The first press conference of the day here has concluded, featuring Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and a few players talking about Thursday’s upcoming Alamo Bowl date against the Huskies.
And there was no shortage of usable quotes from Bennett, a veteran coach who was formerly the head man at SMU and was also the interim coach for Pitt’s bowl win last year against Kentucky.
Baylor’s defense is the widely acknowledged weakness on a team that features one of the best offenses in the country, allowing 471 yards per game.
But Bennett, who is in his first year at Baylor, defended his defense, saying the quick pace of Baylor’s offense, and some explosive offenses throughout the Big 12, make some of the Bears’ defensive stats deceiving.
“In other words, don’t let the numbers fool you,” he said.
Bennett instead pointed to the 16 turnovers Baylor has forced in its last four games — 10 interceptions and six fumbles — as a sign of the team’s improvement.
Bennett, though, raved about the Huskies and Keith Price and Chris Polk.
Of Price, he said “it was obvious in the Oregon State game they were a different team without him. They missed him,” and that “if they’d had their QB healthy all year, they would have won nine or 10 games. They know that and we know that.”
Of Polk, he said “you’ve got to try to get him before he gets started. If you try to snip at his legs, you are like a gnat to him.”
Bennett said he figures UW will use Price a lot more on rollouts and bootlegs and said that was something Baylor struggled to defend at times, particularly in its 55-28 loss to Texas A&M and QB Ryan Tannehill. He also said A&M used two tight ends often, something not a lot. He said he would assume that UW “looked at the A&M game heavy” in its preparation.
Bennett’s best quote, though, might have been about his own team. In talking about his cornerbacks, he said UW’s receivers will be “eating peanuts off our corner’s heads — they are midgets.” For the record, Baylor’s two starting cornerbacks are 5-10 and 5-11.
Here’s some video of Baylor linebacker Elliot Coffey talking about how he’d defend Baylor’s offense and what his defense has done of late to force turnovers:
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And here’s a bit more from Bennett from the transcript of the official podium session today (which you can find all of here):
Overview of Baylor’s defense this year: “First of all, one of the things I’ve told them all year, we started the season, we had a very inexperienced team. I think we had lost our top seven tacklers from the year before, and obviously with new ones coming in I was moving people around. Last year Tracy (Robertson) played defensive end. He moved inside. I think Nick (Jean-Baptiste) was the only guy that really stayed at the same position. Actually he played three technique some. Moved him to nose. Elliot (Coffey) was an outside linebacker, came to Baylor as a safety, moved down, had been an outside linebacker, we moved him to Mike backer. I told them, I said, it’s going to be a little bit of a transition.
But the thing that I’m proud of these guys, I told them from the get‚Äëgo, I wasn’t worried about stats. One of the things I was worried about, and you’ve seen our offense, is just being able to get the ball back to our offense, and I think the last five games, I doubt many people have had as many takeaways as what we’ve gotten the last five games. I think that’s due to understanding the scheme and also that I understand what they’re capable of doing.
Obviously when you have inexperience it takes you a little bit of time to develop who you are and what you are, but I like that these kids have been resilient the whole year. They have really — you’ll see, we’ll play hard, we’ll play fast, and we’ll play physical. And I think that these three guys in particular have set the foundation of what we can be in the near future.”
On Washington: “Yeah, the first thing is they’re a multiple grouping offense. They have two really good tight ends that are huge. One of them is a freshman All‚ÄëAmerican. He’s a guy that they showcase in what they’re doing. Their back is outstanding. Their quarterback I think is a sophomore. As the year went on, when they played in the Apple Cup it was obvious he was the difference in the game. He was able to make plays that led them to victory.
Their offensive line has gotten better and better. I told their line coach last night, I think they’re a very physical offensive line. Multiple formations, they make you line up right, and if you’re not smart enough to line up right, then you’re going to have some problems because they’ll get your angles and get you outnumbered.
I think obviously they’re balanced, and when you have a back — I think he’s rushed for 1,200, 1,300 yards, and with us, like a lot of people, they’re going to try to control the clock and try to keep the ball out of our offense’s hands. We’ve got to find ways to get the ball to our offense.”
