By Greg DeVries
Last year, Baylor’s RG3-led offense was historic. Points came in bunches at a rate of more than 45 per game. The defense, however, was a different story.
Baylor’s defense in 2011 gave up more than 37 points per game.
Opposing running backs averaged over five yards per carry, and opposing teams gained nearly 490 yards per game.
Sunday’s win over SMU, 59-24, was a turning point defensively for the Bears.
“I told y’all you would be surprised by our defense this year, and I think they showed up tonight,” senior quarterback Nick Florence said. “As an offense, you couldn’t ask for a better game from your defense.”
Baylor’s defense didn’t give up a touchdown until late in the third quarter.
The Bears even forced three turnovers, but they owe it to more than just experience and offseason work.
Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has given this defense a structural makeover.
“[The defense] allows the linebackers to play more freely and it gives us a better chance [to] see our holes and our fits,” sophomore linebacker Bryce Hager said. “It’s just a great defense overall for everyone.”
The Bears have moved to a 3-4 scheme, meaning that Baylor only has 3 down linemen.
An extra defensive back is added to the field, and four players are set behind the linemen.
In a 3-4, the defense is able to utilize its speed rather than its strength.
Since Baylor has a lot of quick and talented cornerbacks, the switch made sense.
Junior safety Sam Holl has moved up from his original spot deep in the secondary to one much closer to the line of scrimmage, resulting in more opportunities to blitz.
“That’s a good defense for us. It
puts me in position,” junior safety Sam Holl said. “It puts more DBs on the field for coverage. We did well in it [Sunday]. We’re looking for more from that…it puts more speed on the field. It’s good for us.”
Perhaps the shining moment for the defense was senior safety Mike Hicks’ 66-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the third quarter.
SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert threw a pass to senior wide receiver Darius Johnson.
Johnson was hit by junior nickel back Ahmad Dixon and junior safety K.J. Morton, causing him to drop the ball.
Hicks ran over, picked up the ball, and followed his blockers into the end zone.
“I came off of my man,” Morton said. “I was about to go for the pic but I didn’t have enough time. By the time [Johnson] turned around, I hit him. When I hit him, I saw the ball. I saw Mike [Hicks] pick it up, so I was like, ‘Come on, bro. I’m going to lead you.’”
Hicks may have had the ball in his hands, but the Mustangs were swarming.
That’s when Morton had to clear a path for the ball carrier.
“As I was running, I saw this big ol’ guy running across the field and I was like, ‘Man, I’m going to take him out. I’ve got to get Mike [Hicks] in the end zone,’ so I hit him, made a great block and he scored,” Morton said.
Despite the fact that the play happened in just a few seconds, Hicks and Morton were on the same page the whole time.
“I could have sworn he turned and told me to follow him,” Hicks said. “I followed him to the promised land.”
Hicks maintains that the most important thing is that the team got the win, and there is always room to improve.
“I feel like we have taken giant steps from where we were last year. It is fun to create these turnovers and help the offense out,” Hicks said. “But I’m just glad we got the ‘W.’”