By Jeffrey Swindoll
No. 10 Baylor football started its season in the brand new McLane Stadium with a convincing 45-0 win over Southern Methodist University on Sunday night. With a sold-out stadium, garbed in response to Baylor’s “Sold Out, Gold Out” social media campaign, Sunday night was about a lot more than just football.
Just the excitement of being a part of such a historic moment in Baylor and Waco history was vibrant before and after kickoff. The new stadium had its naysayers in just about any area from parking to the Jumbotron screen size. By the end of the night, few were left without some kind of appreciation for the McLane Stadium experience.
“That’s what it has been all about since about two years ago, and certainly the last four or five months: just the unveiling of the stadium and the atmosphere,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “The first time I got over here I said, `shoot I don’t plan big enough, dream big enough or foresee big enough,’ because the atmosphere today prior to the game was everything we hoped it could be.”
The football team did its job Sunday night, fulfilling the hope of opening the stadium with a positive message to Baylor Nation – first and foremost, this team is about winning.
Before defensive coordinator Phil Bennett took charge of Baylor’s defense in 2011, the Bears were one of the worst defenses in the FBS. That needed to change for the Bears to move up to elite college football status.
McLane Stadium’s inaugural game introduced a new storyline for Baylor football. Baylor’s defense had an absolute field day, holding the Mustangs to 67 total yards in the entire game. Nothing worked for SMU. Baylor’s defensive line suffocated SMU’s pocket, coming just short of a school record with eight sacks.
“We knew that they were a pretty good defense and more talented than what they have been given credit for,” SMU head coach June Jones said. “I just didn’t expect us to not be able to block them at all.”
Baylor head coach Art Briles said he was satisfied with the performance,but sees the potential for growth from the entire defense.
“Defensively, that’s how we won the game,” Briles said. “We kind of felt like going in we would have a good defense. What I saw tonight was a lot of strength and a lot of speed. We are still a work in progress.”
The vision has been the same from Briles for the past few years. Establishing a winning culture and a commitment to competing for championships has been the goal of Baylor football, as well as Baylor athletics across the board. The new era of Baylor football turned up a notch from its past generations with the new stadium in place.
“I think as soon as we got off the bus and had The Bear Walk there was just unbelievable support,” senior quarterback Bryce Petty said. “I think we wanted to show off for those fans and everybody. That might have caught up to us a little bit, but I feel like overall we were prepared coming into the game.”
In many ways, Baylor now has an unparalleled atmosphere for college football, and that excites the students, the alumni and of course the players. At the end of the day, the stadium is a stage for a football team to perform, and with the amount of money invested in the team’s venue, an entertaining and exciting football team is an expectation.
“Nobody can match it anywhere, and that is a great thing about it,” Briles said. “We need to all be very thankful and responsible and that is how we feel as a football team.”
The defensive performance was a favorable step for the Bears, but the team still has much to live up to with an ever-growing fervor from the Baylor Nation. McLane Stadium did not disappoint many, if any, on Sunday. All supporters of the green and gold, whether they will be present at the stadium or not, have much to look forward to this season.
No. 10 Baylor football will take on Northwestern State at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium. The game will be televised on FSN.