After sideline incident, Baylor at center of controversy again; Stanford hits stride
When Baylor assistant Jeff Lebby got caught violating NCAA rules by watching Oklahoma's game against Tulsa in Norman last Saturday from the Golden Hurricane's sideline, the incident prompted reactions fluctuating from outrage to protestations of innocence.
The Bears' camp pleaded ignorance and offered a bevy of excuses, claiming that Lebby gained no competitive advantage by being on the sideline. Baylor coach Art Briles said the incident was “embarrassing" but denied knowing that Lebby, his son-in-law, would be attending the game. Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery, a former Bears assistant, said he has known Lebby since he was in sixth grade and made a mistake in leaving sideline passes for Lebby and his wife.
Around the Big 12, the opinions on the latest off-field incident involving Baylor were more unforgiving. Sooners coach Bob Stoops publicly echoed the feelings of many of the league's coaches and officials by expressing skepticism that Lebby's presence on the sideline was innocuous. “[It's] a pretty fundamental rule," Stoops said. “That's not allowed. I don't know what he was doing here."
The latest incident has once again put the Bears in the spotlight as the Big 12's most polarizing team. As Baylor has risen from decades of irrelevance to win or share the Big 12 title the past two years, the Bears have also been dogged by a series of off-field incidents. Those incidents vary in scope from investigations into illegal recruiting to the university's lack of action after defensive lineman Sam Ukwuachu was accused of sexual assault in October 2013. Within the league, there's a feeling that Baylor has started to operate according to its own rules. “A number of things continue to happen," says a league source. “You lose some of the benefit of the doubt when those things happen in succession."
But with that stigma comes a counterargument from inside and outside the league. Some college football officials believe the criticism has only come because the Big 12 establishment is irked that the Bears have transformed from hapless doormats into perennial contenders. “I think it's the blue bloods," says an administrator familiar with the Big 12. “Now that Baylor has taken a seat at the big-boy table and is doing pretty damn well, people aren't happy."
Here's how the Lebby incident went down last Saturday. Oklahoma compliance officials confronted Lebby in the first half, when he was spotted on the Golden Hurricane's sideline wearing Tulsa's colors. He was in blatant violation of NCAA bylaw 11.6.1, which prohibits off-campus, in-person scouting of future opponents. Sooners compliance officials asked Lebby to leave the game. He claimed ignorance of the in-person scouting rule and left the bench area, but didn't leave the sideline area for several minutes. A source with knowledge of the incident says that Lebby contacted the Bears' compliance office for confirmation of the rule, which is why he lingered for a few minutes. Lebby played at Oklahoma and was a student coach there, so he was recognizable to many university officials. He eventually left before the first half ended.
By itself, the latest incident may not be that big of a deal. But the accumulation of missteps by Baylor puts the Big 12's response under the microscope. Lebby's breaking of such an established rule comes on the heels of two assistants serving a suspension for illegal recruiting evaluations. (Baylor's issuance of the suspension—served by the coaches on Sept. 12, during the Bears' 66–31 thrashing of Lamar—appeared to be a preemptive strike in anticipation of an NCAA decision.) Of much larger scope, the Bears also endured weeks of negative headlines this summer after Ukwuachu was convicted of sexual assault and sentenced to 180 days in county jail. The university has brought in outside council to investigate its handling of Ukwuachu, as there is debate about whether the school did adequate research before accepting him, and about why it didn't dismiss him for nearly two years after the initial allegations. Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw declined comment.
TCU coach Gary Patterson took a subtle shot at Baylor this week in the wake of the arrest of Horned Frogs senior defensive end Mike Tuaua, who was charged with felony robbery. Patterson seemingly targeted the Bears by saying, “It's not even close to what happened south of here."
Former Baylor coach Guy Morriss says that he wouldn't have been able to keep Ukwuachu on the team when he coached at Baylor from 2003 to '07. “No, I wouldn't have," he says. “But that's not my concern, and I'm glad of that."
