Injuries force young players to step up

Baylor football defeated Texas Tech University 63-34 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Saturday, November 16, 2013.  Travis Taylor | Lariat Photo Editor
Baylor football defeated Texas Tech University 63-34 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Saturday, November 16, 2013.
Travis Taylor | Lariat Photo Editor
By Shehan Jeyarajah
Sports Writer

Baylor’s game against No. 10 Oklahoma on Nov. 7 could have easily been a disastrous turn in the season. Baylor lost three of its top offensive weapons in senior running back Glasco Martin, junior running back Lache Seastrunk and senior wide receiver Tevin Reese.

Heading into the OU game, those three players had combined for 1,999 yards and 24 touchdowns, or 39.7 percent of Baylor’s offensive yards and 44.4 percent of Baylor’s offensive touchdowns this season.

Most teams in the nation would not be able to make up for the loss of their top two running backs and top receiver.

Baylor is not most teams. With Martin, Seastrunk and Reese out, head football coach Art Briles simply called the next man up and Baylor hasn’t missed a beat.

Oklahoma came into Waco with a defense that ranked in the top 10 in the country and allowed 314.3 yards per game. After the first quarter, Oklahoma’s defense seemed to have the upper hand, holding Baylor to 56 yards of offense in the first quarter.

With Seastrunk and Martin both gone, freshman running back Shock Linwood received his first meaningful playing time of the season. In the second quarter, Linwood posted 39 rushing yards. In the second half, the game turned into the Shock Linwood show. Linwood finished the game with 182 yards on only 23 rushing attempts against one of the best rush defenses in all of football.

After Reese went out with a dislocated wrist that required surgery, junior inside receiver Levi Norwood was given more of an opportunity to play on the outside for Baylor.

In three quarters of action, Norwood had 78 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions. He should have had three touchdowns, but one was called back for offensive pass interference away from the play.

It isn’t uncommon to see players step up in the absence of elite teammates for one game when emotions and adrenaline are high.

Heading into a matchup with Texas Tech in Arlington, there were questions about where the Bears would get consistent offense outside of junior receiver Antwan Goodley and junior quarterback Bryce Petty.

Both Norwood and Linwood proved against Texas Tech that their performances were not abberations, with stellar statistics at AT&T Stadium on Saturday.

The Baylor offense struggled at the start against the Red Raiders, punting on two of the first three drives. The game changed when Baylor forced its first punt of the game with 2:57 left in the first quarter.

Norwood took a momentum-changing 58-yard punt return to the house to cut the Baylor deficit to 20-14. From that point on, Baylor would outscore the Red Raiders 56-14.

In the game, Norwood effectively stepped up in Reese’s absence. After setting a career-high against Oklahoma with 78 yards, he obliterated that record against Texas Tech with 156 yards receiving and two touchdowns. Including the punt return, Norwood accumulated 214 all-purpose yards and three all-purpose touchdowns.

“I’m always ready to step up and do what the coaches ask of me,” Norwood said. “It really goes back to us recruiting great guys out of high school and guys committing to what we want to do here. Every little thing that the coaches or training staff want us to do, we’ve bought into.”

The rushing game put up one of its best games of the season against Texas Tech. Linwood and fellow redshirt freshman running back Devin Chafin led a rushing charge that finished with 340 total yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns.

Linwood himself had a career-high 187 rushing yards on 29 carries to go along with a touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the game away. The number was the 11th-best rushing performance in the history of Baylor.

With the performance, Linwood moved to within 31 yards of Robert Griffin III’s freshman rushing record of 843 yards from scrimmage. Linwood is also 11th in the nation in yards per rushing attempt with 7.6 yards per attempt.

“I didn’t expect any of this to happen, and it happened,” Linwood said. “It still makes me nervous going into games. Just thinking throughout the week going into it, I just get nerves. I’ve never been at a level like this before. I just pray to God that I just continue doing what I do and play the game like it’s meant to be played.”

Not to be outdone, Chafin put up 100 yards and two touchdowns in only his second game with double-digit carries at Baylor.

Chafin had a breakaway 47-yard run in the second half to give Baylor a commanding 49-27 lead in the fourth quarter.

“I’m really proud of the way Shock stepped up, Chafin stepped up,” head coach Art Briles said. “Norwood had a great game. The whole thing to me falls on Bryce Petty and our offensive line. I think our offensive line is a dominant factor.”

There is no set timetable on when Seastrunk or Martin will return.

Junior left tackle Spencer Drango was also lost for the Oklahoma State game with a ruptured disk in his back. With the depth on this football team, it’s next man up.

No. 4 Baylor will play No. 10 Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Saturday in Stillwater, Okla.

ESPN’s College Gameday will be live on hand from 8 to 11 a.m. before Kirk Herbstreit and Brent Musberger announce the game nationally on ABC.