How does a 27 point win seem unimpressive? Watch the SMU/Baylor Game and see an unimpressive 27 point win unfold. So what did the Mustangs and Bears show us on Saturday afternoon? That they both need work.
Red Zone Issues
SMU had four trips inside the Baylor 15 yard line and came away with six points. As someone correctly noted on twitter, the Bears brought field goals to a touchdown fight. What's worse, SMU's defense was playing the half of its life while Baylor was trying to give the game away.
The Mustangs four trips turned into two field goals and two interceptions. For the most part SMU executed a smart offensive game plan with a backup quarterback making his first start. Chad Morris did a great job of cutting down the playbook and letting Ben Hicks do the things he did well, however in the redone, with the field compressed the Mustangs executed poorly.
Hicks missed two open receivers that could have extended drives, the Mustangs were flagged for offensive interference after a pick play went bad and Hicks threw two interceptions, one that Baylor returned into SMU territory, flipping the field. SMU missed Matt Davis in the red zone with his ability to run on Saturday.
If SMU were to accomplish a signature win, the Mustangs needed to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns.
Baylor Played a Terrible Half of Football
Baylor's first half of football on Saturday was the worst half of football the Bears have played in almost seven years. Seth Russell looked lost, missing open receivers, and turning the ball over. Baylor lacked a significant running game for most of the first half and, as has been there history, committed a slew of dumb penalties. Chad Morris out-coached the Jim Grobe/Kendal Briles/Phil Bennett triumvirate. Morris' offense put the Bears on the back foot early and kept them off balance.
The result was a 6-6 tie at the half, SMU never took advantage of the Bears first half impotence.
The Bears rectified a lot of those issues in the second half. Baylor's opening drive of the second half featured fourth down conversions and a more physical presence. Baylor's superior athletes eventually took over.
If the Seth Russell from Saturday lingers into the conference slate the Bears are in trouble. Russell finished the game going 26-47 with two picks. Russell was 15-28 in the first half After two games the "Number One Offense in America" is 100th in passing yards among FBS teams. Baylor's explosive plays were non-existent and Russell missed open receivers downfield. It looks like Russell's arm strength could be an issue as he under threw several deep targets.
Courtland Sutton is Good
In terms of a bright side, there's a lot to be optimistic about for SMU. Courtland Sutton is special. Tall, physical, fast, he looks like a Sunday player. Sutton caught six ball for 112 yards and a touchdown and almost caught a second.
Look at this route...
Sutton turned Davion Hall inside out. Again, for a big man, he's agile and difficult in space. He uses his body to make catches at an elite level.
We think he should have had a second TD or at least replay should have taken a look. Here's the play...
Doubtful you could overturn it but Sutton looked like he had control going out of the end zone and that left foot stabs inside the yellow. We were shocked replay didn't at least take a second look at it.
SMU's Open Field Tackling and Run Fits Were Much Better
SMU's defense was Cottonelle soft in 2015, the Baylor game shows that things might be turning on the Hilltop. Baylor's pace and space spread is designed to isolate defenders while getting the ball into the hands of playmakers. For modern defenses, tackling in space is critical for play to play success. Because offenses spread teams to the boundary, one missed tackle turns into a track meet. SMU, especially in the first half did a great job of keeping the Bears in front of them and making sure open field tackles.
SMU's corners and safeties did a great job of coming downhill and wrapping up and in the words of the great Chris Spielman, "bringing their feet." SMU's tackling show a marked improvement over years past.
The Mustangs also did a very good job of attacking Baylor's run game. The Bears for all their spread it out formations are a power run team and if they can run on you they will. All day. SMU's front seven and secondary, especially their safeties did a great job with their run fit and limiting yards after contact.
That's great run fit, redirection of a back to the boundary, and open field tackling. The Roundup officially has a football crush on Darrion Millines, the Mustang's senior safety who stuck his nose in all afternoon and made some great open field tackles. Millines ended the game with ten tackles, a pick, and two pass break ups. That's putting in a shift.
You Play to Win the Game
A brief aside for a pet peeve. Chad Morris is in a game against a top 25 opponent on the road, his defense is playing well, his offense is moving the ball. He knows he can't keep Baylor's offense under wraps for 60 minutes and he surely knows he needs touchdowns and not field goals. So here we go, up 6-3, early second quarter, the Mustangs drive into Baylor territory, Ben Hicks takes a sack and gives the Mustangs a fourth and eight from Baylor's 34 yard line. The Roundup isn't into the elimination of the punt altogether, but inside an opponents territory, with college punters, your likely only giving up 10 to 15 yards of field position. That's the case here...
So at the end of the day, you gain fourteen yards. The analytics guys would say you don't punt here and they're right. More importantly in the words of Herm Edwards "You play to win the GAME!" You won't get another shot at this Baylor team in these circumstances. Your team is playing well, they made two trips inside the 15 and Baylor is going to start scoring at some point, go for it here, screw 14 yards. Go try and win the game in front of you against a superior opponent on the road on National TV.