By Austin Eck
While high-powered offenses earn national attention, defense wins championships. Last year’s porous Baylor defense has been replaced with a stout defense that finds itself ranking among the elite squads in the NCAA.
Through the first four games of the Baylor season, the defense has allowed 321.3 yards per game– good enough to land Baylor inside the top 20. Baylor’s defense last year consistently ranked outside of the top 100 teams in FBS schools, which forced the offense to carry the load.
This was obvious in last year’s game against West Virginia University when Baylor’s 63 points were not enough to beat current New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith and the Mountaineers in Morgantown.
This year the Bears surrendered a meager 394 yards of offense to the Mountaineers. In last year’s matchup with WVU, Baylor surrendered 807 yards. By the end of 2012-13 season, Baylor had given up 502.2 yards per game.
The poor showing left a sour taste in the mouth of Baylor’s defense and left a massive chip on Baylor’s shoulder.
“It’s very big,” senior cornerback K.J. Morton said. “We feel like the world is against us, and we’re not worried about anybody else but Baylor.”
Morton has recorded 15 tackles and three pass deflections, and Morton’s performance along with the rest of Baylor’s secondary has helped limit the aerial game of opponents.
“We’re very confident,” Morton said, referring to the rest of Baylor’s secondary. “This is our last year, and as years have passed, we have a lot of experience under our belt. Now, we’re just going out there and making plays.”
But the vast improvement on defense is not limited to one player’s performance.
“I think they’ve all played really well so far,” head coach Art Briles said. “The good thing is there haven’t been any surprises, and that’s a good thing because everybody is doing what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it in a cohesive manner. I think all 11 have stepped up, quite honestly.”
In year three under defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, the Baylor defense is more comfortable in his system and Bennett reciprocates that feeling with more trust in his players.
“He’s just really confident in us,” Lackey said. “Maybe that’s a big difference from last year, is that he didn’t have such the confidence in us because we are more mature as a team. Because we are more mature as a team, he can trust us in making those plays and blitzing and whatever gap it is, I think it all falls under his trust.”
Baylor has been blitzing more this season, and that aggressiveness has earned dividends so far for the nation’s No. 14 scoring defense.
“I’ve been impressed by the fact that we’re just doing what we felt like we would do,” Briles said. “It’s not surprising to us because of how we finished last year and having all these guys back through spring and summer with a good taste in their mouth, a lot of eagerness in their heart, and being in Bennett’s system for three years.”
During Bennett’s tenure, he has been able to implement his system and become more familiar with the personnel.
“The more you’re around somebody the more you understand them,” Briles said. “We have six or seven three year starters and that makes a big difference. Just being comfortable with what’s going on with what happens is a big benefit from a football standpoint.”
Now, Baylor’s defense shifts its focus to the first road game of the year against Kansas State.