This week’s Q&A features Mark Moore of Our Daily Bears, SB Nation’s Baylor site. Thanks for helping us out, Mark!
1. On Monday, it was announced that Shock Linwood – Baylor’s all-time leading rusher – would be suspended for the game against Oklahoma. Even though he isn’t the team’s leading rusher this year, how will this affect Baylor’s game plan for Saturday?
Honestly, considering my limited expectations for overall team performance, I don't see it being a huge issue. To the extent Baylor has failed to rush the ball well at times this year, it's been more related to the offensive line and passing game than our individual backs. Terence Williams and J'Mychal Hasty should be able to carry the load if the offensive line establishes itself, but that's a big if. We knew going into this season that losing 4/5 starters from one of the best lines we've ever had would be a problem, but I don't know that we thought it would be this big of a problem for this long.
2. Along with Linwood’s suspension, there have been plenty of other issues and distractions surrounding the program as of late, including the controversy surrounding players, coaches and fans who have come out in support of Art Briles. What’s the current mood around the program and among the fanbase?
"Distractions" is a pretty charitable way to put it, and I appreciate that. I'd say the fanbase and program are divided, for obvious reasons. We have coaches tweeting in unison the night before a rivalry game they go on to lose by 40, following which they all but admit they weren't prepared enough as a coaching staff to play, players basically saying the same thing, and fans that can't seem to get beyond a coach that is never coming back to the point they wear his t-shirts and flying his banner on national television. We have regents saying one thing on TV and in print, and boosters saying another in a press conference across the street from campus and the stadium. There's a war going on right now for the soul of the Baylor fanbase, and any victory will be Pyrrhic.
3. As far as these distractions are concerned, are they the primary reason for Baylor’s recent struggles, or are there other factors involved here (such as personnel or coaching issues)?
The distractions are a big part, particularly when it comes to gameday preparation, but simply not having Art Briles (a legitimate offensive genius, for all his faults) is possibly even bigger. Add to that tremendous depth issues resulting from not getting in half your recruiting class and losing several other key contributors you expected to have, and you get a team that looks like it should compete for a Big 12 Championship in the 1s but has trouble keeping it up over the course of an entire game against better competition.
4. As of right now, Baylor has two players committed for the 2017 class. How much are you expecting the class to fill out before signing day?
Whoever we hire will have an uphill battle in front of them in recruiting, only getting started (most likely) in the first week or two of December. They'll probably have a take a few guys they otherwise wouldn't for numbers, but I am confident that there is enough to sell in terms of playing time that we'll get what we need in the short-term. I'm more concerned about the long-term ramifications of basically not having a redshirt class in 2016, since we've played most of the few freshman that actually made it to campus this year.
5. Terence Williams and KD Cannon have been the go-to guys on offense this year for Baylor, but what other playmakers at the skill positions should Sooner fans be keeping an eye on this Saturday?
Ishmael Zamora, who you probably already have heard of, the aforementioned Hasty, and probably Pooh Stricklin, who has come on of late.
6. On the defensive side of the ball, the Bears have struggled a bit during conference play (as have most schools in the conference). Despite that fact, who has stood out on that side of the ball this year, and who in the unit should OU fans know about?
Aside from the TCU game (where we gave up 62 points, for the record), I haven't been all that disappointed in Baylor's defense in recent weeks. We knew D'Onta Foreman would run on us because we don't have much of a defensive line. That's why we went to the base 3-4 in the first place even before Briles was fired. Your backs will likely do the same. That being said, I've been impressed with DT Ira Lewis, who has performed well this season, and DE Greg Roberts. NB Travon Blanchard has probably been disappointed with his play the last few weeks, but he's a key component of what we do on defense, too.
7. What will Baylor have to do to pull off the upset in this one?
Take the absolute value of what we did last week? Go back in time, convince Briles to do things the right way beginning in 2012, and let things unfold from there?
It would take a better and more complete effort than we've seen from Baylor since the Oklahoma State game. That was a very long time ago and basically a different Baylor team.
8. How do you see this one playing out, and what is your final score prediction?
Not well for Baylor, I'm afraid. My prediction is Oklahoma 48, Baylor 28.