By Parmida Schahhosseini
There is a great awakening in Baylor football and it has everything to do with the Bears’ improvement on defense. Picking up where it left off last season, the defense has made big plays sending a message to the offense that it can get the job done.
A new fear has developed as this hard-nosed, tough and physical defense begins to pose problems for the opposing team. Baylor is always a threat offensively with the ability to score points quickly, and in the past, opponents were able to keep pace. Those days are over. At least that’s what the defense hopes.
“Potential is high for this defense,” senior defensive end Terrence Lloyd said. “We got high standards for this defense. I just want us to keep growing.”
The Bears are going back to the same philosophy that made them successful in the past: creating turnovers. Under defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s tenure, Baylor is 17-2 when forcing two or more turnovers.
In 2012, during a four-game losing streak, the Bears were minus-11 in the turnover margin. Baylor’s defense began to click late in the season, which translated into a plus-7 turnover margin.
The Baylor defense has continued the momentum from 2012 into the first two games of the 2013 season. Senior defensive end Chris McAllister made his first career interception against Wofford and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown. Sophomore defensive end Jamal Palmer also forced a fumble and recovered two. Against Buffalo, cornerback Xavien Howard had his first career interception in the second quarter.
The Bears weren’t finished creating turnovers. Senior nickel back Sam Holl, who switched from the safety position, forced a key fumble in the second quarter and junior linebacker Bryce Hager scooped up the fumble and scored on a 91-yard scamper.
“It’s a game-changer,” senior linebacker Eddie Lackey said. “It’s a momentum-booster. It’s everything. You get the crowd on your back and everybody’s all fired up the rest of the game. When you can score on defense, it changes a lot of things and that just put the game in our favor.”
For the opponent, the last thing Baylor’s offense needs are extra possessions. The improved defense can reduce pressure on the offense.
When the offense and defense help each other out, it goes a long way toward winning.
With the growth of the Baylor football program, the Bears are riding a six-game winning streak going back to last season.
“We’ve got a great defense now,” junior quarterback Bryce Petty said. “Not to say that they weren’t before, but everybody’s kind of clicking on the same page as far as that side of the ball.”
It is still early in the season, so fans may still be skeptical about whether or not this defense can hold up against tougher competition.
The Bears answered that last year and are on pace to do so again this year. Baylor’s numbers have improved compared to the first two games in 2012.
After two games in 2012, the defense gave up 918 yards and 47 points, but this year Baylor has reduced its total yards and points allowed to 596 yards and 16 points respectively.
Limiting possessions is just what Baylor needs to do. The Bears have given up yards as opponents march down the field, but fortunately for Baylor, yards don’t always lead to scores.
Buffalo was posed to be a threat especially after playing well against No. 4 Ohio State. After scoring a touchdown on its opening drive, the defense needed to regroup.
“After the first touchdown we came to the sideline and we talked about everything we were seeing in that series,” senior safety Ahmad Dixon said. “Then they come back the next series and they score again. Honestly, sometimes you just have to get a feel for it. A team that you haven’t seen in a while, a team that’s in a different atmosphere — you have to figure out what they’re going to be doing.”
Baylor allowed Buffalo to march down to its 45-yard line, but forced a punt. As the game continued the Bears began to settle down and make plays. When it counted the defense has made the big plays. The defense also hasn’t allowed a fourth-down conversion this season and opponents are only converting 35 percent on third down.
Baylor’s success will depend on how well the defense plays because defense wins championships.
The offense can put up as many points as they want, but if the defense can’t stop the opponent, then Baylor’s aspirations of winning the Big 12 this season will be tough to fulfill.