Barring an upset, the Baylor Bears are set to get through October with an unblemished record and a fringe Top Ten status. Then November hits, and dates with the rest of the Big 12 could send the Bears from flying sky high, to spiraling akin to the 2012 Mountaineers. Unless, of course, the Bears stick to the offensive gameplan and the defense steps up to avoid the fate of Dana Holgorsen's team.
West Virginia fell from No. 5, to an unranked 5-5 unit after facing the meat of the league, finishing 7-5 with wins over Iowa State and Kansas.
As Your Best 11 discussed earlier this season, Baylor boasts the nation's most explosive offense, a blend of runs and passes that put pressure on defenses, create huge yardage totals, and tons of points. Yet, as the college football world has shown time and again, that is not the recipe for ultimate success.
Come November, the defenses get more difficult, the quality of opponent gets better and the wins get harder to come by—something West Virginia, who many started to crown as a title contender last September, realized first hand.
On the micro level the issue boils down to better defenses limiting explosion plays. By stopping the big plays that Baylor lives on, teams will force the Bears to drive the field. Driving the field means converting third downs, something B/R's Ben Kercheval points out Baylor does not have much experience with in this young 2013 season.
For Baylor, the key will be working the plan, not pushing to manufacture the big plays that came so easily in the first weeks of the season. A season ago, that was West Virginia's downfall, starting with the Texas Tech contest and pushing through the losing streak. Dana Holgorsen and Geno Smith pushed the ball down the field, throwing low percentage passes, as teams tackled the horizontal routes that created positive gains.
To avoid the slide, Briles and his quarterback Petty have to avoid the urge to create big plays. The Bears showed a season ago, and through 2013, that the offense can work. Much like the Oregon Ducks, Baylor has to stay the course to avoid a slide when the competition gets better. Keep working the plan, let the big plays come instead of unnecessary taking shots down the field in an effort to score quickly.
The other element, for Baylor to avoid a November skid, is the defense. In 2011 and 2012, the Bears surrendered 37.2 points a game and 488 and 502 yards per game, respectively. This year the coordinator Phil Bennett's defense is giving up less than half that number, just 16.25 per game—a number that is also half of what West Virginia surrendered in 2012's first four games.
A West Virginia like skid is in order unless the Bears continue with the improved defensive effort. Ahmad Dixon, Sam Holl and Shawn Oakman are among the top defenders, and as the tests get more difficult they have to rise to the occasion. Defense will be what keeps Baylor winning, and that does not just mean opportunistic turnovers. It means forcing three-and-outs and getting stops against quality opponents.
Baylor currently sits at No. 15 in the Associated Press Poll, and barring true carnage ahead of them, the Bears are unlikely to climb much higher in the next few weeks. The nation is waiting on November, and for the Bears to tumble, and it will be up to a patience Briles and improved defense to avoid that fate.