Defense making big strides in new year

No. 10 junior defensive end Gary Mason Jr. sacks No. 14 junior quarterback Dalton Williams late in the second quarter to force SFA to punt. Baylor won Saturday’s rain-shortened game 48-0 at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Matthew McCarroll | Lariat Photographer

By Krista Pirtle
Sports Writer

Baylor is mostly known for its offensive threat, led by Heisman-candidate quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Yes, he did pad his stats for his Heisman campaign with a 90.9 completion percentage, but one stat that stood out immensely was the zero points scored by Stephen F. Austin.

“I’ll take a shutout any day of the week,” Baylor senior nose tackle Nicolas Jean-Baptiste said. “I wouldn’t have been fine with a field goal. With a shutout you have a goose egg at the end of the day. It’s just a great feeling.

Baylor held an opponent scoreless for the first time since Sept. 23, 1995, when it defeated N.C. State, 14-0, in Raleigh, N.C.

It has been even longer since a defensive shutout was made in Waco, dating back to 1985, with a 45-0 homecoming victory over TCU.

“They had a fourth and one stop, and [an] interception and a fumble down in the red zone,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “Those were scoring chances that were taken away. That’s stuff that you just build on and you build confidence as the season goes on. We’ve got to continue growing.”

Last season, Baylor’s defense allowed on average 30.5 points per game.

“We are light-years from where we were last year and light-years away from where we need to be,” senior linebacker Elliot Coffey said.

After allowing 48 points against TCU two weeks ago, thoughts could be faced not toward the defensive improvement but on the quality of opponent between TCU and SFA.

To a certain extent, those thoughts are valid, but the determination shown on the red zone stands by the Bears took should speak for themselves.

SFA’s first possession in the first quarter was an aggressive one as it took advantage of the shakiness of the Baylor defense.

A 36-yard pass by SFA quarterback sophomore Brady Attaway set up the field quite nicely for the Lumberjacks. On the Baylor 24 yard line on a fourth and one, the defensive line closed any hope of a first-down conversion for SFA.

Later on in the first quarter, the Lumberjacks had a promising field position again. Attaway dropped back three steps and threw an interception to Baylor junior safety Mike Hicks.

Early in the second quarter, SFA lined up on the Baylor 6. Attaway handed off to freshman running back Gus Johnson who made it to the 4-yard line before Baylor sophomore linebacker Brody Trahan hit him hard, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Baylor’s Jean-Baptiste.

“I just saw the running back cut up in the hole, and I saw Brody make the tackle,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Then the ball just flew in there and I dove right on it. Basically I didn’t have a good grip on it, but I was wrestling with it the whole time until the ref came and picked it up and got the fumble recovery.”

From there on out, every offensive drive by SFA ended in a punt, all due to the Baylor defense holding strong to force three-and-outs.

After a TCU game full of close calls for the Baylor defense, Jean-Baptiste broke through the offensive line in the second quarter to sack junior quarterback Dalton Williams for a loss of eight yards.

“I didn’t even have myself making the first sack,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Opportunity came. Gary (Mason Jr.) had a great pass rush as the quarterback ran up and moved up in the pocket, and I just came and cleaned up on him.”

The very next set, junior defensive end Mason recorded a sack of his own, a 14-yard loss for SFA.

“We’re playing pretty well; we’re making strides,” Jean-Baptiste said. “Especially this game, we finally got back there, got two sacks so we basically broke the seal. Now we’re trying to do a lot better, trying to challenge ourselves.”

The bye week did the Bears’ defense good as they improved on their knowledge, a factor that is directly related to the amount of success on the field.

However, the Bears know not to be confident in their accomplishments thus far because complacency will not raise them to championship level.

“We are way better than what we used to be,” Jean-Baptiste said. “We’ll keep getting better as the year goes on and you’ll see a lot better defensive play from us.

Saturday Baylor will face off against old Southwest Conference rival Rice, which is fresh off a 24-22 victory over Purdue. Baylor owns this series with three straight wins against the Owls.