CFB Preview: No. 23 Baylor-SMU

BY foxsports • September 6, 2016

Not too long ago, the toughest questions Baylor football coaches faced were those that brought up the 23rd-ranked Bears' weak nonconference schedule.

Interim Baylor coach Jim Grobe has had to field many questions about the program's culture.

Perhaps the upside of that is no one has asked him about the continuing lack of interesting or challenging September games for the Bears.

No. 23 Baylor hosts unranked SMU at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at McLane Stadium in Waco, which some in Texas regard as a rise in competition. The Bears opened their season with a 55-7 rout of Northwestern State. It was the most points a team coached by Grobe has ever scored.

"I think the thing is we've all had games when you scored more points than you counted on," Grobe said. "The biggest problem we've got is managing the game."

While this week's opponent is a step up from an FCS foe, however, it's uncertain how big a step.

The Mustangs went 2-10 under first-year head coach Chad Morris last season and began this season last week by pulling away from a rebuilding North Texas team in the third quarter for an unimpressive 34-21 win that included 572 yards total offense.

How stern the test is Saturday might hinge on the health of SMU's quarterback.

Matt Davis is a game-time decision, Morris said, because of a knee injury. He rushed for 91 yards and had 155 passing yards with two scores last week.

Wide receiver Courtland Sutton and defensive end Justin Lawler were named to the AAC weekly honor roll for their contributions.

Sutton, a sophomore, had four receptions for 162 yards and three touchdowns, one a career-long 88-yard catch, the fifth-longest play in SMU history.

Lawler, a junior, recorded 3.5 sacks, just an assist off the school single-game record, among his team-high eight tackles.

The Mustangs rushed for 272 yards and passed for 300, but they also gave up 311 yards to the Mean Green's passing game -- not a good sign.

Grobe is familiar with Morris' style from their days in the ACC. Grobe, of course, was the head coach at Wake Forest. Morris was the offensive coordinator at Clemson.

"I think offensively Chad is doing the same things he did at Clemson, and when I was at Wake Forest I had to go against that stuff, so I know how hard it is for Phil Bennett and the defensive guys to get ready," Grobe said, referring to Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. "One of the things that Phil Bennett was concerned about last year is that we missed too many tackles.

"If you look at SMU against North Texas, they broke a lot of tackles and made them miss a lot. That's a real challenge going into this one for us."

Grobe expects the Ponies to spread the field to break off big plays.

"That's the thing that Chad will do to you," Grobe said. "He's going to spread you out and force you to make one-on-one tackles.

"The thing that he did a great job of at Clemson that impressed me is that you feel like you have to go back and play coverage, but the thing is that he loves to run the football. You can't hunker down on one thing."

One big item of interest will be Baylor running back Shock Linwood's quest to become the school's career rushing leader. Linwood rushed for 97 yards on nine carries against Northwestern State and needs 107 more to pass former Bear and Pittsburgh Steeler Walter Abercrombie.

Abercrombie finished his Baylor career with 3,665 yards from 1978-81.

Barring injury, Linwood is going to pass Abercrombie and keep going, perhaps adding another 1,000 yards to the Baylor career mark.

After watching Linwood in a game for the first time as the Bears coach, Grobe was impressed.

"What I really liked about Shock was his energy," Grobe said. "When he got on the field you could just tell he was ready to roll. The extra yardage he got the other night was fun to see."

The biggest health question for Baylor was safety Travon Blanchard, honorable mention All-Big 12 in 2015, but Grobe said he is not expected to play against SMU after also missing the opener recovering from meniscus surgery.