With Baylor setting a blistering pace, spread offenses have ruled the Big 12 for the last decade.
No huddles, uber-fast tempos and speed all over the field have made the Big 12 the nation’s premier offensive league. Offenses have left defenses in the dust and blindly searching for answers.
First-year Baylor coach Matt Rhule wants to keep scoring tons of points, but don’t expect the Bears to run plays at the same tempo as Art Briles’ squads. The Bears will still operate a spread offense but will mix in elements of a pro-style attack to give them the option of playing power football.
Fullbacks and tight ends? They’re not extinct in Rhule’s world.
“They were lightning fast,” Rhule said. “I don’t think we’ll be at the same tempo. I think we’ll be a team that mixes its tempos, as opposed to a team that just goes ultra all the time. I think a lot of teams that were once all-fast have kind of gone to that, kind of mixing the tempos a little bit. But that will be our philosophy.”
The Bears ranked among the highest scoring teams in the country during the Briles era. Dropping 50 on outmanned defenses was routine. But the offense often scored so fast that Baylor’s defense got few breaks. The Bears were also among the most heavily penalized teams in the country.
Rhule wants to see a more disciplined team on the field and has emphasized crisp, efficient play during preseason drills. Baylor averaged a nation’s worst 82.15 penalty yards per game last season. In sharp contrast, Rhule’s Temple squad ranked 21st in fewest penalty yards with 43.1 per game.
“I want us to be a team that doesn’t beat itself,” Rhule said. “I think we (Baylor) averaged about 10 penalties a game last year. That to me is a habit in practice. I want to see guys doing the right thing in practice even if they’re going to get beat, and show real competitiveness.”
It remains to be seen exactly what the offense will look like when the Bears open the season against Liberty on Sept. 2 at McLane Stadium.
During the spring game, the Bears ran mostly spread formations and showed some pro-style looks. The ratio of spread to pro-style formations could depend on who the Bears play and game situations.
Baylor’s co-offensive coordinators Jeff Nixon and Glenn Thomas both have NFL backgrounds. Nixon coached in the pros 10 years, mentoring the San Francisco 49ers tight ends last year, the Miami Dolphins running backs from 2011-15 and working with the Philadelphia Eagles offense from 2007-10.
Thomas was Rhule’s offensive coordinator for the last two seasons at Temple. But he was previously an offensive assistant for the Atlanta Falcons from 2008-14, including the final three seasons as the quarterbacks coach where he mentored Matt Ryan.
“He (Nixon) is going to be the play caller and I’m just trying to provide as much structure and support as I can to him,” Thomas said. “We bounce ideas off each other. There’s no egos. He wants to move the ball just like anybody. We have a lot of experience in our room at both the college and NFL levels. So there’s a lot of ideas floating around. At the end of the day we’re just trying to put our guys in the best position to be successful.”
With both the spread and pro-style formations in the mix, Baylor’s playbook is thick and packed with details. The coaches expect the offensive players to know their playbook and Baylor’s defensive playbook.
It’s a lot to soak in, but sophomore quarterback Zach Smith likes to have a lot of options to choose from and has enjoyed picking the brains of the co-offensive coordinators.
“They’re great guys, they’re super intelligent, they know exactly what they’re talking about,” Smith said. “They’ve got tons of experience in the NFL and stuff like that. I’m really looking forward to going into the season with all this knowledge they have given to us.”
The Baylor coaches will have some options with their trio of scholarship quarterbacks. Smith has an NFL arm, Arizona graduate transfer Anu Solomon possesses good accuracy and mobility, and freshman Charlie Brewer set a national record by completing 77.4 percent of his passes as a senior at Lake Travis High School.
“I was in the NFL for seven years and Zach's got as good an arm as anyone I’ve seen in the NFL as far as spinning the ball and ball strength,” Thomas said. “Anu is in a different stage in his life than both of those kids as far as experience he’s had in college football. He’s got arm talent, he can spin the ball, he’s got some athleticism.”
Just because Nixon and Thomas have NFL backgrounds doesn’t mean they’ll run a pro-style offense most of the time. Rhule wants to utilize the abundance of speed in Baylor’s receiving corps. The spread offense will give players like Denzel Mims, Blake Lynch, Jared Atkinson and R.J. Sneed chances to show their skills.
Rhule also likes the talent he has at tight end with senior Jordan Feuerbacher and former basketball player Ish Wainright leading the way.
With the option of the pro-style offense, the Bears can play power football when the need arises. Terence Williams is a big, powerful back who is coming off a 1,048-yard season. JaMycal Hasty and freshman Johnathan Lovett will bring versatility to the backfield mix.
Since the majority of Big 12 teams run the spread, it could be difficult to prepare for Baylor’s pro-style attack.
“Obviously, Coach Rhule and I at Temple last year had a lot of success with that and leaned on that a lot there,” Thomas said. “The majority of the teams run the spread stuff now, so that (pro-style offense) is a unique scheme that people have to spend some time game planning to get ready for.”