By Daniel Hill
The No. 19 Baylor Bears (3-0) are undefeated on the season and generating buzz nationally with gaudy offensive statistics after a 70-7 blowout victory against the University of Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks on Saturday at Floyd Casey Stadium.
“We’ve had three home games,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “We’ve taken advantage of being home, and we’ve got good people. We have a good football team. If you combine those factors, it’s people making plays on both sides of the ball. We’ve got to keep playing at a high rate and win. That’s the bottom line.”
Last season when the Bears faced the Warhawks in Monroe, the Bears narrowly escaped with a 47-42 victory. With this weekend’s 70-7 blowout, the Bears left no doubt in Waco.
For the most part, this is the same Baylor defense that conceded 42 points to ULM last year. With eight returning starters to the unit, holding ULM to seven points is an obvious sign of growth and improvement from the Baylor defense.
“It says a lot about us,” senior safety Ahmad Dixon said. “Last year, we gave up some big plays and we came back and washed it out of our minds and did what we needed to do. It’s obvious that we’ve grown, we’ve matured, we’ve improved as a defense. We’re just looking forward to West Virginia.”
The Bears defense didn’t just limit the ULM offense, but created its own offense with a 41-yard interception return touchdown from senior cornerback Joe Williams and sophomore safety Terrell Burt added to the defensive scoring by picking off ULM quarterback Kolton Browning’s pass and raced to the end zone to give the Bears a 28-0 lead.
Senior linebacker Eddie Lackey agreed with Dixon that the difference this year was in maturity.
“I think it’s just maturity in our defense,” Lackey said. “We’ve gelled as a defense finally and I think everybody as an overall defense, we’ve just grown up. We know where we have to keep our eyes every play and we’ve got to do our fundamentals and we were just really assignment sound and were able to execute what we needed to do. It says a lot. It shows how much we’ve really grown as a whole team and especially as a defense. We gave up a lot of points last year and we let their quarterback ,Browning, just get a little too much on us last year. It just really shows how much we’ve grown.”
Through three games, junior quarterback Bryce Petty has proven the ability to carry the torch as the next Baylor quarterback to helm a juggernaut offense.
Petty has already amassed 1,001 passing yards with eight touchdowns while maintaining a 74.6 completion percentage with zero turnovers. Petty has also utilized his athletic 6-foot-3, 230 pound frame by rushing for two touchdowns.
Against ULM, Petty lit up the Warhawks defense for a season-high 351 passing yards and four touchdowns.
“That’s what we want to do,” Petty said. “I think we kind of have a whole different mentality going into it, not only this game, but every game we want to attack first. Coach Briles always says don’t wait for something bad to happen to get good. I think he’s really just preached that enough to where that’s our game plan so we want to go out and attack.”
With ULM’s defense playing the run aggressively, the game plan called for Petty and the offense to take some deep shots.
“You know with their defense, they like loading people in the box and so that’s kind of what our game plan was,” Petty said. “It was great weather, a little windy. I had a couple of throws I wish I could have back. It was good work by our receivers, good job by the o-linemen all around. I think that was the game plan.”
Petty has been aided by a plethora of weapons at the receiver position.
In the preseason, senior receiver Tevin Reese was expected to take over the No. 1 receiver role and he has delivered with 15 catches for 350 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior receiver Antwan Goodley has made his presence known in explosive fashion with touchdown catches of 83 and 65 yards.
At 5-foot-10 and 225 pounds, Goodley has relished the opportunity to expose his speed this season. Goodley has reeled in 14 passes for a team-high 370 yards and four touchdowns.
Goodley’s emergence as an elite receiver has helped bolster the Baylor offense to rate as the best in the nation statistically.
Goodley burned ULM with five catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
But the Bears offense isn’t just firing through the passing game. The running attack is the main cog in the Bears offensive scheme.
Before the season, junior running back Lache Seastrunk declared himself a Heisman candidate and not too many people took his words seriously.
After three games, Seastrunk’s possible candidacy for a Heisman is coming to fruition.
Seastrunk is averaging an astounding 11 yards per carry on the season. Against ULM, Seastrunk rushed for 156 yards on 10 carries and found the end zone once.
“He’s a freak, a lot of God-given ability,” Petty said. “The guy works hard. We really expect nothing less. I don’t know how many touches he got today (10 carries for 156 yards) but that’s Lache. Like we’ve said all along, he’s our spark. He’s a big-hitter for us. It’s important, especially going into Big 12 to have him hot. That’s just a compliment to the big guys up front. He couldn’t do it by himself. They do a great job of doing what they need to do and then Lache does the rest.”
On the year, Seastrunk has 417 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 38 carries.
Another impact player in Saturday’s win was senior receiver Clay Fuller. Fuller caught his first career touchdown when he hauled in a 23-yard pass from Petty.
It was Fuller’s first touchdown since his senior year of high school, which was nearly seven years ago because Fuller played minor league baseball for six years.
“It felt great,” Fuller said. “Whenever Bryce gives you an opportunity, you want to come down with it. I was fortunate enough to get over the top and make the play.”
Keep in mind that Baylor’s starting offensive unit has yet to play a complete game for four quarters. Against Wofford, Buffalo and ULM, the starters have been pulled early in the third quarter.
Despite the starters not participating in all 12 quarters played this season, the Baylor offense still leads the nation in total yards per game with 751.3.
The second closest team to Baylor is Oregon, averaging 672.0 per game.
The Bears also lead the nation in points per game with 69.7. Baylor’s average margin of victory this season has been 62 points.
Granted, the Bears have not played the most competitive schedule in the nation, but still no college team in America is generating this kind of record-breaking offense or winning in the same emphatic blowout fashion.
How historic is this Baylor offense?
Baylor became the first FBS team since LSU in 1930 to score at least 60 points in the first three games of the season.
The last time any team scored 60 or more points three times in a season at any point of the season was the 2008 Oklahoma Sooners, who faced the Florida Gators in the national championship that year.
“We were really just firing off on all cylinders,” Lackey said. “Turnovers is a huge thing, especially if you can score on defense, that’s a back-breaker for the other team so we just wanted to keep going after them and blitzing. No matter what it took, we just wanted to come out here and make it a statement game and dominate on all elements.”
The other good news for the Bears is that injured starting junior right tackle Troy Baker made his season debut after tearing his ACL, MCL and meniscus on March 25 and having surgery on April 4.
After six months of vigorous rehab, Baker took the field again versus ULM.
“I was so excited,” Baker said. “It felt great. The knee feels great. I had no trouble with it. It feels fine so it was really relieving to finally get back out there.”
With the nonconference schedule out of the way with three convincing wins, the Bears are ready for the challenge of Big 12 football.
The Bears host West Virginia on Oct. 5 to kick off the conference schedule.
“I was ready to start after we won the Holiday Bowl,” Petty said. “So, I’ve been ready for a while, but I know this team is too just because we know what we have. We know what we can do. We’re ready to show you guys and the nation what Baylor football is about. It’s great to get these three games out of the way but we’re ready to play West Virginia that’s for sure.”