Big 12 play is officially here as the Baylor Bears will begin the conference gauntlet, Saturday, against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Bears are coming off a 70-17 victory against Rice and appear to be firing on all cylinders.
Though the Red Raiders, unlike the Bears, have a loss to their name, they appear to be legitimate contenders in the Big 12 this season.
Winning all three of their non-conference games to start the season, head coach Art Briles said the Bears are right where they need to be ahead of their clash with the Red Raiders.
“Realistically, we feel like we did what we should have done through our non-conference schedule,” Briles said. “I felt like the team was where we need it to be, and that’s the first time I felt that this year. We need to be a devastatingly dominant football team that’s the way we have to play. I felt, at times the other day, that we were that.”
Texas Tech is riding high after almost defeating No. 3 TCU last weekend in a thrilling contest that ended 55-53.
While the Bears are only allowing 161.7 yards per game through the air, Texas Tech’s plays a high-paced, air-raid offense. For Baylor to be successful, pressure must be supplied up front by the defensive line, said sophomore linebacker Taylor Young.
“On third and long, we’ve got to blitz,” Young said. “That’s just one thing we’ve got to do, and that’s make them uncomfortable. That’s something that’s in our mind at practice and in the game.”
Baylor registered a season-high five sacks last week against Rice. Keeping pressure on Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes will be paramount to Baylor’s success this weekend, as the sophomore carved up Baylor last year for 598 yards and six touchdowns.
“We expect a shootout every year, but our defense is looking at stopping them this year,” said junior running back Shock Linwood. “In the past, we have let them come back on us. We just look to shut them out on defense for as few points as possible.”
Linwood said an area of improvement for the Bears is their ability, or lack thereof, to close out games. The Bears allowed the Red Raiders to score 19 points in the fourth quarter in last season’s game at AT&T Stadium. Furthermore, the Bears produced a disastrous fourth quarter against Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl last season, which ultimately resulted in a loss for the Bears.
Linwood and his fellow Baylor backs lead the nation in rushing, something that opens up many doors for the Bears.
“If they play the pass, we’re going to run for 400 yards,” said senior left tackle Spencer Drango. “If they play the run, we’re going to throw for 400 yards on them. I think they complement each other really well.”
Both aspects of the offense finished on a high note against Rice, Briles said.
Baylor is the only team in the country to average 300 yards per game in both rushing and passing this season.
In the passing game, junior quarterback Seth Russell had his best game yet against Rice. Russell completed 12 of 16 pass for 277 yards and six touchdowns.
Russell also did not turn the ball over, something that had been hampering his otherwise gaudy numbers.
“We can run the ball because the offensive line has done an amazing job the past three games of opening up those running lanes,” Russell said. “If we can continue to do that, it’s going to open up the passing game, too, and we can continue to go from there.”
If Baylor’s passing game gets fully into gear on Saturday, Texas Tech could be facing a tough day in the defensive secondary.
In just three games, junior wide receiver Corey Coleman has planted himself firmly as one of the top receivers in the game catching an astounding eight touchdowns.
Coleman leads the Bears’ three-headed monster of a receiving corps, consisting of sophomore receiver KD Cannon and senior receiver Jay Lee.
The three have accounted for 74 percent of the Baylor’s receiving yards and 14 of 17 touchdowns in 2015.
Texas Tech’s defense has allowed 556 yards per game so far, a number that does not bode well for them ahead of a matchup with one of the nation’s best offenses, if not the best.
The kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at AT&T Stadium. The game will be televised on ABC.