“It was a little bit more strict when I was there, I think," Morris adds.
The reaction of the Big 12 to the Lebby scouting incident is so intriguing because of the perception of the league's kid-glove handling of Briles at the end of last season. Briles publicly berated Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby after the Bears won a share of the conference title in December. Bowlsby recognized both TCU and Baylor as co-champions because both teams finished 8–1 in league play, even though the Bears won their head-to-head matchup with the Horned Frogs on Oct. 11. Briles followed up his in-person confrontation, which was caught on video, by blasting Bowlsby to reporters.
“I'm not obligated to [Bowlsby]," Briles said. “I'm obligated to Baylor University and our football team. And we just happen to be a part of the Big 12. And we happen to be the champion two years in a row. So they need to be obligated to us, because we're helping the Big 12's image in the nation."
The Big 12 and Baylor answered the most immediate questions about the Lebby incident on Wednesday night, as Baylor suspended him for the first half of the Oklahoma game on Nov. 14 and the conference issued a public reprimand.
The perceived rift between the Bears and the rest of the league is underscored by public comments that McCaw made after Kendal Briles (Art's son and Baylor's offensive coordinator) was cleared of an NCAA investigation into illegal recruiting contact in 2014. (This was a different allegation than the one for which he served a suspension earlier this month.) Bears officials were indignant that Kendal had been accused and expressed concern about false accusations about their coaching staff in recruiting. “We are also committed to holding accountable those who make unsubstantiated claims as best we can," McCaw said then, “and will work within the appropriate channels to do so."
But with Kendal having served a suspension this month for a similar rule violation, Baylor's cries of being a target of false allegations ring hollow. As SI.com reported earlier this year, NCAA officials interviewed Dallas-area high school coaches in May about Kendal and receivers coach Tate Wallis potentially violating NCAA rules at spring games and a track meet. “These guys are acting like they're invisible," says one assistant coach. “I see you. You're on national television. I see you. Acting like you're invisible is amazing."
What advantage could be gained by Lebby scouting the Sooners in person? While Art Briles admitted that Lebby's presence in Norman was “unethical," he downplayed the incident's importance. “From a strategic standpoint or an advantage, it's absolutely goose egg," he told ESPN Central Texas. “You learn more watching on TV than you can standing on the sideline."
Three Big 12 assistant coaches disagreed, pointing out the advantage of seeing an opposing team's hand signals, and hearing snap counts and play calls. They said that creates a decisive advantage in preparation. “Some of the things you can't get on film, the cadence, if the quarterback's hard counting, maybe checks at the line," says one assistant. “Defensively, if they're making calls, what they're doing."
Whether it's jealously or duplicity, the Big 12 is certainly buzzing. And how the league handles the Lebby situation will be followed closely because of the accumulation of off-field issues that have coincided with the Bears' success.
After opening loss, Stanford offense hits its stride
Mike Bloomgren couldn't stop watching the video. After then-No. 21 Stanford's poor performance in a season-opening 16-6 loss at Northwestern, the Cardinal offensive coordinator obsessively reviewed his unit's miscues during the nearly five-hour flight home.
He couldn't believe his receivers' dropped passes and his vaunted offensive line's failure to protect fourth-year starting quarterback Kevin Hogan. It was so appalling that Bloomgren had to stop himself from his leaving his seat to speak with his players. "It was a long ride home, my goodness," Bloomgren tells The Inside Read with a laugh.
Bloomgren's return home Saturday night was far more celebratory after Stanford upset No. 6 USC 41-31 on the road. The win was driven by a Cardinal offense that piled up 474 yards and had possession for twice as long as the Trojans.
Now, Stanford (2-1) is ranked again, No. 21 in the AP Poll, entering Friday night's game at Oregon State. "It's what we knew we had," Bloomgren says of Saturday night's win. "We just needed to put in on the field on a Saturday to show the rest of the world and not keep it a secret anymore."
