Dale Harsin’s drag racing car did not need to show up on Boise State’s practice field to get the Broncos to understand how fast Baylor is, even if his son jokingly suggested it.
As Bryan Harsin’s team prepares to face Baylor in the Cactus Bowl on Dec. 27, one thing continues to be noticed when scouting the Bears’ offense.
“People have stolen components of what they’ve done — the first thing that stands out is speed,” Harsin said.
Former Baylor assistants were head coaches or coordinators at Tulsa, Texas and Syracuse this season. Others have emulated the emphasis on speed in more ways than one.
It’s a necessity in the Baylor offense, which hums along at a frantic clip, leading the FBS with 88.9 plays per game. Those three schools mentioned above were second, sixth and seventh. Former Baylor coach Art Briles did not have a written playbook, instead stressing repetition and using a small amount of plays to make too much thinking a non-factor.
“They can go so fast. Those referees that are spotting the ball are struggling to get out of the way before they snap the ball,” Boise State defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said. “... There’s a number of things we’ve got to do in terms of our operation to get ready for that.”
Said senior cornerback Jonathan Moxey: “We’ve got to be ready to run. They’ve got a lot of track guys.”
Boise State senior defensive tackle Elliot Hoyte said the Broncos’ scout team has upped the tempo in practice to help prepare the defense for the challenge. It is a task made more difficult by giving the defense few precious seconds to make adjustments and make sure it is aligned properly, while also using Baylor’s offensive depth to its advantage.
The Bears are the only FBS team with four players averaging more than 50 rushing yards per game (though one, quarterback Seth Russell, is out for the season) and rank No. 13 as a team with 250.2 ypg on the ground. No back or receiver has more than 1,000 yards rushing or receiving, a testament to the multitude of weapons at Baylor’s fingertips.
“It’s good for them to get fresh legs in there and always have that energy,” Boise State senior linebacker Ben Weaver said. “You don’t see it that much anymore, but to have that many people who can take the ball and do something with it is a huge asset to them.”
Baylor finished the past five seasons No. 1 or 2 nationally in total offense, and it’s fifth this year (523.3 ypg). The system splits offensive linemen wider than nearly every other school, with receivers close to the sideline. In passing situations, it means one-on-one opportunities. When running, it gives the Bears a lot of space to work with.
“It’s been shown we put everyone and their mother in the backfield and let them go,” senior receiver Lynx Hawthorne said. “The coaches have recruited receivers that can catch, that can throw, that can run it. They’re very good at using their imaginations.”
Hawthorne had to play quarterback in the Bears’ 2015 regular-season finale against Texas, and he was 10-of-22 passing for 64 yards with two interceptions in a 23-17 loss. Chris Johnson, listed as a tight end/receiver, started at QB for the 2015 Russell Athletic Bowl, and the Bears steamrolled North Carolina to the tune of a record 645 rushing yards on 84 attempts in a 49-38 win.
“It was just as crazy for us on the field seeing what we could do just running it all the time,” Hawthorne said.
What will be paramount for the Broncos is their ability to tackle and prevent short plays from becoming huge gains. With more than a month between the Nov. 25 regular-season finale at Air Force and the bowl, it’s easier said than done.
“It doesn’t take long to get rusty,” Avalos said. “... We’re working as much tackling as we can without banging our guys up. That’s going to be a big factor for us.”
- Teams: Boise State (10-2, 6-2 Mountain West) vs. Baylor (6-6, 3-6 Big 12)
- Time: 8:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 27
- Where: Chase Field, (48,159 capacity, grass, home of MLB’s Arizona Diamondbacks), Phoenix
- TV: ESPN (Rece Davis, Joey Galloway, David Pollack, Molly McGrath)
- Radio: KBOI 670 AM and KTIK 93.1 FM
- Tickets: $40-$115, available at BroncoSports.com/tickets, by phone at 208-426-4737 or the Boise State ticket office.
- Vegas line: Boise State by 7
- Coaches: Boise State, Bryan Harsin (31-8, third year; 38-13, fourth year overall); Baylor, Jim Grobe (6-6, first year; 116-121-1, 20th year overall)
- Bowl records: Boise State 11-5, Baylor 11-11
- Series record: First meeting