Five noteworthy numbers from Baylor’s 2019 season
photo by: Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune-Herald via AP
For the second game in a row, the Kansas football team won’t have 2020 tape on its upcoming opponent.
There is a certain level of mystery regarding the Baylor Bears ahead of the Big 12 opener, perhaps more than usual for a team coming off an 11-win season. Baylor, which lost in the Big 12 championship game a year ago, has a new head coach after Matt Rhule left the program to take over the Carolina Panthers in the NFL.
Dave Aranda, who is the 28th head coach in program history, replaced Rhule in January after spending the previous four seasons as defensive coordinator at LSU. To add even more unknown to this football team, Baylor has yet to play a game in 2020 after its season opener was canceled due to COVID-19.
As a result, Kansas (0-1) doesn’t have a lot of information to go on when preparing for this week’s matchup, which is slated to take place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium. So for the purpose of this blog, 2019 statistics will have to be used again to get more background on the Bears.
Similar to what I did for Coastal Carolina in the season opener, this will be five noteworthy numbers from Baylor’s 2019 season using NCAA Premium Stats over at Pro Football Focus. I tried to focus on statistics involving returners to help give KU fans a better idea of what to expect this weekend.
Let’s just start with the quarterback
It is usually the position most football fans want to focus on first, so let’s look into a few key numbers from Charlie Brewer’s junior campaign. Brewer has the second-highest PFF grade among returning signal callers in the Big 12, behind only Sam Ehlinger of Texas.
Brewer threw for 3,161 total yards on 215-of-389 passing with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions a season ago. A majority of his success came from RPOs (run-pass option) and play-action passes. In fact, Brewer has the third-highest PFF grade (86.4) on RPOs since 2018. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence actually leads the way in that department with a grade of 90.5
In addition to all that, Brewer has a knack for making plays with his legs. Brewer posted a PFF rushing grade of 74.4 last year, while picking 47 first downs in 13 games on quarterback keepers. He went for 10 or more yards on 16 of his runs in 2019, including four such plays against Texas in Week 13.
KU’s defense will likely be put in a lot of run-pass conflicts this weekend.
Baylor’s dynamic duo at cornerback
The Bears rolled past the Jayhawks for a 61-6 win last season, so there were plenty of high PFF grades to go around. But Baylor’s best performance came in coverage, where it posted an 80.3 PFF grade against KU. And that wasn’t just a one-time thing.
Baylor had three different games with a grade of 80 or higher in coverage. The secondary figures to be a strength for the Bears this fall, with some notable returners coming back to help solidify the back end of that defense.
Despite losing a pair of talented safeties from last year’s unit, Baylor has a strong cornerback tandem of Kalon Barnes and Raleigh Texada coming back. The duo posted PFF coverage grades of 75.6 and 73.1, respectively, during a 14-game season last fall.
Barnes, who is a former receiver, is actually the highest-graded returning cornerback in the Big 12. Both players have a lot of speed at their position, and will be able to keep up with KU’s receivers on Saturday.
Bears tackled poorly in last year’s win against KU
Since we covered an area where Baylor had success against Kansas, let’s take a look at one category that the Bears could clean up this weekend.
Per PFF, the Bears had a tackling grade of just 43.3 in their lopsided win over the Jayhawks. It was the team’s worst performance in that department all season, though Baylor had three other games where it posted a tackling grade lower than 50.
It is interesting to note that the Week 1 version of this blog also pointed out Coastal Carolina had trouble tackling Kansas in 2019. CCU was better this time around, but perhaps it is a trend worth monitoring and is really just a credit to Pooka Williams’ ability to make defenders miss.
The loss of Denzel Mims will hurt
Talented wide receiver Denzel Mims is now a member of the New York Jets, and his skill set won’t be easily replaced. Mims had 45 more targets than any other wide receiver on Baylor’s roster in 2019, and was one of the more productive players in all of college football.
According to PFF’s Twitter account, Mims had the second-most contested catches (39) in college football since 2017. He also had 43 receptions that were 10 or more yards downfield, which was the fourth-most in the nation last season.
Tyquan Thornton, a speedy receiver, might need to take a big leap after catching 45 balls for 782 yards and five scores as a sophomore last year. Jared Atkinson, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior, could also be in line to replace Mims but only had seven catches a year ago.
It will be interesting to see if KU’s secondary, which now has Corione Harris back in the mix, can win this matchup in the conference opener.
Watch out for this Arkansas State transfer
Senior outside linebacker William Bradley-King, who is actually from Kansas City, Mo., will be a key player in that Baylor defense right away after transferring from Arkansas State.
Bradley-King was a first-team All-Sun Belt selection last season, as he led Arkansas State with 13.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. He also recorded six quarterback hurries and forced three fumbles.
From a PFF perspective, Bradley-King’s season was even more impressive than those surface stats. He posted a pass-rush grade of 91.4 on 447 pass-rush attempts, which was the sixth-best mark in all of college football last year.
Bradley-King was even moved around the football field as a pass rusher. Per PFF, 153 pass rush attempts came from the left side, while 270 such plays came from the right side. He recorded five sacks from the left compared to three sacks when coming at the quarterback from the right.
This could be another big problem for a Kansas offensive line that struggled in the opener.