Baylor – Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium Preview

image: © Lyn Caudle

image: © Lyn Caudle

Jerryworld, Texas sees yet another dosage of NCAA action this weekend as Art Briles’ undefeated Baylor Bears take on Kliff Kingsbury’s 7-3 Texas Tech Red Raiders.

The Red Raiders started the season off on a hot streak, winning their first seven games. The tides changed after a close game in Norman against the Sooners, the first of their three consecutive losses. Now sitting at 7-3, Tech are bowl eligible and don’t really have anything to lose from their last two games, where they can but a huge dent in the season of both Baylor and Texas.

As for Baylor, it’s very simple. Their offense is the best in college football, with the third highest passing yards (390.6 per game), the ninth highest rushing yards (295.4 per game) and the highest scoring in the nation (61 points per game). However, it’s starting to wear on them , with senior receiver Tevin Reese(#16)  out for the rest of the season with a dislocated wrist and junior running back Lache Seastrunk(#25) suffering from a leg injury in last week’s win over Oklahoma.

Both Reese and Seastrunk entered the season as both Baylor’s best offensive weapons and potential future draft picks, with Seastrunk heavily in contention for being the best running  back in the draft, but struggled against the two good teams Baylor have faced so far in Kansas State and Oklahoma.

ESPN’s Craig Smoak reported that Seastrunk and fellow senior running back Glasco Martin(#8) are both “probable at best” for Sunday’s game in Arlington.

As for Reese, he still leads the nation in yards per catch (with 15+ receptions) and scored eight touchdowns, but has been slightly overshadowed by junior Antwan Goodley (#5), who leads the team in touchdowns and receiving yards this year. That being said, Goodley is no slouch opposite Reese, who is both a) an absolute freak and b) putting that freakish ability to good use.

Reese’s season ending injury may open up the door for junior receiver Levi Norwood or the highly recruited freshman Robbie Rhodes, who hasn’t seen the field as much as anticipated.

Art Briles has slowly developed this Baylor offense and has turned it into an NFL wide receiver factory. In the past two years, Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon and Terrence Williams have gone on to not only be drafted in the NFL, but have made a profound impact in the short time they have been there:

– Kendall Wright leads the Tennessee Titans with 50 receptions this year. The second leading receiver have 29 receptions.

– Despite missing the first two games of the season through suspension, Josh Gordon is still having a breakout year. In the seven games he has played in, Gordon is averaging five receptions and 89 receiving yards and has given the Browns their first legitimate receiver since a 2007 Braylon Edwards.

– Terrence Williams has already taken advantage of Miles Austin’s glass Hamstrings to assert himself as the starting receiver across from Dez Bryant, scoring five touchdowns in the last six games.

It’s one of the many reasons why Art Briles was offered, and signed, a new ten year deal. Another reason is this statistic: Since joining the Big 12 in 1996, Baylor had either finished last or second last in the South conference.

Each year.

That’s 14 years of failure and misery.

Art Briles changed that.

After his first two years ended in 4-8 seasons, Briles has since gone 33-14. That’s an incredible difference seeing as the 12 years before Briles arrived, Baylor went 35-101.

Oh, and you can also thank Art Briles for Baylor’s new stadium which opens next year. Yes, just like Baylor’s offense, it’s ridiculously good, much to the joy of Baylor fans.

The offense all runs through junior quarterback Bryce Petty. Though far from the complete package, Petty has put up great numbers in his first year as a starter, throwing 21 touchdowns and just one interception in 202 attempts. Though not the scrambler Robert Griffin III or Nick Florence was, Petty can still be a threat with his legs, already rushing for eight touchdowns. Petty won’t declare for the draft this year but could be an interesting prospect for the 2015 draft if he should continue to develop in Waco.

And we can’t preview the Baylor offense without talking about the consensus best guard in the nation Cyril Richardson (#68). Richardson is an old school mauler of a guard who stonewalls anything which tries to come through him. As a run blocker, you will regularly see number 68 driving his man five yards backwards. Richardson has the aggressiveness in his blocking that makes him a great guard prospect in the NFL. Look for him to be a late first round-early second round pick in April.

It’s unfair to place all the credit on Baylor’s offense because their defense is just as good.

Just to showcase exactly how good the Baylor defense is, here are how they stack up in major defensive categories, according to CFBstats.com.

