As much as everyone, myself included, has dumped on Baylor for its soft nonconference schedule, some critical bits of evidence have surfaced illustrating why these Bears aren’t ready for a step up in competition.
Not yet at least.
Exhibit A: the SMU game. Exhibit B: Saturday night against Lamar.
Yeah, I know, Baylor has won these first two games by a combined 70 points. But the Bears’ performances weren’t anything close to clean. They weren’t in the same area code as clean. Once again on Saturday, the game looked like it was directed by Martin Scorsese, with lyrics by Ice Cube. Which is to say explicit – parental guidance advised.
For games against legwarmers like SMU, Lamar and Rice, the objective is for Baylor to work on Baylor. Given how sloppy the on-field product has been, it’s clear that Baylor’s work on Baylor is very much a work in progress.
Again, I get it. It may seem like nagging to criticize a team that has won games by scores of 56-21 and 66-31. Well, tough. Call me a nag. Such is the level of expectation for the fourth-ranked team in the nation.
Besides, if you think the Bears can play that ragged and beat anybody any good, you’re drinking a lot more than green-and-gold Kool Aid in your tailgate tumbler.
I’m not the only one saying it, either.
“Honestly, it didn’t feel like a good win,” Baylor quarterback Seth Russell said. “Defense fought their butts off. I give all the credit to them, they kept us in the game. But for some reason the second quarter seems to be our Achilles heel the last couple of games.”
It wasn’t just the second quarter. If Baylor plays like that against an Alabama or an Ohio State or a Michigan State, it probably doesn’t win at all. (Sorry to bring up Michigan State, Bear fans. Too soon?)
Russell must learn to better protect the ball if the Bears want to contend for a third straight Big 12 championship. I’ve said all along that it’s not fair to Russell to just expect him to roll in there and be the next Robert Griffin, the next Nick Florence, the next Bryce Petty. He needs time to reveal himself to be the first Seth Russell. Even with all the mopup time he has received over the past couple of seasons, the simple fact is that Russell was making just his third career start against Lamar.
He is still learning, and it shows. It especially showed on his four turnovers – three interceptions and a lost fumble.
“The interceptions, all three of those were on me,” Russell said. “I can’t make those dumb decisions, especially in bigger games.”
Don’t forget that Russell made some splendid plays, too. The vast majority of the teams in the Big 12, maybe the country, would love to have this guy on their team. His effort was merely uneven.
“As good as he was good, that’s as bad as he was bad,” Baylor coach Art Briles said.
Russell isn’t the only Bear that must get better. As a team, Baylor absolutely has to figure out how to play with more discipline. Twenty-five penalties in two weeks isn’t championship-level stuff. Flags killed the Bears in their losses to West Virginia and Michigan State last year. They’ve got to get those mistakes cleaned up. At this rate, Six Flags over Texas is bound to open a new amusement park in Waco called Sixteen Flags over Baylor, complete with the death-defying tower-drop ride, the Title Killer.
Baylor also needs to figure out how to play a game without suspending someone beforehand. No, I’m not being sarcastic. For the second straight week, the Bears played without some key figures, holding out offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and receivers coach Tate Wallis for some spring recruiting violations. That comes back to discipline, too. Program discipline, from the top down.
Baylor still has time to get better. And it probably will.
“You’d love to just be dynamically polished every snap, but I’m not sure that’s reality,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “Through phases of the game, we’ve been that way. You’ve just got to do it over the long haul.”
Over the long haul, the competition will get better. Someday down the road, Baylor’s nonconference schedule should get a heck of a lot tougher, too.
For now, Baylor better be glad that day hasn’t come.