Waco, Texas Baylor University football coach Art Briles has a pretty unique philosophy when it comes preparing for games.
“Really, each week’s the start of a new season,” Briles said Sunday during a telephone interview with the media. “What we’re trying to do is just keep improving. This season, we’re playing Kansas. What has happened in the past will be looked upon in December, but what we have to do (now) is just keep getting better and stay focused. Apply all the energy and focus on getting after the Kansas Jayhawks this week.”
That shouldn’t be difficult considering the fact that today’s game — 11 a.m. kickoff at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas — is the Big 12 opener for both Baylor (3-1) and Kansas (2-2) and features a Baylor team that seems poised to turn in its best season in years.
The Bears started 3-1 in three of the past five seasons but were unable to win more than five games in any of those seasons.
There are many reasons why many people are expecting that to change in 2010. For starters, third-year sophomore quarterback Robert Griffin III has returned from a season-ending ACL injury, which he suffered in the third game of 2009, and he appears stronger than ever. His dynamic run-pass potential creates nightmares for opposing defenses and has given the Bears one of the most feared offensive attacks in the Big 12.
For Briles, though, winning football games is about more than having a flashy quarterback who can keep plays alive and make miracles out of even the most poorly executed plays. It’s about finding common ground on both sides of the ball and showing up ready to play each week, regardless of the opponent.
“When I think about identity, I think of it as a team identity, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Briles said. “I understand that we’re four games into the season, but I feel like we’re still growing as a football team and still trying to determine how people view us. I know how we want to be viewed and how we need to be viewed as a fast, physical, aggressive, tough football team. That’s the way that we’re going to have to play if we want to fulfill our goals.”
While some on the outside remain skeptical, Briles has had no trouble getting his players to buy into his philosophy.
“Every week is an improvement,” sophomore offensive lineman Cameron Kaufhold said. “We spend a lot of time on film each week pointing out things and being critical of ourselves and (pointing) out what we did wrong and what we need to fix. Even with a victory like last Saturday (30-13 vs. Rice), we still go in and critique ourselves and try to fix every problem we have.”
Like any team, the Bears have plenty of weaknesses. The ground game remains a work in progress, and the defense is still fighting to become consistent enough for BU to compete in the ultra-tough Big 12 South. Both areas showed progress during the nonconference portion of the schedule, much to Briles’ liking.
“I think we’re doing better,” said Briles, asked about the running game. “I think we have to continue to do better. If you can run the football and control the clock a little bit and control the tempo, it certainly helps you in all phases of the game. It helps your defense, too. Our offensive line is starting to get a little identity. We have to be a tough, physical football team that can pound the ball a little bit when we need to or have to, and it all starts with them. They are getting better so we’re running the ball better.”
Improvement in both areas, as well as continued excellence on offense, figures to be all the more important in the coming weeks. The BU players are more than aware of that, and they talked, earlier this week, about stepping it up for the Big 12.
“We always turn it up for conference,” junior nose tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste said. “It’s a whole different level now. It’s a whole new level at practice even.”
Added Kaufhold: “The nonconference is just getting tuned up and preparing for conference play. All the cards are on the table when it comes to conference. We can’t hold anything back now.”
Baylor leads the all-time series against Kansas, 5-4. Last time these two teams faced each other came in 2007, when the nationally ranked Jayhawks moved to 6-0 on the season by pounding Baylor, 58-10, in Lawrence.
The last time these two met in Waco, KU saw a 35-17 fourth-quarter lead slip away, as Baylor scored 19 points in the final nine minutes to claim a 36-35 victory.