Scoring  defense – 15.4 points per game (7th best in the nation)

Rush defense – 3.0 average yards per carry (6th)

Pass defense – 173.9 yards per game (8th)

Total defense – 4.08 yards per play (2nd)

Third down defense – 31.69% conversion rate (13th)

8.88 tackles for loss per game (2nd)

3.00 sacks per game (t12th)

In case you missed the point, Baylor have one of the best defenses in the nation across the board. They really show no weaknesses and have taken down run heavy opponents (Kansas State) and pass heavy opponents (Louisiana-Monroe).

The star of the defense is senior Ahmad Dixon(#6). The hard hitting safety has been a key player on the Baylor defense and figures to be a top five safety in this year’s draft. Sophomore defensive lineman Shawn Oakman(#2) is third in the Big 12 with 12 tackles for a loss through eight games. Senior Eddie Lackey(#5) and junior Bryce Hager(#44) lead the team in tackles and provide a solid core at the heart of the defense. The defense isn’t filled with superstars and future first round picks, but you could make a case that their chemistry and discipline is the best in college football.

The only arguing point you could make against Baylor is they haven’t played a good team, despite their demolition of the #10 ranked Oklahoma Sooners last week. But the Bears face a very different Big 12 opponent this week in Texas Tech and 56.7 pass attempts per game under the most handsome coach in college football, Kliff Kingsbury.

Kingsbury and the Red Raiders started the season off hot, but are coming into Saturday’s game off a three game losing streak. With two freshmen “starters” at quarterback in Davis Webb and Baker Mayfield, the only thing you can be sure of is that whichever quarterback is in the game, they’ll be throwing the ball a lot. Texas Tech doesn’t run the spread offense like most teams do; they milk the ball with short throws and screens, looking to matriculate the ball down the field rather than an Air Raid attack.

To run that kind of offense, you need a big weapon in the passing game. Texas Tech have that in my early Man Crush prospect of the year, Jace Amaro(#22).

Read as much into that as you want, previous Man Crushes have included Eric Decker, Ryan Broyles, Marvin Austin, Harrison Smith, Lamar Miller and Markus Wheaton. Hit and miss to say the least.

The comparison you’ll be hearing between now and the draft is Jace Amaro is like Jimmy Graham. Their build is similar; Amaro is around 6’5” and 265lbs, Graham is 6’7” and 265lbs. They are both comfortable playing as a Y receiver and both are an incredible mismatch against linebackers and safeties alike.

But from watching Amaro, you can see he’s more powerful that Graham. Amaro still needs work blocking, especially from a three point stance, but he can still delivers big blocks on occasions. As a junior, the word from Amaro has always been that he’d be returning for Lubbock for his senior year, but a tweet before last weekend’s Senior Game has NFL teams on alert.

Ultimately, I’m not sure what good staying at Tech for another year could do Amaro. He’ll get more game time and there will be more film tow watch but teams will still have the same concerns about him when entering the draft.

I’d like to see Amaro more in a three point stance but that’s not how Kliff Kingsbury uses him. I’d also like to know about his lack of touchdowns in the redzone. For someone that big not to be used or have production like a Jimmy Graham or Calvin Johnson in the redzone is perplexing to say the least. And finally, I’d like to see him as a more consistent blocker, but that applies to almost all tight ends when leaving college.

He’s not going to be the fastest tight end but I see a team like New England who could really benefit from going back to their two tight end sets who could use a late first round pick on him. He’s not NFL ready just yet, but neither was Jimmy Graham when the Saints got him in the 3rd in 2010. Neither was Jordan Cameron when the Browns drafted him in the fourth round in 2011. Amaro has huge potential and a huge ceiling for a guy who only played 13 games in his first two years at Texas Tech.

As for the rest of the Texas Tech team, it’ll be a few more years before we see more prospects. One late round prospect to keep an eye on is Kerry Hyder(#91). Upon becoming head coach, Kliff Kingsbury installed a 3-4 defenses for the Red Raiders and Hyder has blossomed ever since, recording 10.5 tackles for a loss and giving the defense a standout player. If Hyder can continue his progression as a 3-4 defensive end, he may warrant consideration for a late round pick come May.

As for the game itself, Texas Tech’s only real hope of turning this game into a competitive one is for their offense to be clicking and to turn this game into a shootout. However, Baylor has a fantastic defense and should be able to shut down the Red Raider offense. Watch out for the Ahmad Dixon – Jace Amaro battle as Baylor should look to put their best defender on the currently unstoppable Amaro.

Follow me on Twitter: @lukecarlton6

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