Baylor Vs. Washington, Alamo Bowl 2011: Defense Optional

WACO, TX - DECEMBER 03: Robert Griffin III #10 of the Baylor Bears looks to pass during a game against the Texas Longhorns at Floyd Casey Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Waco, Texas. (Photo by Sarah Glenn/Getty Images)

Washington has a special teams edge and gets to play against the Baylor defense -- always a good remedy for what was an ailing offense -- but Baylor has Robert Griffin III and a track team in the receiving corps. Unless Griffin has been hitting the Banquet Food Circuit ... Edge: Baylor.

NOTE: Confused? See the quick glossary at the bottom.

I have an aunt who, despite living in Texas for most of her life, has somehow never really thrown herself into football. Or, she hadn't. Her husband, a Baylor alum, bought season tickets for the first time this year, and about midway through Baylor's home win over TCU, she was hooked. Completely and totally hooked. Such is the power of Robert Griffin III. Tonight might perhaps be the final time we get to see Hot Tub in the green and gold. Prepare accordingly.

Team Record AP Rank 2011 F/+ Rk 2011 Off.
F/+ Rk
2011 Def.
F/+ Rk
2011 S.T.
F/+ Rk
Baylor 9-3 15 36 2 95 105
Washington 7-5 NR 64 44 97 25
Team Pace Rk Covariance Rk MACtion Rk Schizophrenia Rk
Baylor 11 106 74 46
Washington 101 83 5 68

While Baylor may have stolen most of the headlines in this matchup thanks to their Superman quarterback, if the Washington of the first half of the season shows up, this could be a dynamite game. After a near-disaster in their opener against Eastern Washington, the Huskies played well enough over the next five weeks to find themselves ranked in the F/+ Top 40 heading into their October 22 game versus Stanford. But they lost four of six to end the season, limping only to wins over Washington State and Arizona. Their ranking fell almost 30 spots. Meanwhile, Baylor surged to wins over Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas to finish the season. Luckily for the Huskies, momentum tends to stem over the bowl break. Less lucky: Robert Griffin III does still have at least one more game in a Baylor uniform.

When Baylor Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Baylor Offense 2 3 1 4 6 12 3
Washington Defense 97 89 94 92 79 92 74
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Baylor Offense 60.5% 5 36.0% 4
Washington Defense 49.2% 52 38.6% 106
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Your conundrum of the day: how in the world does an opponent face almost as many rushes on passing downs as on standard downs? Opponents chose to pass 20 percent more than average against Washington on standard downs, but in the face of, presumably, a lot of blitzing, had no problem running draws all day on passing downs. The Huskies' overall statistics suggest that there was no need to overthink things -- Washington ranked 100th in Adj. Sack Rate, so they weren't going to get to the quarterback even while blitzing, and it seems opponents had plenty of weaknesses from which to choose, either on the ground or through the air.

There is decent talent on the line, at least against the run (337-pound Alameda Ta'amu is a solid tackle who posted seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks), but if Ta'amu or a linebacker like Cort Dennison or Princeton Fuimaono were not making a big play (they combined for 15 tackles for loss, 11 of which were not sacks), then the odds were good that the run was going a long way, especially on passing downs.

This is generally bad news for a team facing Baylor. The Bears have a deep, speedy receiving corps, but even if Washington is able to remove the long ball from the equation, Griffin is smart and accurate enough with the ball to reel in solid gains on underneath routes. And he can always turn and hand the ball to Terrance Ganaway as well. The 240-pound senior from De Kalb showed jarring breakaway speed at times in 2011. He was terribly hit-or-miss (he averaged 3.3 yards per carry versus Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma and 7.8 per carry versus Iowa State, Missouri, Texas Tech and Texas), but opposing running backs tend to hit versus the Huskies. Nebraska ran for 309 yards versus U-Dub, Stanford for 446, Oregon for 212 and USC for 252.

Still, the star is Griffin. His 2011 stats should be framed and put in the Spread Offense Hall Of Fame: 267-for-369 passing (72 percent), 3,998 yards, 36 touchdowns, six interceptions. And he threw in 777 pre-sack rushing yards for good measure. His top three receivers averaged 11.6 (Kendall Wright), 12.3 (Terrance Williams) and 12.3 (Tevin Reese) yards per target, and his No. 4 (Lanear Sampson) 'only' averaged 9.8. All had at least a 70 percent catch rate, and all averaged at least 13.7 yards per catch. They are fast and deadly, and unfortunately for Washington, Desmond Trufant (two interceptions, 13 passes broken up) can only cover one of them. Unless Griffin has hit the Banquet Food circuit hard like Troy Smith allegedly did, it is difficult to imagine the Huskies slowing the Bears down much; the Bears gained at least 500 yards in 10 games and at least 425 in all 12.

