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The Baylor Effect: Spread energizes Bowling Green, Tulsa
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Baylor quarterback Seth Russell (17) warms up as coach Art Briles watches before last weekend's game against Lamar in Waco, Texas. - photo by Associated Press

Baylor's spread offense is spreading and making opposing defenses sick.

The top three FBS teams in yards per game this week are Baylor and two programs led by protégés of Bears coach Art Briles.

Bowling Green is second in the nation in yards per game (609.3) in year two under formerBaylor assistant Dino Babers. Tulsa is third (607 yards per game) in its first season with former Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery as head coach.

Briles' player-friendly system is easily transferrable and highly effective. The fifth-ranked Bears (2-0) have been first or second in total offense the last four years and are averaging 754 yards this season.

"I don't know why you'd want to make things difficult if you don't have to," Briles said.

The offense is deadly simple in its approach.

First, go fast. Second, spread the field about as wide as possible. Third, run inside to take advantage of all that space created by receivers lined up outside the hash marks. Fourth, go deep — a lot.

"It's easy to buy into it because you see results and I think the biggest part about it is it's fun," said Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans, who is second in the country with 390.7 yards passing per game after throwing four touchdowns in a 52-38 loss at Oklahoma. "And when something is fun it's really easy to put in the hard work, the time it takes to start figuring this offense out."

Tulsa (2-1) ranked 59th in the country in total offense last season — with many of the same players — while winning two games. The Golden Hurricane has been quickly transformed by Montgomery, who worked for Briles for 20 years, going back to Stephenville (Texas) High School.

"From a base standpoint all three of us are doing things that are similar," Montgomery said. "With that being said, everybody's got their own twists, and working with the personnel that you have."

Tulsa's twists might be tougher to identify.

"They're identical," Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. "We've got to find a better way to deal with it."

The Sooners lost 48-14 to Baylor last season and play the Bears in Waco, Texas, on Nov. 14.

The Baylor offense rarely asks quarterbacks to make NFL-style progressions and defensive reads. Running backs and tight ends are hardly ever used in the passing game.

"We still have progressions, but it's more seeing what happens before the ball's snapped to right after the ball's snapped," Evans said. "Since we are going so fast it would be really hard to have to do all that stuff. When we go fast the defense gets simplified."

The Baylor offense is a receiver's dream because it produces lots of one-on-one opportunities from its three- and four-receiver sets.

"We don't run out-of-this-world routes, or whatever, but just keep it as basic as we can, running the football, throwing up the ball, not throwing so many routes that we can't grasp all of them at one time," Baylor receiver Jay Lee said.

But calling the offense simple is an oversimplification.

"When I first came in, I had to learn 180 plays in a small amount of time, and I got thrown out there running the wrong stuff, so it wasn't that easy," Lee said.

Babers and Bowling Green are a little different.

"You'll see them do a few more traditional NFL concepts," said Chris B. Brown, the author of "The Essential Smart Football" and "The Art of Smart Football." "It's not that Baylor doesn't have that stuff, it's that they don't have to use it."

Babers spent nearly 25 years in coaching before landing on Briles' staff at Baylor in 2008 as wide receivers coach.

"I'm a little bit older than Coach Montgomery so I've got some other people in me," Babers said.

The 54-year-old Babers cites the late Homer Smith, a longtime UCLA and Alabama offensive coordinator, former Hawaii coach June Jones and former NFL coach Mike Martz as influences.

Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson leads the nation in passing at 452.7 yards per game for the Falcons (1-2), who have sandwiched competitive losses against Tennessee and Memphis around a victory against Maryland. Bowling Green will try to take down a second Big Ten team Saturday at Purdue.

"It's one of those offenses that once you run it and once you learn it as a player, you're going to always run it," Babers said. "You're going to always learn it because you have such fun playing it."