Stanford's impressive offensive performance against USC was the type that Cardinal coaches had seen throughout preseason practices, according to Bloomgren. A fifth-year senior, Hogan dazzled earlier this fall with his decision-making about when to run the ball, with his handling of protections and his passing.
But against Northwestern, Stanford's offense was lethargic, piling up just 240 yards. Hogan completed just 20 of 35 attempts for 155 yards with an interception.
Bloomgren can't recall being involved in a worse offensive performance during his 17-year coaching career. "We made mistakes across the board that we literally hadn't made in a month of training camp," Bloomgren says. "It was a little dumbfounding, a little baffling."
Bloomgren felt the same way about criticism of Stanford's play-calling after its season-opening loss. "We didn't ever consider inefficiency and conservative synonyms, but I guess they are," Bloomgren says. "That's what I learned after our opener."
Bloomgren chalks up the Cardinal's struggles at Northwestern to a bad day. "I certainly understand why people outside of these walls panicked and wanted to pull the rip cord on us," he says. "I get it. I know how it must have looked."
But Bloomgren and the rest of Stanford's offensive staff, most of which has worked together with Cardinal coach David Shaw for at least five years, remained calm. They simply focused on correcting the mistakes made at Northwestern. "We certainly weren't going to scrap this thing and go a different direction any time soon," Bloomgren says.
That has showed in the two games since, especially with Hogan. He has combined to complete 35 of 52 pass attempts for 620 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Hogan played most of the second half against USC with a high ankle sprain that he suffered on the opening possession of the third quarter. His availability for Friday night's game is uncertain.
"It was a gutty performance," Bloomgren says. "If there's any way he can go, I know that warrior's going to be out there for us. Our kids feed off that."
Matt Canada has brought winning offense to NC State
In this era of gaudy video-game statistics, Matt Canada is a purist. The energized third-year NC State offensive coordinator doesn't care about eye-popping numbers. He is only concerned with scoring enough points to win.
"All these stats that so many people are chasing, they don't matter," Canada tells The Inside Read. "Stats are for losers. Anybody can find a stat like you're the best second-and-long team in the nation. Who cares? You either win or you lose. That, to me, is what's getting lost in the world of our game right now."
But while Canada won't admit it, he has quietly become one of college football's most versatile play-callers with his ability to shape his offenses around the talents of his players. As an offensive coordinator, he helped guide Northern Illinois to a MAC title in 2011 behind dual-threat quarterback Chandler Harnish and Wisconsin to a Big Ten championship in '12 behind a three-headed running attack.
Canada also held the same position at Indiana in 2007, when the Hoosiers used his pass-happy offense to make its last bowl appearance. Now he is running a modern pro-style offense that has NC State off to a 3-0 start on the heels off the Wolfpack winning eight games last year for the first time in half a decade.
It's an attack that was so balanced last season that NC State had only a seven-yard difference in its total rushing and passing yardage. The 43-year-old Canada's varied offensive background is why he is expected to be a candidate for head-coaching jobs in the months ahead. "We find what our players do well, maximize our strengths and minimize what we don't do well," Canada says. "We build our offense around the players we have at the time."
Canada's latest star is fifth-year senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who sat out the 2013 season after transferring from Florida and has been the Wolfpack's starter ever since. In '15 Brissett has completed 77.8% of his passes for 591 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions.
The 6' 4", 235-pound standout looks like a completely different quarterback than the guy who spent two disappointing seasons with the Gators. Last year Brissett threw for 2,606 yards with 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions.
"It's ridiculous how good he's playing right now," Canada says.
NC State's offense has been suffocating this season, leading the FBS in average time of possession at 40 minutes per game. That's after Canada used a no-huddle attack two seasons ago in Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren's debut.
Yet Canada is not surprisingly indifferent about his offense's time of possession ranking. "I'm not trying to have a stat that says we're leading the nation in this or that," Canada says.
Of course, unless that stat is wins.
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