No. 4 Bears hold off upset-minded SMU, win 56-21

Junior running back Shock Linwood (No. 32) calmly pumps his fist during the first half of the Bears' game against SMU Friday night. Linwood averaged 9.4 yards on eight carries. Photo credit: Trey Honeycutt

The No. 4 Baylor Bears opened their 2015 season by defeating the upset-minded SMU Mustangs 56-21 Friday night at Gerald J. Ford stadium.

With no shortage of offense, the Mustangs gave the Bears a run for their money early. After entering halftime leading 28-21, the Bears ran away from SMU though.

Junior quarterback Seth Russell’s full time starting debut went well, completing 15 of 30 passes for 376 yards and five touchdowns. Russell also ran for 59 yards and one rushing touchdown on the night. Although Russell admittedly showed some inconsistency, he also showcased skill that Baylor fans were hoping to see from him.

“Seth did a lot of good things and did a great job getting the ball around to the weapons,” senior receiver Jay Lee said.

While Russell showed he could make all the throws, the receiving core was outstanding after the catch. Junior receiver Corey Coleman caught five balls for 178 yards and one touchdown, showcasing his All-Conference talent. Sophomore receiver K.D. Cannon also went over the 100-yard mark with three receptions for 104-yards and one touchdown.

Lee reeled in three catches, all for touchdowns, including a beautiful adjustment catch on an under-thrown ball from Russell. The Bears came out to a slow start, especially in the second quarter when they only managed one total yard.

“[SMU] changed the defense up on us a little, they brought more inside blitzes, I missed a couple of throws,” Russell said. “I have to give my guys a chance to make plays.”

Baylor ramped it up after halftime, eventually gaining 723 yards of offense and 27 first downs. However, the Bears were highly penalized in the contest, getting called for 13 penalties for 105 yards.

“The second quarter was a lot of penalties, false start or illegal formation that put us behind the sticks,” senior left tackle Spencer Drango said. “We’ll focus on improving what we did wrong.”

Baylor’s defense was also hurting early on, with both defensive end Shawn Oakman and safety Orion Stewart suspended for the game. The Bears’ defense had trouble with the Mustangs’ dual-threat quarterback Matt Davis, who registered 281 total yards. The Bears allowed 255 yards and 21 points in the first half, a far cry from the 67-yard shutout against the Mustangs last season.

“Defensively, it’s all about assignment,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “Any time you play a scrambling quarterback you’re going to have some things that break down and [Davis] made some plays with his feet.”

Baylor eventually settled down in the second half, surrendering only 114 yards to the Mustangs for the rest of the game. The Bears reeled in 2 interceptions and allowed the Mustangs to convert only 46 percent of their third downs.

Senior lineback Grant Campbell, a first-time starter this season, led the Bears with 11 total tackles, including a sack. Sophomore nickel back Travon Blanchard performed well also with 8 total tackles in his first start for the Bears.

While the season starts off with a win, the Bears certainly have much to improve upon. Missed tackles and miscommunications in the secondary were abundant, especially in the first half.

“We work on tackling ever day and we’ll continue to work on it,” senior safety Terrell Burt said. “There was a lot of miscommunication. We can’t have that.”

The defensive line, even without Oakman, collapsed SMU’s pocket on numerous occasions only to see Davis scramble outside of their clutches. Junior defensive lineman Andrew Billings and senior defensive lineman Jamal Palmer led the charge up front, combining for six tackles for loss and a sack.

The Bears will be at home for their next game against Lamar University. That game is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff next Saturday at McLane Stadium.