Defense bails out offense’s second half slump

Sophomore defensive end Brian Nance tackles quarterback Sam Richardson during a football game between Baylor and Iowa State on Oct. 24, 2015, at McLane Stadium. Photo credit: Taylor Griffin

On a day with less than stellar weather conditions, it was the Baylor defense that helped the Bears secure their 20th consecutive home win and keep the best winning streak in college football alive. Baylor defeated the Iowa State Cyclones 45-27, in its Homecoming game at McLane Stadium.

The elements proved to be challenging for the Baylor offense to find a consistent rhythm. Despite scoring with relative ease early in the game, the Bears suffered their worst scoring drought of the season against the Cyclones.

“You have to give Iowa State credit and we had a couple penalties [that hurt us],” head coach Art Briles said. “I just don’t think we had the energy coming out at halftime that we had to start the game. That’s my fault. We felt like we were in pretty good shape, but in this league, you never know.”

The offense was held scoreless from the eight minute mark in the second quarter, and didn’t score again until a field goal by sophomore Chris Callahan with five minutes left in the fourth quarter ended the scoreless streak of 33 minutes. During that time, Baylor was only able to muster nine first downs as several drives stalled to produce points.

Fortunately for the Bears, their defense protected the home field by creating multiple turnovers and stopping the Cyclones on fourth down, twice in the second half.

Briles said he thought the play by the defense was the difference in the game. He acknowledged how crucial it was for the Bears’ defense to create turnovers.

“As a defense, we constantly preach to ourselves that our offense might not put up 60 or 70 points,” said sophomore nickelback Travon Blanchard. “It wasn’t a surprise to our defense [to have to make plays]. We understood that this game was going to be put on us.”

Baylor’s defense held up its end of the bargain, extending its streak of 23-consecutive games with a forced turnover (an FBS best). The Bears forced four turnovers, with two of those resulting in touchdowns for the offense.

Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett’s opportunistic defense has been described as a “bend but don’t break” unit and its proven essential to Baylor’s season. In the last four games, the Bears’ defense has created 12 turnovers.

Blanchard said before the game that coach Bennett told the defense to be aware of the weather conditions and take advantage of the opportunity to create turnovers.

“[Coach Phil Bennett] said it’s raining, the ball is going to be slippery so we need to [use that to our advantage]. He also told us to get back to our technique with [the wet surface],” Blanchard said.

Many of the players on defensive admitted that they were in favor of the weather that was present on Saturday. Senior defensive end Jamal Palmer said the atmosphere and weather was big for the Bears’ season, going forward.

“We needed this game; because when you go on the road and it gets cold and rainy at an Oklahoma State, you need a change of climate to help you. So [this game today] was big for us,” said Palmer

In a day and age where total yards allowed don’t seem as prevalent to a strong defensive performance, turnovers remain essential for the No. 1 offense in the nation. Three of the four turnovers created by the defense resulted in Baylor touchdowns.

The Bears’ defensive players know how vital turnovers are for the team.

“We know we have the best offense, so the more times they have the ball, the more chances they get to put up points,” Blanchard said. “In weather like today, the ball was slippery, so it’s favorable to turnovers. We did a good job today of causing four turnovers to get the ball back to our offense.”

After the win today, Baylor improves to 7-0 on the season. They will now head into the bye week and get some much needed rest.

“It’s very big to have the bye week right now because we have the really tough part of our season [coming up]. It’s a chance to get off our feet, relax, and take care of injuries before we head into the stretch,” Blanchard said.