it's just a matter of the players being "able to execute on the fly" when defenses throw different things at them early in the game.

"The coaches will do a great job with their game plan," he said. "We have to learn, we've got to understand it, we've got to commit to it; and above all, we've got to execute it. That's where it comes down to my part. And I think that's why the last three games have started kind of slow, because I haven't done too hot."

When Baylor Has the Ball

As good as Oklahoma State's defense was at stuffing the run, holding the Bears to a season-low 94 yards on 36 attempts (2.6-yard average), TCU's might actually be better.

Despite losing four starters, including ends Devonte Fields and Matt Anderson, the Horned Frogs lead the Big 12 and rank 23rd nationally in run defense. They have given up just 127.8 yards per game and 3.3 per attempt.

Of course, Baylor could get a huge lift with the healthy return of running backs Lache Seastrunk (pulled groin) and Glasco Martin (strained knee). Both have been sidelined since the first half of a 41-12 win over Oklahoma.

In their absence, redshirt freshman Shock Linwood recorded 180-plus-yard performances against the Sooners and Texas Tech before fumbling twice and being held to 29 yards on 14 carries in the loss at OSU.

"I would expect to see some of the same things that Oklahoma State did," said Linwood, who ranks third in the league in rushing yards per game (93.4) and needs only three yards to break Baylor's freshman rushing record set by Robert Griffin III in 2008 (843 yards). "They're going to load the boxes and send blitzes through the 'a' gap. And whenever we do get an empty set, they're going to drop eight and try to mess up the passing game. We're just going to have to work through it and get prepared for it."

Petty also will be facing his second All-American-type cornerback in as many games. Even with defenses throwing the other way, TCU's Jason Verrett has picked off two passes and is tied for the lead with 12 pass breakups.

The Bears are still trying to make up for the loss of senior receiver Tevin Reese, who is out for the rest of the regular season with a dislocated wrist. Reese leads the nation with 25 yards per catch this year and ranks fourth on Baylor's all-time list with 182 career catches.

"When it comes down to it, we have to be able to beat man coverage," said junior Clay Fuller, who ranks fourth on the team with 23 catches for 369 yards. "And it's a learning process, because Tevin has been in so many games and seen so many looks that his is reactionary. It's up to us to learn quickly."

Trying to mend another spot, Baylor could shift fifth-year senior Kelvin Palmer from right tackle to left tackle, where Spencer Drango is out following back surgery. Sophomore Pat Colbert started at that spot against the Cowboys and could go again, but he has been working more at right tackle this week along with junior Troy Baker.

When TCU Has the Ball

While TCU's defense has remained rock-steady pretty much all year, the Horned Frogs have never gotten much of anything going offensively.

A weakened offensive line appears to the main suspect, but they rank near the bottom of the league in every statistical category. Using a two-QB system with sophomore Trevone Boykin and Casey Pachall, who was sidelined for five games with a broken arm, TCU is averaging just 338.9 yards and 23.9 points per game and ranks dead last in rushing with 118.3 yards per game and 3.5 per carry.

Since returning, Pachall has completed 83-of-127 passes for 887 yards and four touchdowns with five interceptions. In that same stretch, Boykin has rushed for four TDs and added 19 catches for 149 yards.

"Just going by what they've done the last couple weeks, Casey's starting the game and playing," Briles said. "And when they get down in the red zone and get in short yardage, then they bring in Boykin. And it's been working for them. They put 31 points on K-State and just got beat right at the end. And they beat Iowa State the week before."

With Pachall suspended last year, it was Boykin that torched the Bears in a 49-21 win in Waco, throwing for 261 yards and four touchdowns and adding another 56 yards and one TD rushing.

Like the offense, Baylor's defense has had to go with some makeshift lineups because of injuries. Last week, with middle linebacker Bryce Hager out with a pulled groin, Eddie Lackey shifted to the middle and safety Ahmad Dixon moved down to one of the outside linebacker spots.

Although the Bears' run defense held up, limiting OSU to 154 yards on 46 attempts (3.3-yard average), Baylor gave up 440 yards and a whopping 21 yards per completion.

That's why Dixon is moving back to the safety position where redshirt freshman Orion Stewart had 12 tackles and one pass breakup in his first career start. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said Lackey was "fantastic" in the middle and will likely start there again, which means senior backup Brody Trahan could get his fourth career start at the weakside spot this week.

At cornerback, senior K.J. Morton was listed as "day-to-day" with an abdominal strain. If he can't go, redshirt freshman Xavien Howard could make his first start.

The Bottom Line

TCU coach Gary Patterson considers this "our bowl game." The Horned Frogs had a string of eight consecutive bowl appearances snapped when they lost to Kansas State, 33-31, two weeks ago on a last-second field goal.

But the Bears, quite obviously, have a lot more on the line. Despite the loss to OSU, Baylor can stake claim to at least part of its first-ever Big 12 championship with wins over TCU this week and next Saturday's grand finale against Texas (8-3, 7-1) at The Case.

And if OSU happens to slip up against Oklahoma in The Bedlam Rivalry the same day Baylor plays Texas, the Bears could still win their first outright league title in 33 years.

"We know that there's still a lot to play for," Petty said. "That game last Saturday definitely doesn't define us. . . . This is a special team, still is. One loss doesn't make it not a special team or not a great team. It's about what you do after your loss that makes you a great team. And I think we're going to prove that, for sure."

Even though there's obviously no love lost between these two schools - dating back to the Southwest Conference breakup and TCU feeling it got "left behind" - Patterson said, "The cool thing about seeing Baylor do it is that it's not the traditional power. It raises the level for everybody. Every university has a chance to win a conference title"

Maybe that was a backhanded compliment, but I'll take it.

The main thing for the Bears is not letting one loss become two. As long as they're not lingering in the past, they've got more than enough firepower to get past TCU and make next Saturday against Texas a meaningful and memorable game.

"Deep down in my heart, I know our guys want to make up for what happened in Stillwater," senior All-American offensive guard Cyril Richardson said. "We preach (putting losses behind you) and stuff like that all the time. Now is the time to practice what we preach."