By Parmida Schahhosseini
No. 4 Baylor football’s defense has gone through a transformation in the last year, going from worst to first. After being ranked 119 out of 120 in the FBS at one point last year, Baylor is now 11th in total defense and first in the Big 12, in part because of the depth of the defense.
As Baylor continues to play tougher opponents with more potent offenses, having talented players on defense to back up the starters is an advantage because it allows players to keep their energy for longer periods of time.
“Against a team like [Texas] Tech, a fast-paced team, you’ve got to keep guys fresh as they try to snap the ball at a quick pace,” head coach Art Briles said. “The object is to keep guys fresh, so that’s the main thing. A fresh body is a good one because they’ll be there playing fast.”
The statistics the Baylor defense is putting up has defensive coordinator Phil Bennett and fans smiling.
Baylor’s defense has 12 interceptions, but has only allowed 13 passing touchdowns. The Bears are fifth in the nation in red zone defense, allowing a touchdown 64.3 percent of the time. Opponents are 21.7 percent on fourth down against Baylor, which is second in the Big 12.
The defense has forced two or more turnovers in 12 of the last 16 games. Despite the mixing and matching of players, the team chemistry is still high as defenders communicate on the field and trust each other to make the necessary plays.
The seniors continue to be productive on the field as they lead the team with their play setting an example for the younger players as they develop in Bennett’s system.
“It helps them because they get to sit back and watch how it’s done and learn,” senior cornerback K.J. Morton said. “Other than the coaches, they also have the seniors to get feedback from. They’re working and they’re going to be something special.”
Morton had a big game against the Red Raiders, getting his sixth career interception, forcing a fumble and four pass breakups.
Senior linebacker Eddie Lackey has 42 solo tackles, three sacks and an interception. Senior safety Ahmad Dixon has 40 solo tackles and an interception. Senior cornerbacks Demetri Goodson and Joe Williams have played well in the secondary, but the depth in that position as well as other positions has not gone unnoticed to the upperclassmen.
“We have a lot of depth, especially in the secondary,” Morton said. “We have a lot of seniors and a lot of younger guys like Xavien Howard and Ryan Reid who are ready to step up. We practice real hard and every guy knows that at any play, you can be up next. As a senior, I tell those guys to always be engaged on the sideline and to stay focused because you never know when it’s your turn.”
The underclassmen have made contributions to help this team become 9-0 for the first time in school history.
With junior linebacker Bryce Hager out with an injury during the Texas Tech game, other linebackers such as freshman linebacker Aiavion Edwards are stepping up to make plays. In his eight games, he has 11 solo tackles and 1.5 sacks with 3.5 tackles for a loss. Getting these repetitions will be beneficial, as injuries begin to take a toll on the team.
“It helps us have fresh legs,” freshman defensive lineman Byron Bonds said. “If coach has to take you out, the guy in there will go and fill in just as well as you can, so when you go back out there you have fresh legs.”
Sophomore defensive end Shawn Oakman has added the extra production Baylor is looking for in the rotation. He has 18 solo tackles and leads the team with 12 tackles for a loss. Oakman also has two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Bonds also has a forced fumble to his credit and 11 solo tackles.
With the season winding down and teams beginning to grind for greatness, this depth is what gives Baylor’s defense a critical advantage against the competition.