What Will Happen When Baylor Plays an Elite Defense?

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterOctober 7, 2013

Baylor has become among the most polarizing and fascinating teams to follow in college football this season. Averaging 70.5 points a game, the best in the country, touchdowns for the Bears have started to become yawn-worthy.

How they score, though, is a side-show spectacle. The Baylor offense scores on two out of every three possessions, and this is a team that averages about 15 offensive possessions a game. Art Briles' team is No. 1 in the nation in total offense, passing offense and passing efficiency, and No. 2 in rushing offense.

The stats are even more stunning considering that the first-string has yet to play an entire game. Of Baylor's 282 points this season, only 17 have come in the fourth quarter. The job is done, and has been done for a while, by the time the final 15 minutes start to tick off the game clock. 

Before Saturday's game against West Virginia, Baylor had played only one game in 27 days thanks to a pair of early bye weeks. While that, combined with the limited playing time for starters, meant fresh legs for Baylor, it also could have meant rust. 

Yeah, right.

Baylor's offense was as sharp as the quite reflective gold helmets worn against the Mountaineers. The Bears' 369 yards in the first quarter against WVU was the most by any team, in any quarter, in the last 10 years, per Baylor Sports Information. 

Oct 5, 2013; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears running back Lache Seastrunk (25) eludes West Virginia Mountaineers linebacker Sean Walters (13) during the first half at Floyd Casey Stadium. The Bears defeated the Mountaineers 73-42. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Mir
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

When asked Monday during the Big 12 coaches teleconference what the biggest challenge was facing Baylor, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder joked "Keeping them under 100 points, I guess."

Of course, Wofford, Buffalo, Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia don't amount to the toughest first month Baylor could have had, but the Mountaineers were by far the best defense. Prior to Saturday, WVU ranked 35th in the country in total defense, 30th in pass defense and 34th in scoring defense. 

That should have been good enough to keep Baylor under 50 points in a game. Instead, the Bears hung 56 points in the first half on Saturday with the difference in team speed being the biggest difference. 

Now that Baylor has dismantled a good defense, the question is whether there is a team—or, multiple teams, if you're bold—in the Big 12 that can keep Baylor from scoring at ludicrous speed

Baylor's schedule gets far more interesting in the final month of the season, beginning with a Nov. 7 home game against Oklahoma. The Sooners rank sixth in the country in scoring defense, ninth in total defense, 10th in passing defense and 23rd in rush defense. 

But, numbers aside, what could make OU an interesting matchup is the speed Bob and Mike Stoops have used on the defensive side of the ball this year with more of a 3-3-5 look. 

Texas Tech's defense has also been good this year, ranking in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense, red zone defense and third down defense. Yet, this is a unit that has been largely overlooked. Meanwhile, TCU's secondary, with cornerback Jason Verrett and safety Sam Carter, may be the best in the country. And the Frogs get Baylor at home on Nov. 30. 

There are opportunities for a defense to show that, in fact, Baylor is human. But how? And who will?

AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 22:  Jason Verrett #2 of the TCU Horned Frogs celebrates after an interception that lead to the TCU victory over the Texas Longhorns on November 22, 2012 at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas.  (Photo by Cooper N
Cooper Neill/Getty Images

While Baylor doesn't have many weaknesses on offense, there is one area where it hasn't been tested much: third downs. The Bears are No. 2 nationally in third-down conversion percentage at roughly 62 percent, but they only line up for 12 or 13 third-down scenarios a game. 

That speaks to how well this offense plays in early-down situations. Winning on first and second downs could make Baylor's offense much less effective. 

The magic number is nine, as in nine plays. The Bears have only had eight offensive possessions this season that have gone nine plays or more. In those scenarios, Baylor has only scored three touchdowns (all against West Virginia) to four field goal attempts and a turnover. 

Again, part of those numbers reflect garbage time, but converting third downs and sustaining long drives is an area far more unfamiliar for this Baylor offense. 

Of the Big 12 opponents still on Baylor's schedule, TCU and Texas Tech do the best job of causing disruption in the backfield. The Frogs are No. 5 nationally in tackles-for-loss (8.8 per game) and No. 3 in sacks per game (3.6). The Red Raiders aren't far behind with 8.2 tackles-for-loss per game and 2.2 sacks per game. 

And if TCU can get defensive end Devonte Fields back and playing like his former self, Gary Patterson could have a more disruptive defense with which to work by late November. 

The problem for the Frogs is they don't have an offense at the moment that could keep up even if Baylor isn't putting up a point a minute. That being said, is there any offense in the Big 12 that could keep things close with Baylor?

That's a question that feels weird being asked in the first place. 

Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All stats obtained via the NCAA, and all information and quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval