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Baylor’s defense was very hit or miss in 2018

The Bears showed a bit of a defensive spine late in the season.

NCAA Football: Kansas at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

On the defensive side of the ball, the raw numbers aren’t all that kind to the Baylor Bears. The Bears allowed 31.2 ppg, ranking 73rd in success rate, 115th in IsoPPP, and 80th in points per scoring opportunity. And they didn’t force many turnovers, either. On the surface, Baylor’s defense is a mediocre unit that doesn’t do anything particularly well and gets burned for big plays a lot.

Dig a little deeper, though, and you’ll notice that a disproportionate number of the big plays that Baylor’s defense gave up came in two games: a 66-33 loss to Oklahoma and a 58-14 loss to West Virginia. The defense wasn’t good most of the time, but this was a mostly-okay unit that happened to get torched a couple of times. Granted, it also gave up 34 points against a Kansas State offense that wasn’t very good and Iowa State was able to dink and dunk the Bears to death — but it also had two solid performances in its last two outings, holding TCU to 16 points and Texas Tech to 24, and neither performance was particularly fluky, either.

This was a unit that didn’t gamble much and probably could have used it: the Bears forced just three fumbles all season and got just six interceptions. That actually sounds quite a bit like the 2017 Vanderbilt defense now that I think about it, and that’s hardly a unit you would want to emulate. Baylor’s defensive line did an okay job at getting into the backfield, but ranked 105th in stuff rate — and the back seven was even worse at creating havoc. It’s actually hard to tell if this was a conscious effort to avoid taking risks or just a sheer lack of talent; my guess is the latter.

The nicest thing I can say about Baylor’s defense, though, is that it was actually rare that it cost them a game. When the offense was scoring points, the defense wasn’t getting in the way (with the lone exception of the Oklahoma game); when the offense wasn’t scoring, well, it didn’t really matter what the defense did anyway.