Not every big man on Baylor's team is an overrated one-trick pony. While I'm sure you have heard a lot about LaQuan McGowan, you probably haven't heard enough about Andrew Billings. Billings, a Junior, is a 310 pound nose tackle for the bears, and legend has it that he can squat 690 pounds. Art Briles, being so witty and clever, likes to talk about how he doesn't recruit athletes, he recruits freak athletes. I don't have to like the guy, but I'm inclined to agree with him on this one. Billings is a candidate for the Bednarik Trophy, Nagurski Trophy, and just about every other trophy that they offer to linemen. He was selected as a 2nd team Preseason All-American by Athlon and as the Preseason Big 12 Player of The Year by the league media (but not us, of course).
So far this year, Billings has 29 tackles, 25 solo, and 3.5 sacks. That's over just eight games. For some perspective, Billings has 37 tackles, 25 solo, with 2 sacks last year in 13 games. Suffice to say he has been having a great year and has validated his high, preseason expectations.
His impact was never felt more by the Bears than when he was not on the field. Billings hurt his ankle on Oct. 17th against West Virginia and missed the next two games. Up until the West Virginia game Baylor had pretty much crushed everyone that they played, but they struggled against Iowa State and Kansas State in the two games that Billings was out. Iowa State rushed for 232 yards in what fellow SB Nation site Wide Right and Natty Light called a moral victory for the ages. Kansas State rushed for 258 yards the next week and the two Big 12 bottom-dwellers gave the Bears their first two competitive games of the year. On the year, Baylor has the No. 2 rushing defense in the Big 12, allowing only 157 yards per game. So, to get gashed by two bad teams shows how much they felt Billings absence.
Baylor, like TCU, has the majority of their defensive struggles in the secondary. This necessitates that the defensive line get pressure on the quarterback to keep them from having time to go downfield or pick apart the coverage. In fact, despite not losing half of their team to season-ending injuries, Baylor is ranked below TCU in pretty much every single defensive category. This includes pass defense, which means that Baylor really needs that pressure up front. All of this, coupled with the fact that Shawn Oakman, Baylor's other freak on the defensive line, has a problem keeping his motor going on every play, makes Billings the most important player to Baylor's success defensively.
In Fort Worth on Friday night, it is supposed to be cold, rainy and miserable. As of right now, the weather report calls for 39 degrees with 100% chance of rain. This will be a game that will be won and lost in the trenches, because both teams will have trouble executing their pass-happy offenses in those conditions. Billings, No. 75, will be the one to keep your eye on. His ability to command double teams and keep blocks off of their linebackers will be a huge factor in their hopes to stop Aaron Green and Co. He's been made an even bigger factor thanks to the loss of TCU's All Big 12 senior center Joey Hunt.
After the fight that this team put up in Norman, I firmly believe that they will never stop fighting. In the Kansas game, when Boykin got hurt, I'm not sure if they believed. They believed that they could beat Kansas, but I don't think they believed that they were still contenders without Trevone. Now they know what they are capable of, after taking a top 5 team to the brink on the road without their starting quarterback, wide receiver and three offensive linemen. That belief is what will propel them forward into this week's Black Friday showdown, into bowl season and beyond. If we all believe, maybe our collective dream of revenge is still within our grasp.