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Opposing Viewpoints: Baylor with Brice Cherry

After a week off with the lack of apparent coverage pertaining to New Mexico State, we're back with our opposing viewpoints series and our weekly Q&A with a writer/blogger/media personality from the opposing side.

This week Brice Cherry, sport writer with the Waco Tribune joins us to talk Baylor.  Cherry also writes for and maintains the Waco Tribune's "Bear Blog" covering all things Baylor sports.

Brice gives some pretty solid insight into this weekends contest between the Bears and the Jayhawks and we also talk a little basketball as the season is right around the corner and Baylor figures to play a role in the conference hunt.

Rock Chalk Talk:
Early on Kansas has done fairly well in stopping the run, but they do appear to struggle with an athletic QB in a spread system.  Obviously that pretty much describes Robert Griffin.  How has he looked coming off the injury and do you see him playing at a level that can give the Jayhawks problems?


Brice Cherry:

In terms of his sheer speed, Griffin doesn't appear to have lost a step. He's not a guy that'll make a lot of shifty moves to make defenders miss, but when he's got a hole, look out. He's extremely dangerous and virtually impossible to catch.

Early in the year, Griffin looked a bit rusty in the passing game, as his timing and touch was slightly off. He didn't play particularly well against TCU, as the speed of the Horned Frog defense seemed to force him into rushed throws. But he rebounded nicely against Rice, including connecting on three passes of 40-plus yards. He's not a guy that'll turn it over much, with only five career interceptions.

In terms of the defenses Griffin has faced this year, Kansas will probably have the second-best unit behind TCU. But he's Baylor's chief playmaker by far, and the Jayhawks will certainly need to account for his dual-threat abilities.

Rock Chalk Talk:
On a similar note, talk a little more about the Baylor offense as a whole.  The focus from the outside always seems to be on Griffin, but who are the other key contributors and what have they done well early this year?


Brice Cherry:

Baylor's running game was non-existent last year, due to the injuries to Griffin and tailback Jay Finley. It's better this year, but the Bears are still more likely to try to move the ball with short passes, while taking the occasional shot downfield.

Griffin has 10 passes of better than 25 yards this year, including six for touchdowns. Sophomore Josh Gordon is the primary deep threat, while junior Kendall Wright is the team's best all-around weapon at receiver. Wright is quick and athletic, and is coming off a good game against Rice (7 catches, 106 yards, 1 TD). Sophomore Terrance Williams has emerged as a quality possession receiver, and he's been particularly efficient on the slant over the middle.

In the backfield, Finley is probably the team's top home run threat at running back, but questions remain whether he still has the same burst he had two years ago, when he ran for 865 yards. Terrance Ganaway is a bruising north-south runner, and is coming off his best game of the season, as he piled up a team-high 79 yards against the Owls.


Rock Chalk Talk:

How can Kansas slow Art Briles, Robert Griffin and the Baylor spread?


Brice Cherry:

TCU gave Baylor problems with heavy pressure on Griffin, so the Jayhawks may look to blitz with more frequency. That could put KU's secondary in some on one-on-one matchups with Baylor's receivers, however.

Some teams assign a "spy" to keep an eye on Griffin at all times. But the Baylor QB is pretty adept at knowing when to run and when it's not a good idea. The bulk of his running yards generally come off scrambles rather than designed plays.

Limiting Baylor to shorter gains on first and second down could be key for Kansas. Like most teams, the Bears are much more effective on third-and-short than third-and-long.


Rock Chalk Talk:

Defensively what seems to be the consensus on Baylor at this point? They seem to have some talent and appear to be developing some speed, but they also seem to struggle in a similar fashion to Kansas.


Brice Cherry:

This is definitely the fastest defense Baylor has had under Briles. Is it the best? The jury is still out.

Against Sam Houston, Buffalo and Rice, Baylor's defense was very effective, surrendering just one touchdown in those three games. But TCU ran through Baylor's defense as if it wasn't even there. Baylor took some criticism for playing its corners too far off TCU's receivers, allowing Andy Dalton to pick the Bears apart. But it was kind of a pick-your-poison situation, as TCU piled up plenty of yards on the ground, too.

Baylor's pass rush is probably marginally better than it has been the last couple of years, but the Bears still don't record a lot of sacks. The linebackers are fast and athletic, but the secondary is hurting, with injuries to key contributors like Antareis Bryan, Clifton Odom and Romie Blaylock.


Rock Chalk Talk:
Art Briles is entering his third year with the Bears, what's the feeling around Waco and in the Baylor community in terms of what he's done to date and on the football program in general?


Brice Cherry

Baylor fans are desperate to reach a bowl game. The program hasn't gone bowling since 1994, and the fan base's patience is wearing thin. Most Baylor fans agree that Briles has recruited well, much better than his predecessors. His inaugural season in 2008 was viewed as something of a mild success, as the team was instantly competitive, though it usually came up on the wrong end in close games.

Last year, most fans were willing to give Briles a bit of a pass because of the injury to Griffin. There's a certain segment that thinks Baylor would have been in a bowl had Griffin stayed healthy, and I tend to agree with that.
But it's bowl or bust this year. If Baylor can get to those magic six wins, Bear fans will be turning backflips, and should support Briles as he continues to try to build up the program in the always-tough Big 12 South. But should Baylor fall short, there will be plenty of fans calling for his head. (Although the school's administration is unlikely to get rid of him after just three years).

Briles is a likable guy, popular with his players and high school coaches around the state. But ultimately he'll be judged by Baylor's win total.  In that sense, this game against Kansas is key. Most Baylor fans are viewing it as a must-win.


Rock Chalk Talk:
Basketball question and extra credit.  Is Baylor turning into the lone Texas basketball school?  And what do they need to do to win the Big 12 this year?


Brice Cherry:

As I said, the majority of Baylor fans are tired of the football struggles and ready for a turnaround. But undoubtedly, Baylor's success in men's and women's basketball has created a year-round hoops buzz.

Scott Drew's team is coming off an Elite Eight appearance, and drew huge crowds for the NCAA regional in Houston. The Bears will miss Epke Udoh, last year's breakout star, but freshman Perry Jones should help make up for his vacancy. Jones is viewed as an NBA lottery-type talent, and is expected to make an immediate impact. With guys like LaceDarius Dunn and Quincy Acy back, Baylor should be in contention for a Big 12 title.