Dixon fuels improved Bear defense

No. 6 defensive back Ahmad Dixon returns the interception for a touchdown during the game against Rice Saturday in Floyd Casey Stadium. Baylor beat Rice 56-31.
Matt Hellman | Lariat Photo Editor

By Tyler Alley
Sports Editor

Last Saturday, the Baylor defense stepped on the field for Rice’s second drive of the second half with the Bears leading 35-17. Despite the lead, the atmosphere in Floyd Casey Stadium was dead.

Rice quarterback Taylor McHargue threw right to receiver Andre Gautreaux, who bobbled the catch. The ball bounced off Gautreaux and landed in the arms of sophomore nickelback Ahmad Dixon. Dixon returned the interception for a touchdown, and the crowd roared back to life.

“It was very exciting,” Dixon said. “The whole week Coach [Phil] Bennett told me they were going to come with that play, and it just happened right it front of me. It was like God [said], ‘Here, Ahmad, you can have this play.’ I’m grateful for it. It gave us a big spark when we were flat in the first half.”

Dixon ran the kick back 55 yards for the score, extending the Bears’ lead to 42-17. Junior quarterback Robert Griffin III laughed about Dixon’s effort on the score.

“He was running hard, wasn’t he?” Griffin said. “Oh my gosh. It’s like, ‘No one’s going to catch you, man. Slow down.’ But we like to see that. He’s got good hands. He needs to make big plays for us, and he did.”

Dixon laughed when he heard Griffin’s comment.

“My first thought was get to the endzone,” Dixon said. “I’m not an offensive guy so I really don’t know how to hold the ball. When you get an interception, you don’t look back; [you] just get in the endzone. You never know when that opportunity will come again so just make the best of it.”

The interception was Dixon’s first of the season. Dixon said he had two chances before in the past two games. He tipped the ball that was intercepted by junior safety Mike Hicks against Stephen F. Austin, and he nearly intercepted a pass on TCU’s final drive before Hicks made the pick to seal the game. Dixon has 17 total tackles on the season.

“I think he’s played at a very high level all year,” head coach Art Briles said. “Every time you look there’s 6’s (Dixon’s jersey number) around the ball and he’s making plays. That was a big play actually because we didn’t come in the halftime leaning back with our feet up feeling good. That was a huge play.”

Dixon played 11 of 13 games his true freshman year as a reserve safety and on special teams. This year he moved to the nickelback position, which he described as a combination linebacker, cornerback and safety.

“I’m pretty much just the all-around guy,” Dixon said. “Some people call it a hybrid position because you have to be versatile. I thank Coach Bennett for allowing me to play the position because that’s a big factor in our defense. If that position messes up on a few plays, it’s noticeable.”

Dixon smiled when asked about the effect Bennett had on his play.

“Coach Bennett knows how to get you in every kind of way, but it’s all for a good reason,” Dixon said. “I think he has affected my play a lot. He’s changed the way I play, made me realize my good and my bad. He’s a tremendous coach. He’s known for doing that. He’s affected me a whole lot.”

Senior linebacker Elliot Coffey said he has been with Dixon since the latter came in as a safety, and Coffey was happy to see him succeed.

“To see him move down to that nickel and see him embrace it as well as he has [is] awesome,” Coffey said. “And then you finally see it come to the point that it did where he gets the pick-six. The play is in perfect position. The ball pops up in his hands, no hesitation, he’s gone. It feels great to see that his work isn’t going in vain, that it’s finally showing up.”

Dixon was a bluechip local recruit out of Midway High School. He was an All-American defensive back rated No. 15 national by ESPN.com, Baylor’s highest-rated signee in recent memory. He is one of 17 Baylor players from the Central Texas area.

Heading into Big 12 play, Dixon recognizes the defense and specials teams need to become more consistent if the Bears are to succeed in conference games.

“We’ve had our ups and down,” Dixon said. “That’s not a good thing going into conference play, playing against a K-State team that just came off a big win in Miami. Bill Snyder is a great coach. Coach Bennett told us after the game that we’re going to have to step up. Going into Manhattan playing against those guys, we’re going to have to bring our A-game.”

Baylor’s defense currently ranks seventh in points allowed in the Big 12 with 26.3 points allowed per game and rank fifth in yards allowed with 363 yards per game.

The defense has done better against the pass than the run. The Bears are fifth in pass defense and sixth in rushing defense.