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.
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.
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, and the coming-out party began.
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.
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.
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.
After the game, Baylor moved up to No. 8 in the Associated Press media poll and No. 7 in the Amway Coaches’ Poll, up from No. 10 and No. 9 respectively the weeks before.
Baylor will now set its sights on the University of Buffalo, the first road game of the season for the Bears, and the first road start for many players on a young defense.
“We offered Buffalo the opportunity to come back down here and play, and they decided they wanted the game to be up there,” Briles said. “So happens that it is a Friday night ESPN football game, and they are having a blackout. I don’t know how many they have had, probably one. To me that is good. It challenges us to some extent, and I like that part of it because we are not going to be in any comfort zone. We are going to have to go out there and depend on the guys we look around and see. That part of it is kind of inspiring to me.”
The game is the third in 13 days for Baylor. The Bears will then turn around and have a gap of 15 days before its next game, the Big 12 opener against Iowa State in Ames, Iowa.
“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.”
In last year’s meeting, Buffalo scored a quick touchdown in the first quarter, but then lost its footing and eventually fell to Baylor 70-13 on a hot day at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Baylor hopes to return senior quarterback Bryce Petty and sophomore wide receiver Corey Coleman in time for Friday’s game.
No. 8 Baylor will travel to New York to play in Buffalo at 7 p.m. Friday. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN.