WACO, Texas — Welcome to Bears Country.
Utah and BYU should become extremely familiar with Waco, Texas, and the Baylor Bears of the Big 12. The Cougars get the Bears this Saturday and Utah’s first-ever meeting with Baylor kicks in the second game of the 2023 season in Waco with a return trip to Salt Lake City in 2024.
The Bears are 5-1, explosive, fresh off a convincing win over West Virginia, and are highly motivated to take down No. 19 BYU to gain traction in hopes of breaking into the top 25 themselves. Boise State found this kind of motivation a week ago and so will the Bears as the Cougars make themselves available this week.
Baylor was ranked No. 21 by AP before losing to Oklahoma State on Sept. 26.
Utah signed to play Baylor back in 2015 as part of beefing up its nonconference schedule. That 2023 game comes a week after hosting the Florida Gators in Rice-Eccles Stadium.
So, Baylor is on the local diet, what do we have?
Well, Baylor’s five-year average of recruiting rankings via 247Sports is 40th. In the coach Matt Rule era, Baylor ranked 40th in 2017, 29th in 2018 and 36th in 2019. When Aranda came on board, his 2020 class ranked 54th and the 2021 class was 44th.
Compare that with Utah’s five-year average of 31st and BYU’s 66th.
The addition of Grimes has made a huge difference in Baylor’s offense and use of talent.
In last year’s two-win disastrous season, Baylor failed to get a push out of its offensive line, an average of 2.7 yards per carry, and Brett Ciancia of Pick Six Previews rated Baylor’s pass pro sack rate at 9%, “not even top 100 nationally.”
Contrast that with this season. The Bears are explosive, consistent, dependable and dangerous — after just one spring, summer and fall of having Grimes and Mateos onboard.
Baylor has a per-possession scoring rate of .41, better than either BYU or Utah. But that can be deceiving since 2-2 Kansas is .45.
Baylor averages 37 points a game (23rd) and allows 17.4 (24th). BYU averages 27.2 (79th) and allows 20.5 (33rd). But BYU’s strength of schedule, according to Sportsreference.com, is 31st and Baylor’s is 115th after starting out with blowout wins over Texas State, Texas Southern and Kansas. In those games, Baylor scored 29, 66 and 45 points. At that same time, BYU played and beat Arizona, Utah and Arizona State.
Baylor upset No. 14 Iowa State 31-29, while losing to No. 19 Oklahoma State 24-14. The win over West Virginia last week is considered a quality Big 12 victory.
“On film, their defense plays really hard, is disciplined and physical,” said BYU center James Empey. “We are excited to prepare and play for a really good team and good defense. I’m excited to work and get better and improve and get after these guys.”
BYU’s other challenge is to fix its struggles with Boise State’s struggling rush offense, wherein the Broncos kept pulling a guard and attacking the edges with much success. Shoring up that obvious weakness is a priority.
“We have worked on fixing that,” said BYU defensive lineman Earl Tuioti-Mariner to reporters this week. “We’ve adjusted our alignment to get a better view of what is coming and react. We are aware and it won’t happen again.”
On Monday, BYU coach Kalani Sitake said, “If you’re looking at the assignments and technique and the fundamentals that broke down, that’s something that I need to correct as head coach. I think we’ve done a pretty good job in most of it.
“We had some issues with technique and we’ll get those fixed. We just need to get our guys back on track. It’s humbling and it’s a good opportunity for us to focus a little bit more. The key is learning from the mistakes and making sure that that stuff doesn’t happen again.”
While Sitake did nothing but express his love for Grimes and reuniting with him and Mateos, there is a lot of gamesmanship going on this week. Baylor’s head coach restricted his coordinators and assistants from being interviewed and BYU’s offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick said he had to change a lot of calls, signals and keys for the offense because of the knowledge Grimes possesses of what the Cougars do.
Welcome to Big 12 Country.