When the Oklahoma Sooners visit Waco this weekend, they’ll face a Baylor Bears squad that looks quite a bit different than it has in years past. Craig Smoak of ESPN Central Texas (AM 1660 + 99.1 FM in Waco) was nice enough to fill us in on what’s been going on with the 0-3 Bears.
Matt Rhule has implemented a style that is in sharp contrast to that of his predecessors. I know his team hasn't gotten off to a great start, but what's the early impression of the new regime in Waco, stylistically and otherwise?
It's wait and see for fans right now. Defensively they've taken a step forward each of the last two weeks after the Liberty debacle. However, they still have a long way to go and mental mistakes have made them susceptible to giving up killer big plays each week. That doesn't bode well with OU's offense coming to town but I'm interested to see what kind of progress is made this week with CB Grayland Arnold and S Taion Sells making their season debuts. If it's encouraging fans will grow more excited about the unit's potential moving forward.
Offensively, people are already panicked by the lack of just about everything. When you go from the best offense in CFB to what we've seen the last two games it's a tough pill to swallow. Around here people are used to seeing an offense that can retake or blow open a lead in a matter of seconds. What we've seen this season has been a mess. It all starts with the attrition-wrecked OL. Run game has never gotten started, QBs have been taking big hits, turnovers, penalties, you name it. There have been momentary bursts with big plays like days gone by but not consistently enough to alleviate anyone's fears about where the points machine is headed.
Baylor has experienced issues with depth since its season began earlier this month, but six players are returning from injuries this week, including Terence Williams. This will certainly help matters, but will a lack of quality depth still be an issue for the Bears in 2017 considering how much attrition they've experienced in recent years?
OL will remain an issue all season and probably some next year. They have half of what you'd consider ideal numbers-wise and what they do have is inexperienced save a couple spots. Elsewhere, QB could get scary if Zach Smith is injured, leaving true freshman Charlie Brewer as their only healthy scholarship QB. RB has been depleted but you mentioned the return of Williams. That will help but the depth is still young and unproven. So yeah, it's been a big issue at OL, RB, TE, S, CB.
Speaking of the returning players, which player returning to action do you see as the most vital to Baylor's future success this season?
CB Grayland Arnold. I don't know what kind of blocking Terence Williams will get but I do believe Arnold is a lockdown corner in the making and should instantly make this defense better.
Zach Smith will be starting in front of grad transfer Anu Solomon, who is still in concussion protocol. Do you think Baylor still sees Smith as "the quarterback of the future"? Also, do you picture him as the starter once Solomon returns?
I believe they have faith in Zach but I also know they're extremely high on Charlie Brewer's future. That will be a major competition next spring regardless of record. If Solomon returns it's tough to say without knowing what situation he's walking back into. Have they showed life on offense and maybe even won a game? Is Zach banged up and the team is still struggling? Bottom line, this is Zach Smith's job to lose.
If you had to recommend one BBQ and one non-BBQ spot in Waco to OU fans traveling to the game, what would be your selections?
BBQ - Guess Family BBQ which is a food truck downtown near the Magnolia Silos. If that fails, Vitek's. Non BBQ - The original George's Bar located on Speight. A default answer for everyone who visits but there's a reason for that. Good atmosphere, good drinks, good chicken fried steak. The Backyard over by the Silos is another spot I recommend.
Other than Chris Platt and Terence Williams, who are some others skill position guys that OU fans should keep an eye on?
WR Denzel Mims. He has the chance to be really good if he can find consistency and up his level of physicality. True freshman RB John Lovett is green but he's shown raw talent. Many think his future is bright. There's some others with potential but the skill spots are incredibly young and inexperienced at the moment.
Who would win in a fight: Mike Singletary in his prime or Rico Gathers?
Singletary was 35 when Rico was born and I'd still have a hard time betting against him now. In their primes, Singletary without a doubt.
What's your prediction for Saturday? What would Baylor have to do to win or at least beat the spread of 27.5?
42-14 Sooners. To win or beat the spread they'll need to take another big step forward on defense and give this offense some breathing room, short fields. I think they'd need a couple huge plays from their defense like a pick six. On offense, show some energy, consistency and the ability to put actual drives together. They'd basically have to turn a complete 180 from the last two weeks. Good protection, lack of turnovers/penalties and an actual run game to extend some drives and keep their defense off the field for more than two minutes. Outlook isn't good but that's how i'd see them pulling the upset.