On Baylor’s turnaround under head coach Art Briles: “Well, first of all, the first thing is that he’s brought some really good athletes. If you look at us, the guys that he’s brought in the program, they’re good football players. And then the other thing that he has done, and I’ve said this from the get‚Äëgo, and I know it’s a clich√© word, but he’s changed a culture. And I think these kids will tell you, there’s a difference between hoping to win and expecting to win. The thing that I’ve really enjoyed about Art is the way he’s managed this team.
We had a spell in there where we lost a heartbreaker to Kansas State. We came back and pretty well won the game against Iowa State, and then we had a loss to A & M that was very close to the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter they took it away from us, then we got a disaster at Oklahoma State, and we had an open date between that.
And what I liked, and I thought it made a huge difference, we didn’t panic during that time. We had a big game against Missouri coming up, and we didn’t — we stayed consistent in what we believed in, and I think the kids knew that. There was things that we knew we had to correct, and I just think that the culture aspect and being ‚Äë‚Äë knowing what to expect.
He told the kids today, we’re not going to change how we got here. We’re going to be furious on offense, we’re going to be fast, and we’re going to take chances, calculated chances, and he said we’re going to find ways to get stops on defense. And I think the kids — the belief of what he’s doing is really starting to take place along with having better players.”
On Baylor’s defensive stats and whether they are indicative of how Baylor has played: “You know, there’s only one statistic truthfully that matters, and that’s did you contribute to winning nine games, and if you looked at us defensively, from game one, TCU, which we got stops, but we improved probably 70 percent. In our conference, in the Big 12, because everybody is hurry‚Äëup and you’re playing so many snaps and we score so fast, I think that the ability to sit there and say, hey, they give up this many yards — you know, I told somebody, I said, I’ve probably had the worst statistical year I’ve had, but I might have had more fun and probably maybe did one of my better coaching jobs along with the staff. And watching these guys develop, I think that we have become a contributor to this football team. In other words, don’t let the numbers fool you.”
On describing Baylor’s defense: “We’re a multiple four‚Äëman front. We don’t play a ton of man. We’re what I call a match zone, which is sort of a split between man and zone on route distribution. I think we’re physical up front, and I think one of the things that we have evolved to is we get to the football, and we have tackled well, especially the last six games. We pick and choose our blitzes. I’ve said this many years; when you blitz, somebody’s band is going to play, you want to make damned sure it’s yours. And we’ve been successful. We’ve got some pressure.
These guys have done a nice job, but we’re not an all‚Äëout blitz team. If I had to say right now, we’re more of a cover team and more of a disguise team.
We try to make people predictable. 1st down is crucial for us, trying to get them in 3rd and long and then create the match‚Äëups.
At University of Washington the thing that ‚Äë‚Äë the first thing I can tell you is the people that have played them, you have to be careful how much you load up for the run because they are an excellent — they have a really nice play action pass and boot scheme, and if you sell out to be — for the run, you’re going to get hurt. I think that their receivers are big guys. They’re guys that — they’re all about 6’0″, 210, they’ll be eating peanuts off our corners’ heads because we’re midgets. I think we’re just going to have to really fight and stay on top of things.”
On Keith Price: “Well, you know, I go back to the play action and the boots and the waggles. When he had gotten hurt they had to limit that a little bit because they didn’t want him taking licks, and when you’re booting and waggling there’s a chance that you can get hit. I’ll tell you something, as Elliot said earlier, his accuracy early in the season, when he got going, one game in particular was Colorado. He really had a game that they had good coverage on him, and he was very pinpoint. He really throws the ball well on the run.
That’s one of the things in our game against A & M that I’m sure they’re going to look at. We had some struggles with boot coverage that we’ve got to get better at. So that’s sort of what I’m sort of anticipating, them moving him maybe a little bit more than they did the last four games. They missed him. It was obvious they were a different team in the Oregon State game. They tried to not that they didn’t play well, but they missed his play‚Äëmaking ability.”