Seth Russell is down, but is Baylor out?
As many of you know, Baylor’s star quarterback Seth Russell is out for the season after suffering a broken bone in his neck in their win against Iowa St. on Saturday. Russell’s injury is going to need surgery, and will require at least six months of recovery time. Luckily enough for Russell and all fans of College Football, this surgery will not be career ending, and we will all get to see the quarterback back in action next year. Now, it is time to ask the question, with remaining games against Kansas St., Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., TCU, and Texas, can Baylor survive?
We all know how talented this Baylor team is. They are currently 7-0, outscoring their opponents 366-177. They scored at least 60 points in five of their first six games (66,70,63,66,62), granted their strength of schedule has not been very difficult (107th in the nation according to ESPN). However, they have still thoroughly dominated in every single game. All of this domination has been lead by Seth Russell. So far on the season, Russell has been exceptional, throwing for 2,104 yards, 29 touchdowns, and only 6 interceptions in 2015. He has a 59.5% completion percentage, and a 91.7 QBR. To say the least, Russell has been special, and he has been the driving force behind their 7-0 first place record in the Big 12.
Russell has incredible touch on his passes, and he possesses a very strong arm. He can make almost any throw on the field, and absolutely loves beating teams with the deep ball. However, this is only half of the story. Russell is able to open so many things up in the passing game because of his ability to run the ball. He is able to run both the read option, and several variations of quarterback draws or powers. This makes him the ideal spread quarterback, which is the style of offense that Baylor is famous for running. His 402 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns make him such a dynamic threat. It is clear that Baylor is losing a lot from Russell’s injury. Will it be too much to overcome?
Will Jarrett Stidham, Russell’s replacement, be able to pick up the slack? If Baylor wants any shot at making the College Football Playoff, he better. Yes, I know that Baylor had a seamless transition going from Bryce Petty to Russell this year, but that was much different, because Russell, a junior, had two years of experience to learn the system under Petty. If there is one thing going for Stidham, it is that Baylor runs the spread, and the spread is rather easy to pick up.
The spread is much more about ability, fast pace, and spreading the field than it is about intelligence and being able to make proper audibles at the line and reading defenses. In the spread, more often than not, plays are being signaled in from the sideline. There are very few checks at the line of scrimmage, and if there are, those are also coming from the sideline. The quarterback is always taking the snap from the shotgun, and speed is the key. The more plays you are able to run, the better. The goal is to wear out the opposing defense by running a hurry up the entire game, running a large mix of quick passess and deep balls, along with the read option.
The spread is the perfect offense for Stidham to come into. Stidham, at 6’3”, 190 pounds, is a dual-threat freshman quarterback. In his senior year of highschool, he threw for 2,934 yards and 35 touchdowns, and more impressively ran for 969 yards and 15 touchdowns. Stidham, who ran a 4.57 40-yard dash coming out of high school, will have to rely heavily on his legs, as well as the high percentage throws. If they run a good mix of read/speed options and short passes, as well as simple halfback draws out of the backfield, defenses should open up enough to where Stidham will be able to test his arm strength and go for the deep balls.
In limited action during blowouts this season, Stidham has been impressive, going 24/28 for 331 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. If this team is going to be successful, they are going to need that play to continue, and get production from the skill positions. Players such as running back Shock Linwood, and receivers Corey Coleman, Jay Lee, and KD Cannon need to step up, especially in their game against TCU, where they are going to have to keep up with the Horned Frogs high-powered offense.
Shock Linwood is going to be the man directly next to Stidham on every single play in the spread, so he is as important as anybody out there. If Stidham is struggling, Art Briles is going to need to be comfortable enough to go to Linwood play after play to move the ball down the field until Stidham gets out of his funk. Linwood has gone for 974 yards and 9 touchdowns so far this season, averaging eight yards per carry, but only 17 carries per game. If Baylor wants to be successful, he’s going to need more carries. Linwood is a short, but stocky back, a north/south runner, and has the ability to break tackles and run through defenders. He is shifty, but does not have great breakaway speed, as he has the ability to get into the second level and have long runs, but he is more often than not getting caught from behind. Nonetheless, he is someone that Baylor is going to have to use in heavy doses going forward.
Corey Coleman is undoubtedly this teams number one receiver, and one of the main team leaders. Coleman is an athletic freak, he is only 5”10’, but he runs a team-best 4.38 40-yard dash. He has a team-best 45.1 inch vertical leap, and a team best 11’3” broad jump. Those are freakish numbers. Coleman is a huge threat on the outside for the Bears. If you put single coverage on him, he will burn you. If you put a cushion zone coverage on him, he will beat you underneath with his great speed and route-running abilities, and he also has the ability to go up in double coverage and get the ball at the highest point, hence his 45.1 vertical leap. Oh, and so far this year, Coleman has 47 receptions for 962 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Going forward, he is going to have to be Stidham’s bailout. He is going to have to win every one-on-one, every jump ball, and get open a lot in order for his team to be successful. With his speed, he has the ability to make plays happen and get several yards after the catch on quick screens. He is going to need to do that, especially early when they are trying to get Stidham comfortable.
When Coleman is not able to get going, Jay Lee (22 receptions, 507 yards, and 6 touchdowns), and KD Cannon (25 receptions, 379 yards, and 3 touchdowns) are going to need to be able to produce. These guys are there to create a balance in the passing game. They have proven that they have the ability to make plays. Coleman, Lee, and Cannon need to take advantage of every opportunity for a big play. They need to catch everything, because with a young quarterback, confidence and rhythm is key.
I have yet to mention Baylor’s defense because they live and die off of their offense. However, this unit is going to need to step up if they want to beat Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., and offensive powerhouse TCU. They run a base 4-3 Cover 4, with the safeties having the ability to play man coverage on the slot receivers. They occasionally mix it up and revert to a 3-man front, which lead them to victory against SMU, holding the Mustangs to just 21 points.
This defense is lead by defensive lineman Shawn Oakman. He is a superhero like figure at 6”9’ and 280 pounds, and holds the title of most the intimidating player in college football. He has 24 tackles and 4 sacks on the season. Simply put, he needs to be better. He is the leader of that defense. If Baylor has a chance against the likes of Baker Mayfield and Trevone Boykin, Oakman is going to need to provide a pass rush. Baylor’s defense is ranked 49th overall in the nation, allowing 231.1 passing yards, 151.3 rushing yards, and 25.1 points per game. That is too much offense going against them, especially against the teams that they have been playing. This defense has to be better.
According to ESPN, Baylor has the 7th toughest strength of schedule in the nation going forward. They play three ranked opponents in Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., and TCU, who all have lethal offenses. TCU is ranked second in the nation behind Baylor, but without Russell, can Baylor match them? In last years shootout, Baylor topped TCU 61-58 at home. Will Stidham be able to match Boykin score for score? Baylor is going to need to put a spy on Boykin, and shut down Josh Doctson. Also, don’t take Baker Mayfield lightly, because he can damage this Baylor defense. If Baylor wants to stay undefeated and make it to the Playoff, they are going to need to continue producing points, and their defense is going to need to shut TCU and Oklahoma down as much as possible.