New Baylor Defensive Scheme Means Learning Curve For Both Teams

Both Baylor And WVU Have Major Homework In Pregame Prep


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s offensive line faces a traditional look that is anything but in the Big 12.

Under first-year defensive coordinator Phil Snow, Baylor has morphed from a four-down, two-linebacker look under former DC Phil Bennett to a more “standard” defense that relies upon three more permanent down linemen and a rush end that can serve to flip the alignment between a 4-3 and 3-4.

That leaves three true linebackers with the defensive backfield set in the typical two-corner, two-safety look. It’s nothing West Virginia hasn’t seen before, but it’s not the most usual of multiple alignments in a league that values hybrid players in the secondary, whether it be WVU’s spur and bandit in the 3-3-5 or TCU’s 4-2-5 look with five defensive backs, along with OSU’s 3-3-5 with a nickel.

“You are always concerned from a configuration standpoint,” Mountaineer offensive line coach Joe Wickline said. “This team is odd, this team is even, this team is quarters, this team supports this way. You gotta know your angles and your leverage. But by design we are not going to reinvent the wheel. We are going to do what we do, and then see how it applies to them.”

The switch between three and four down is situational, and Baylor tried both looks last week against a similarly-styled offense in Oklahoma State. The issue along the front for the Bears is that they are failing to get penetration, and also struggling with both getting off blocks and fit. Portions of that is Snow, a coordinator with a deep history that includes time at Boise State, Cal, Arizona State, UCLA, Washington and Temple with head coach Matt Rhule, along with a stint with the NFL’s Detroit Lions, has had limited time to hone his scheme.

The fits at both the first and second levels are different that under Bennett, and the Bears are just six games in with a new staff. But it’s also true that BU looks long but also light along the front. Rush end BJ Thompson, for example, is 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds – great for closing passing windows but far too light for the running game. End Brian Nance is 6-3, 250, while nose Ira Lewis (6-3, 290) lengthy but lack the bulk of players like WVU’s Lamonte McDougle (5-10, 295) at nose and Ada Shuler (6-4, 268).

“They’ve got some different pressure schemes that give you some problems,” Wickline said. “They disguise well and bring guys in in opportune times. They work some games on the side. They are a good bunch. They got good athletes, good ‘backers, good ends. They get uphill and harass the quarterback and make tackles for loss and I’ve gotta do a good job. They move guys around, they are athletic and they run well, move well.”

That’s it in a nutshell for Baylor. They can move and showcase athleticism. But they rarely stop run game development behind the line of scrimmage, or disrupt passing games with pressure. In that regard, they are much like West Virginia, which has also struggled to get off blocks and get penetration.

“Here’s the deal: They got a new scheme,” Wickline said. “The other guy left and those guys have done a great job, wherever they have been, on defense. They know what they are doing and they’ve done a good job, they are just playing a lot of young guys.”

That means growing pains, and the numbers have showed as much. Baylor ranks 117th in the nation in pass defense (276.5 ypg), 119th in rushing defense (241.2 ypg) and 121st in scoring defense (40 ppg), along with 110th in both first down and opposing third down conversion defense, and 95th in turnovers gained with seven – a major part of Baylor’s 110th ranking in turnover margin at minus-one. Those numbers are out of 129 FBS teams, which bodes well for the Mountaineers, who possess among the most explosive offenses in the nation.

“They have had some up and down games, but they never stop playing hard,” Wickline said. “They get after it and hey are rolling a lot of guys in.”