When Washington Has The Ball…

Team F/+
Rk
S&P+
Rk
FEI
Rk
Success
Rt+ Rk
PPP+
Rk
Rushing
S&P+ Rk
Passing
S&P+ Rk
Washington Offense 44 35 33 31 39 51 28
Baylor Defense 95 78 86 67 80 58 86
Team Std. Downs
Run %
S.D.
S&P+ Rk
Pass. Downs
Run %
P.D.
S&P+ Rk
Washington Offense 55.8% 38 32.7% 27
Baylor Defense 55.7% 93 29.0% 60
National Average 69.1% 30.9%

Washington's best bet in this game is ball control. The Huskies have a reasonably effective offense of their own, and their leisurely pace between plays will certainly come in handy. It would help, however, if early-season Chris Polk made the trip to San Antonio. The junior rushed for 1,341 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2011, but he averaged only 4.1 yards per carry over his last five contests and recorded just one rush of over 20 yards in that span. Granted, four yards a pop can help Washington grind out longer drives, but you do still need to score points, too. The incredibly explosive Polk of October (against Utah, Colorado and Stanford, he rushed for 450 yards at 7.3 yards per carry) hasn't made an appearance in a while. But both he and quarterback Keith Price may have benefited from a little bit of time off.

Keith Price enjoyed two distinct seasons himself. Over the first six games, Price completed 69 percent of his passes for 8.6 yards per pass and threw 21 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. The next five: 63 percent, 6.9 yards per pass, five touchdowns, seven interceptions and a knee injury. He rebounded against Washington State, however, and with some time to lick his wounds, he should find plenty of opportunities to post nice stats against a Baylor defense that has been less than impressive, especially against the pass.

As poor as Washington's defense may have been in 2011, Baylor's was as bad or worse. The Bears allowed fewer than 400 yards in just two contests all season (granted, some of that has to do with the number of plays run in Baylor games, but still), allowed 11.8 yards per pass over their last three games (one of which was against pass-challenged Texas), and, perhaps most egregiously, they allowed Kansas to gain more against them (404 yards, 30 points) than Kansas did against Texas A&M and Missouri combined (334 yards, 17 points). They recorded only 58 tackles for loss and 19 sacks, eight and three of which came from end Tevin Elliott, who will miss the game with a wonky knee. They have solid speed, but they give up far too many big plays. If Washington is dialed in, they will indeed have a chance to control the ball and limit Baylor's opportunities.

The Verdict

Baylor by 6.9.

Kansas State beat Baylor by hoarding the ball, grinding the clock a bit, winning the turnover battle, and raising the level of their defensive attack late in the game. If Washington wins, they will probably have to use the same tactics. (Then again, if "win the turnover battle" were actually a tactic, everybody would employ it.) Both offenses in this competition have a serious advantage over the opposing defense, and Washington has a significant special teams advantage, but in the end, Baylor has the speed and the Heisman, and that's why they maintain the edge. My aunt should leave San Antonio happy.

--------------------

A Quick Glossary

Covariance: This tells us whether a team tends to play up or down to their level of competition. A higher ranking means a team was more likely to play well against bad teams while struggling (relatively speaking) against good ones. (So in a way, lower rankings are better.) For more, go here.

F/+ Rankings: The official rankings for the college portion of Football Outsiders. They combine my own S&P+ rankings (based on play-by-play data) with Brian Fremeau's drives-based FEI rankings.

MACtion: This is a look at how closely teams are associated with big-play football (like those high-scoring, mid-week MAC games). Teams that rank high on the MACtion scale play games with a ton of both big plays (gained and allowed) and passing downs. For more, go here.

Pace: This is calculated by going beyond simply who runs the most plays. Teams that pass more are naturally inclined to run more plays (since there are more clock stoppages involved), so what we do here is project how many plays a team would typically be expected to run given their run-pass ratio, then compare their actual plays to expectations. Teams, then, are ranked in order from the most plays above the expected pace, to the least.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.

S&P+: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rates, a common Football Outsiders efficiency measure that basically serves as on-base percentage. The 'P' stands for PPP+, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. The "+" means it has been adjusted for the level of opponent, obviously a key to any good measure in college football. S&P+ is measured for all non-garbage time plays in a given college football game. Plays are counted within the following criteria: when the score is within 28 points in the first quarter, within 24 points in the second quarter, within 21 points in the third quarter, and within 16 points (i.e. two possession) in the fourth quarter. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders.

Schizophrenia: This measures how steady a team's performances are throughout the course of a full season. Teams with a higher ranking tend to be extremely unpredictable from week to week. For more, go here.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

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