By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor football did what they were expected to do and more in a 69-3 thrashing of FCS opponent Wofford on Saturday night in Waco.
While the Bears’ offense is expected to produce loads of points, most eyes were on the defensive side of the ball.
Baylor has historically been a poor defensive program. In the first half of last season, they ranked last in most FBS statistical categories.
Through seven games, Baylor allowed an average of 553.71 yards per game. That would have broken the all-time record for yards allowed per game if they continued at that porous pace.
In the second half of the season, Baylor’s defense vastly improved. They held opponents to 442.16 yards per game in the last six games.
The Bears forced 11 turnovers in the second half compared to seven in the first half of the season.
In fact, Baylor’s defense has forced two or more turnovers in seven of its last eight games dating back to last season. They have gone 6-2 in that stretch.
Baylor is returning a vast majority of the starting defense from last season, including senior defensive ends Terrance Lloyd and Chris McAllister.
“We’ve got great depth at defensive end,” said head football coach Art Briles. “Terrance and Chris have been doing their thing for the better part of three years, so these other guys will have to show bursts in the opportunities they are given.”
McAllister has been a key defensive contributor the last two seasons. In the Holiday Bowl against UCLA and Saturday against Wofford combined, he has six tackles and three sacks. The icing on the cake was a batted pass that he picked off and ran for a 25-yard touchdown to break the game wide open against Wofford.
“When I realized I couldn’t get to the quarterback, I just tried to get up and get my hands up,” McAllister said. “When the ball tipped the way it did, I knew I could return it for a touchdown if I just caught the ball.”
Highly touted Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman was also able to get in-game experience and made a clear impact with pressure at the line of scrimmage.
He recorded six tackles, including 3.5 for loss. That number puts him second in all of college football.
Sophomore defensive end Jamal Palmer has provided a spark for the Baylor defense and a bright glimpse into the future. He finished with five tackles, a sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
The interior defensive line is filled with young talent. The Bears started against Wofford with two sophomores inside: Beau Blackshear and Trevor Clemons-Valdez. Clemons-Valdez did an admirable job filling in, as he was not projected to start at the beginning of the season.
Sophomore defensive tackle Javonte Magee, the projected starter, missed the game against Wofford due to a personal situation.
Coach Briles expected Magee to be back last week but is not concerned with the situation.
Off the bench, Baylor has local product and true freshman Andrew Billings, a four-star recruit and the 12th highest rated defensive tackle in the Class of 2013 by Rivals.
Even though Blackshear and Magee have a stranglehold on the position, Billings will prove to be a crucial player for the Bears by providing depth on the interior.
The defense held Wofford to only 233 yards, including 2.9 yards per carry. Wofford was hassled by heavy pressure on the Wofford quarterback by the defensive line.
“I expect to see the defense you saw on Saturday heading forward,” Lloyd said. “We strive for perfection.”
After struggling early in the game against the run, McAllister is confident in Baylor’s line heading forward.
“We adjusted throughout the game. We were able to tighten things up. I think we’ll be able to figure things out in terms of stopping the run as we go along.”
For the first time in a long time, Baylor’s defensive line might have the talent to do just that.
Baylor football returns at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Floyd Casey Stadium against Buffalo.