By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor has always been known for its offense; the Bears have finished in the top three in total offense each of the past three seasons. However in the season opener, Baylor relied on its defense to get the job done.
No. 10 Baylor used a commanding defensive effort to dominate Southern Methodist University, 45-0, in the first ever game at McLane Stadium.
Baylor’s defensive line stole the show from what was supposed to be a shootout. Junior defensive end Shawn Oakman went off for two sacks, two tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble. The Bears had eight sacks on the day, one shy of a team record set in 1989.
SMU head coach June Jones struggled all day to find an answer to Baylor’s pressure. Sophomore Neal Burcham started the game, but was pulled after only two drives following a disastrous sequences that led to a combined nine yards.
In his place, former Texas A&M quarterback Matt Davis was even worse. By the end of the game, Burcham, Davis and third-string Kolney Cassel combined for 91 yards through the air.
And that was the good news for Jones.
Between the eight sacks, Baylor held SMU’s rushing attack to a grand total of -24 yards rushing. Running backs Prescott Line and Kevin Pope combined for 27 yards, but Burcham and Davis lost a combined to lose 52 yards.
“We came in thinking that we could be a good line, and I think we showed that we are,” sophomore defensive end Jamal Palmer, who finished with 4.0 tackles, half a sack and half a tackle for loss, said. “We have some stuff to build on, don’t get me wrong, but I think we had a great start. We’re very deep; there are some guys who haven’t even been brought up now.”
Baylor scored 24 points in the first quarter, and the defense played a big role in it. Senior linebacker Bryce Hager forced a fumble on SMU’s third drive of the game that sophomore linebacker Aiavion Edwards advanced to the SMU 6-yard-line. Sophomore running back Shock Linwood punched that opportunity in for a score.
The Bears also forced three three-and-outs in the first quarter that Baylor converted into 17 points. Later on, sophomore cornerback Xavien Howard grabbed an interception that led to another Baylor touchdown in the second quarter.
Offensively, Baylor struggled to get consistent production. Senior quarterback Bryce Petty went for a 16-yard run with an option during the first drive, but was hit in the lower back by a facemask on the tackle.
“I was trying to battle through it, but I couldn’t really throw as well as I wanted to,” Petty said. “I just got to the point where it started getting hard to stand up.”
Petty played through the injury in the second quarter, but was not able to play as effectively as would be expected from the Heisman Trophy hopeful. Despite the hindrance, Petty still finished with two passing touchdowns and a rushing touchdown in only one half.
After the game, Petty did not believe the injury would keep him out for any time.
“It already is starting to feel better by just resting it,” Petty said.
Senior All-American wide receiver Antwan Goodley also left the game with tightness in his calf, an injury he had been struggling with since training camp.
In his place, true freshmen receivers Davion Hall and KD Cannon got on the field, and they delivered. Cannon exploded for a 46-yard touchdown in the first quarter for his first ever college reception, and later grabbed another 13-yard reception. Hall led the team with 86 yards
Junior wide receiver Jay Lee added 89 yards and a touchdown of his own while playing as the featured wideout in Goodley’s absence.
In front of 45,733 raucous fans, Baylor opened the new McLane Stadium to great fanfare. Former Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III was on hand for the presentation of a statue in the South end zone, and he took his opportunity back in the spotlight. Griffin was awarded a statue, was on hand for the coin toss and conducted the band, not to mention taking a giant selfie with the Baylor Line.
Other dignitaries on hand included 43rd president George W Bush and his wife Laura; both United State senators from the state of Texas, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn; Texas governor Rick Perry; Texas Supreme Court justice Don Willet and a host of other nationally and state elected officials.
“I don’t think I have ever coached in a bigger game,” Briles said. “When I felt like I was indebted to so many people and a cause, it just make it more meaningful. I try not to let it rub off on our kids, but reality is reality. They have eyes, they have ears, they see and they hear.”
No. 10 Baylor will now have a short week before it plays Northwestern State at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday in Waco once again. The game will be broadcast on FSN.