Thursday, December 16, 2010
Baylor on the spot: Texas Bowl
By David Ubben
We'll be taking our video series from the season and slapping it into word form on the blog before the bowl season starts. In this series, we'll look at a particular player or position group that must play well for the team in question to win its bowl game.
First up: the Baylor Bears.
Art Briles' 7-5 team is in the postseason for the first time in 1994, ready to face Illinois in the Texas Bowl in Houston. The bowl drought is over, now comes the next step: winning it.
So, who's on the spot?
Defensive tackle Phil Taylor. The Penn State transfer goes by "Big Phil" and for good reason: He's a very NFL-like 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds in the middle of Baylor's defense. He had an underwhelming debut season in 2009, but earned All-Big 12 honors in 2010 after making seven tackles for loss and 52 tackles as a senior. He also forced a fumble and broke up a pair of passes.
That's nice, but the Bears need Taylor to be at his best clogging up the middle and pushing the interior of the Illinois offensive line into its backfield. The Fighting Illini's 569 rushing attempts were the most in the Big Ten and running back Mikel Leshoure led the league's running backs in rushing, with 1,522 yards. That's almost 400 yards more than his closest competition at the position. His highlight was a 330-yard day against Northwestern earlier this year, the highest total of any FBS player this season. Illinois loves to run it with LeShoure and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but Taylor could put the kibosh on a repeat performance from LeShoure with a big day himself. He can't do it by himself, of course; linebacker Antonio Johnson and defensive end Tevin Elliott could help with big games, too, but Taylor is the first line of defense.
At the very least, if Taylor's not in the backfield, he could serve the defense well by getting all the stops he can against the running attack. LeShoure averaged six yards a carry this season; if Taylor is within arm's reach of a ballcarrier, any tackle that limits an Illini player to just a couple yards is a big play for the Bears.
LeShoure averaged over 183 yards in his final four games of 2010 with eight touchdowns, and Paul Petrino's offense will be intent on heading for a fifth consecutive game of at least 100 yards for the back.
Prevent that, force redshirt fresman Scheelhaase to throw the ball more than the gameplan calls for, and Baylor will be well on its way to a bowl win.