By Shehan Jeyarajah
Baylor head coach Art Briles has never been shy about his opinions of his young players.
“We really don’t really like to view our guys as backups, they’re all players,” Briles said. “We can only use a certain many people at a certain time. All it was is that these players were given a certain many opportunities, but everyone needs to be ready.”
With four starting wide receivers and All-Big 12 senior quarterback Bryce Petty out with various injuries, Saturday against Northwestern State was an opportunity for young stars to shine, and they delivered.
No. 10 Baylor used a historic first half effort from sophomore quarterback Seth Russell and freshman wide receiver KD Cannon to blow out Northwestern State 70-6 at McLane Stadium.
Despite an early downpour of rain delaying the game by 21 minutes, a crowd of 45,034 stayed to witness Baylor’s second game in the new venue.
Baylor took the slow and methodical approach against SMU, but that was out the window in this one, starting right from the opening kickoff.
Sophomore inside receiver Lynx Hawthorne was back to receive kicks with all the injuries, and he delivered on his first attempt. Hawthorne took the kickoff 100 yards for what appeared to be a touchdown before it was called back on a hold.
Baylor was sure not to waste the opportunity; only 1:18 into the game, Russell launched a 50-yard pass over the top to Cannon for the second catch of his career.
Russell rushed for a touchdown to make it 14-0 only three minutes later, but then the KD Cannon coming out party took over Waco.
Cannon went for huge touchdowns of 81 yards and 42 yards, all in the first quarter. After one, he had posted 188 yards on four receptions with three touchdowns. The three touchdowns matched a Baylor record for most touchdowns in a game; he accomplished the feat in a quarter.
“KD just knows how to get open,” Russell said. “I just threw it up and he got it. He did a fantastic job of just being KD, he’s the best incoming receiver in the nation.”
By the end of the half, Cannon had accumulated 223 yards and three touchdowns on six receptions, good for over 37 yards per reception. The 223 yards was second in Baylor history to only Terrance Williams’ 314-yard game against West Virginia in 2012.
“I never dreamed of anything like that,” Cannon said. “Nobody came in here expecting me to score three touchdowns in the first quarter.”
Briles was not surprised that Cannon was so productive in only his second collegiate appearance.
“I’ve watched a lot of receivers,” Briles said. “When I went and watched him play against Terrell in high school, I said that’s the best high school receiver I’ve ever seen.”
Cannon was held out of the end zone by the Demon defense in the second half, but the extra attention he received opened the door for others to get in on the production.
After a NSU field goal and rushing touchdown by sophomore running back Shock Linwood, junior receiver Jay Lee and freshman receiver Davion Hall each received bombs of 61 and 57 yards respectively within the last two-and-a-half minutes to push the Baylor lead to 49-3 at the half.
Russell set a Baylor record for passing yards in a half with 438 yards, a mark good enough for third all-time among Baylor passing performances. His six all-purpose touchdowns also tied a Baylor record.
At that point, Russell, Cannon and the rest of the Baylor starters were pulled.
Junior running back Silas Nacita posted 104 rushing yards and two touchdowns, all in the second half. Freshman running back Johnny Jefferson added 108 yards and a touchdown of his own, and Baylor pushed the lead to 70-6, despite a field goal with 2:32 left in the third.
Before Northwestern State’s second quarter field goal, Baylor held opponents scoreless for the first 77:06 of game time at the new McLane Stadium. As it stands, no opponent has ever scored a touchdown on John Eddie Williams Field at McLane Stadium.
Baylor will now set its sights on the University of Buffalo, the first road game of the season for the Bears and the third game in 13 days for Baylor.
“This stretch is something that’s going to help us mature, but the first thing we have to do is take care of business, Briles said. “The critical thing is to be three games to none after this Friday.”
No. 10 Baylor will play at Buffalo at 7 p.m. on Friday. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.