Baylor Mauls Washington State 45-17: A New Beginning for the Bears?

Tim AzevedoCorrespondent ISeptember 14, 2008

This was probably the first Baylor game (now in my third year at Baylor) where I was truly proud of my team.

Don't take that the wrong way. There is no shortage of people (even at Baylor) ready and willing to verbally tear Baylor down. I'm not one of them.

In fact, most of the people who talk trash about Baylor should take a serious look at their progress the last few years in the Big 12 South, arguably the best division in football.

At the very least, the team has made slow steps toward respectability since the Big 12 got started, first with Morriss and now with Briles.

Baylor, one of those great, storied teams of college football, has had some decent games in recent history as well: Baylor won against every Big 12 North opponent in 2006, including Colorado in a 2OT win at Boulder.

Oklahoma (2 OT loss in Norman) and OSU (W 44-34) in 2005 were also exciting. But this was completely different: a thorough domination of a major conference opponent.

The Bears physically and mentally outplayed the Cougars in almost every meaningful category. It's safe to say that Baylor fans have not seen the Bears play such a complete game since the now-legendary Grant Teaff, not counting FCS teams and the various SMUs of the FBS.

Granted, Washington State is not the best in the PAC-10, granted WSU had some adjustments to make for Ike, etc., etc.

But after a humbling loss to Wake, I was worried Baylor might not recover its faith in their coach and their potential. I need not have worried, apparently.

Hopefully, the W will give the Bears a much-needed confidence boost, while still keeping them hungry enough to make up for mistakes against Wake, in order to take on this year's tougher-than-usual conference play.


The game in perspective:

1. Robert Griffin is the real deal. He already plays at an incredible level in only his second start. He is probably the best QB Baylor has/will see for a long time. This could be the break Baylor needs: not only this year, but for the next four.

Brandon Gibson, a WR for WSU, said after the game, "(Robert Griffin) is an explosive player. He looks like a receiver playing quarterback. He has a cannon and David Gettis can get out there and run."

As a freshman, Griffin set a 217-yard single-game Baylor rushing record, passing over school RB greats like former NFL player Walter Abercrombie. He also set a new Big 12 record with 19.7 (!) yards per carry.

While undeniably talented, there are still question marks. Will he have the dedication to hone his raw ability to its potential? Can he step up when the pressure from quick and powerful OU linemen is on? Can he avoid injuries in his occasionally reckless plays? Can he take the spotlight and the criticism that goes with it? Will he be a team leader? A team player?

And the whole time, can he handle Baylor academics (less forgiving than certain other conference schools, *cough* UT *cough*)

2. The team has improved from top to bottom since Week 1. The offense seems to have their timing down, forcing WSU to play out of alignment several times. Baylor finally has a running game with Jay Finley and Jeremy Sanders, not to mention Griffin, racking up a total of 426 rushing yards on 42 carries.

The O-line looks to be an asset this year, opening up huge holes for the run, while the D-line and linebackers shut down WSU's running and passing game with 7 sacks and forcing 2 interceptions.

WR David Gettis has potential for great yards after reception, but despite some standout plays, making the catch is still a problem for Baylor receivers this year. Griffin's occasional inaccuracy has had some part in that, however.

The defensive secondary, on the other hand has no excuse for their performance. They almost single-handedly allowed the Cougars to go 9 for 18 on 3rd down conversions and 2 for 3 on 4th down. Texas Tech (and really almost every Big 12 team) is going to chew them up if they don't pick up the slack.

Special teams also looked underwhelming, including a missed FG from 33 yards out. Continued inconsistency here could make for a much more uphill climb for the Bears in games to come.

3. I'm going to risk it: this could be "the year" for Baylor football. A bowl game, so out of reach after two disappointing five-win seasons in '05 and '06, is once again in sight for the Baylor faithful.

Now 2-1, Baylor needs four more wins to be bowl-eligible. Given the strength of the Big 12 and non-conference play this year, that should be enough. UConn, Iowa State, and Texas A&M are must-wins, with A&M down this season.

Even I will not indulge my wild fantasies of wins against Oklahoma and Mizzou this season, though. That leaves four more chances to pick up that crucial, and elusive, sixth win: OSU, Nebraska, Texas, and Texas Tech. Unfortunately, those are ALL road games.

But Art Briles is a believer, and so am I. Sic' Em!