Coming off of a 7-6 season in 2010, the expectation was for modest improvement. Phil Steele picked Baylor 8th in the Big 12 and we picked them 7th. What happened on the offensive side of the football was far from modest. It was outstanding. Led by Superman Socks himself, Robert Griffin III, the Bears increased their points per game from 31.2 to 45.3. RG3 was dynamic and he posted a 37 to 6 TD to INT ratio on his way to winning the prestigous Heisman Trophy. But he didn't do it alone. RB Terrance Ganaway ran for over 1500 yards and 21 TDs. WR Kendall Wright caught 108 passes and 14 TDs and three other Baylor plays also posted 40+ reception seasons. The only thing that held Baylor back was it's defense.
As good as they were on offense, the defense was the exact opposite. The Bears gave up a whopping 488.5 yards per game and allowed 37.2 points per game. The good news for Baylor is that on many nights the offense was better than the defense was bad. RG3 and the Bears took center stage on the opening Friday of the season as they surprised TCU 50-48. RG3 and the Bears would go on to beat the likes of Oklahoma and Texas en route to a 10-3 season. To get the inside scoop on the 2011 Baylor Bears we caught up with Jay Beck of the Big 12 website Turfburner.
CFBZ: It was a fantastic year for the Baylor Bears. What was the one defining moment for Baylor's 2011 season?
Turfburner: There were several, but if I had to pick just one, it would have to be the victory over Kansas. What, wait a minute. A victory over a team that finished 2-10 was the defining moment? Yes, yes it was because of the way it happened. Baylor came in having lost two of their last three games. Robert Griffin had been having a very good season, but was almost an afterthought in the Heisman race at that point. And then the fourth quarter in Lawrence changed all that.
Baylor somehow trailed 24-3 entering the fourth quarter but that was when Griffin took over. He scored on a 49 yard touchdown run and then threw touchdown passes of 36 and 67 yards and all of a sudden Baylor had tied it at 24 and the game went to overtime. RGIII then threw a 14 yard touchdown and the Bears defense held up their end of the bargain and Baylor got out of Lawrence with a 31-24 win.
That game catapulted Baylor to wins in their final three regular season games including a win over Oklahoma the following week when Robert Griffin officially took over the Heisman race for the rest of the way. If they had lost to Kansas, there's no telling what would have happened to the Bears' season.
CFBZ: If Baylor could play one game over again from last year which one would it be?
Turfburner: That's a tough call between the Kansas State and Oklahoma State games which were two of their three losses. They should have beaten Kansas State but couldn't hold onto a nine point lead entering the fourth quarter. RGIII had a chance to bring them back but threw his first interception of the season and then couldn't get anything going on their final drive.
That said, I would probably have to go with the Oklahoma State game. They lost to the Cowboys 59-24, but looking at the stat line, you wouldn't have guessed it was so lopsided since they gained 622 total yards. But it was by far their worst performance of the year with a good chunk of those yards coming against the OSU reserves. Baylor was down 49-3 entering the fourth quarter which tells you about all you need to know. They scored 21 points in the fourth quarter, but at that point, RGIII all but fell out of the Heisman race in many people's mind, that is until he got back into against Kansas which was the answer to your first question.
CFBZ: Phil Bennett took over the defense this year but the results in year one were not good. Are the Bears on the right track on the defensive side of the football?
Turfburner: That's a tough question and one I'm not sure I know the answer too. I like Bennett as the coordinator and think he very well could be the guy for the job, but it was simply not a good first year. That leads me to believe they simply need to focus on recruiting more talent to that side of the ball.
The most disturbing thing to me is that they really didn't improve throughout the year. There were moments they looked okay, but the fact is they gave up 48 points to TCU in the opener and finished by giving up 56 points to Washington in the Alamo Bowl. They simply don't have anything to hang their hat on at the moment on defense. Offenses in the Big 12 aren't going to get worse, not to mention, Griffin isn't going to be around to carry the offense so the defense is going to have to improve immensely if they hope to maintain the level they reached in 2011.
CFBZ: Who are some under the radar players for the Bears that you think can step up and have an impact on the field next season?
Turfburner: There are big shoes to fill with their top three offensive threats heading to the NFL. A guy a lot of people will likely be talking about is running back Lache Seastrunk. Most college football fans remember his name since he was at the center of the Will Lyles investigation. He redshirted his freshman year at Oregon before transferring and had to sit out the 2011 season. With Terrance Ganaway graduating, Seastrunk should get a long hard look this spring and into the fall to fill the void at running back.
Another guy that I would expect big things from is wide receiver, Tevin Reese. He's not exactly unknown since he did have 51 catches in 2011, but was often overshadowed by Kendall Wright. Assuming they can find someone to get him the ball, he should have every opportunity to be option number one in Baylor's passing game.
CFBZ: Who replaces RG3?
Turfburner: Senior Nick Florence is probably the guy who will get the first shot at replacing the gigantic shoes Griffin left to fill. He replaced Griffin in 2009 during his freshman season after RGIII tore his ACL and performed reasonably well, although they didn't win a lot of games after RGIII went out. He has seen limited action since, however.
They had planned on redshirting him last season leaving him with two years of eligibility after Griffin was gone. But then RGIII suffered a concussion in the 11th game of the year and they decided to play him (which was crazy to me, by the way) in the second half which was his only action all year. He did great though, going 9-12 while throwing two touchdowns allowing Baylor to pull away from Texas Tech for the win. He's not near the threat Griffin was running the ball, but has a solid arm and knows Art Briles offense inside and out giving him a leg up in the race for the starting job.
If not Florence, the next guy in line figures to be third year sophomore, Bryce Petty. He played in six games last year but threw a grand total of four passes all year. He's a big guy at 6'3" 230 pounds but lacks the experience that Florence brings to the table.
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