By Krista Pirtle
Baylor Nation may miss Heisman trophy winner Robert Griffin III, but not much as the Bears defeated the SMU Mustangs 59-24.
“We felt like we had to come out and see what we were,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “Just like everybody else, we weren’t sure. We felt like we knew what we had. We felt like we knew we had a determined, eager, anxious football team that wanted to prove themselves.”
A crowd of 43,514 gathered in Floyd Casey stadium to see what the post-Griffin era will bring, notching the No. 4 opening day crowd in Floyd Casey History.
As per usual, the Bears didn’t need much time to put points up on the board, possessing the ball for only 20:05 minutes compared to the Mustangs’ 39:55.
Senior quarterback Nick Florence made his presence known in the first half, going 15 for 22 for 208 yards and a trio of touchdowns and ending the game completing 21 for 30 passes for 341 yards and four touchdowns. He also rushed for 24 yards.
The ground game was not as downhill as it was last season with Terrance Ganaway, but senior running back Jarred Salubi broke through the middle and took his speed to the perimeter of the field.
Salubi finished with 91 total yards and a touchdown.
SMU’s offensive structure is very similar to Baylor’s with a run and gun mentality.
Senior running back Zach Line finished the game with 135 yards.
Baylor struck first with a six-yard pass to senior wide receiver Lanear Sampson, taking 3:42 off the clock to do it.
The Bears would score on their next drive with another short pass to senior tight end Jordan Najvar.
Baylor’s offense would hit a drought before a 50-yard pass to junior inside receiver Tevin Reese would give the Bears 21 points, capping off a three-play drive that covered 75 yards in all of 39 seconds.
That play also solidified Florence’s presence in the pocket for the Bears.
After a forced SMU punt, Baylor capped off the first half with a 44-yard field goal by junior Aaron Jones.
On the defensive side for the Bears, a new line-up was seen.
Baylor put three men on the line while moving junior Sam Holl to a linebacker type position.
“The first half we came out and played well,” Holl said. “I thought we had a great first half. [We] held them to three points. We wanted to come out fast and physical. I feel like we did that for the most part.”
The first quarter showcased SMU’s main offensive target Line, averaging just over 3 yards a carry.
Early in the second quarter, however, sophomore linebacker Bryce Hager got Line’s number and hit him either on the line of scrimmage or a few yards off it.
While the secondary provided some holes down the field, the Baylor defense tightened up its game in the red zone, forcing SMU to go 0-3.
The Mustangs first trip to within 20 of the Promised Land resulted in a field goal that landed wide left of the uprights.
The second trip sent the pigskin through the middle for three points.
SMU’s last trip, however, resulted in a pass bobbled by senior safety Mike Hicks and picked up by junior linebacker Eddie Lackey.
Baylor ends the first half leading the Mustangs 24-3.
Just under five minutes into the second half, junior cornerback KJ Morton forced a fumble on senior Darius Johnson.
The loose ball was recovered for a 66-yard pick six by senior safety Mike Hicks.
The Mustangs’ next possession ended with an interception by Holl and ended with a nine-yard carry to the end zone by Salubi.
After forcing an SMU punt, Florence connected with senior wide receiver Terrance Williams for 48 yards, setting up a 26-yard pass to Sampson for the touchdown, making the score 45-3 in favor of the Bears.
The Mustangs fought back with a 33-yard carry by Line.
The next play, SMU finally found the end zone with a 42-yard pass to sophomore Der’ikk Thompson.
After a 37-yard punt return by sophomore inside receiver Levi Norwood with 13:40 left in the ball game, sophomore quarterback Bryce Petty entered the game.
His first pass was complete to senior Jerod Monk for a gain of 11.
Five plays later with a handoff to senior running back Glasco Martin, the Bears found the end zone again, making the score 52-10.
SMU fought back with a short pass of its own to make the score before Baylor answered with a 37-yard pass from Petty to senior wide receiver Darryl Stonum to make the score 59-17.
The Mustangs would score one more time before the game was over off a 40-yard pass.
“We have bigger goals and that’s what we want to keep working towards,” Florence said. “It was a great first start, and we have to keep getting better.”
The Bears have this next week off before hosting Sam Houston State Sept. 15.