What Has Happened to Baylor over the Past 3 Weeks?

Ben KerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterNovember 30, 2013

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On Nov. 7, Baylor took care of Oklahoma in convincing fashion, 41-12, on a nationally televised Thursday night game. That win was, by most accounts, the first real test for the Bears of the season. 

Since then, Baylor is 2-1 and 10-1 overall, with the most recent win being a closer-than-expected 41-38 squeaker over TCU.

Thanks to a Penn State victory over Wisconsin, Baylor is, at worst, looking at an at-large BCS berth with a win next week over Texas. Per Baylor's official Twitter account, this is the second time in the past three seasons that Baylor has won 10 games—after having only one 10-win season in the previous 109 years. 

These are unprecedented and extraordinary times in Waco.

Of course, had the Bears been able to beat Oklahoma State a week ago, the future could have been even brighter. Auburn's stunning victory over Alabama in the Iron Bowl has shaken up the BCS standings in a way that potentially could have benefited the Bears. 

Nov 30, 2013; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Baylor Bears running back Lache Seastrunk (25) eludes TCU Horned Frogs defensive end Mike Tuaua (93) during the first quarter at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Alas, that's nothing more than a fantasy now. However, the stark reality facing Baylor is that it hasn't looked like the same team it was three weeks ago when it beat the Sooners. 

It starts with injuries, and there have unfortunately been many. That alone is going to set a team back to some degree.

Baylor has done an outstanding job of building up the depth it needs to continue to win. Whereas losing running backs Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin for a couple of weeks may have hurt Baylor in the past, it now gets results with "third-string" back Shock Linwood. 

Other injuries have more obviously affected Baylor's game plan, though. 

Wide receiver Tevin Reese? Out for the year with a wrist injury. Offensive lineman Spencer Drango? Out for the year with a back problem. Anyone who has watched the Bears offense over the past few weeks knows that the deep pass, which had been such a big part of the offense, just isn't there like it used to be earlier in the season. 

Not having Reese and Drango on the field is a big part of that. 

Injuries aren't solely to blame, though. Oklahoma State and TCU have the two best secondaries in the Big 12. Both are capable of playing press coverage on Baylor's wide receivers and winning one-on-one battles

Sure enough, TCU held the Bears to 27 offensive points on Saturday. 

Not having Reese on the field definitely hurts, but going up against defensive backs like Justin Gilbert and Jason Verrett is going to be a hard battle to win regardless. 

As ESPN's Jake Trotter points out, Verrett held Baylor's Antwan Goodley, the next best receiver for Baylor, to just one catch for 12 yards on Saturday. 

Additionally, Baylor has struggled to get out to fast starts over the past three weeks, an area where it normally excels. Over the past couple of weeks, the Bears immediately fell behind 14-0 twice. Once against Texas Tech and once against Oklahoma State. 

Baylor got out to a 13-3 lead against TCU, but the Frogs rallied by scoring 14 unanswered points. Bears quarterback Bryce Petty said after the game that getting out to the early lead felt more like "old" Baylor:

But it's clear that the past few weeks have been anything but "old" Baylor. The Bears aren't as explosive on offense and have given up an average of 40 points over the past three games. 

Nov 30, 2013; Fort Worth, TX, USA; TCU Horned Frogs quarterback Casey Pachall (4) dives for a touchdown against the Baylor Bears during the second half at Amon G. Carter Stadium. The Bears defeated the Horned Frogs 41-38. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

That's rare for Phil Bennett's defense this year. Baylor has not only had one of the statistically best defenses in the country, it's also been one of the best turnarounds from a year ago. 

Granted, Baylor did force four turnovers against TCU and took two Casey Pachall interceptions back for touchdowns. That turned out to be the difference in the game. The Bears also got beat by TCU's wide receivers, a group that's been much-maligned all season. 

However it looked, Baylor will take it. The important thing is this team finds ways to win. The difference now is it doesn't always look pretty when it was looking pretty for weeks on end. A sign that the competition has stiffened? Yes. A sign that the Bears are still a damn good team? Absolutely. 

It's also a sign that Baylor is mortal.