Video by Morgan Kilgo | Broadcast Reporter, Story by Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
Baylor’s defense was not tested much a week ago against Northwestern State, having allowed less than 100 total yards of offense. However, SMU was up for the challenge. The Mustang offense was able to flip the script on Baylor and find success by spreading the field and putting their athletes in space.
Despite allowing more than 200 yards of offense in the first quarter and a half, the Baylor defense consistently stepped up on third down and forced the Mustangs to settle for field goals inside the red zone.
On a day where Baylor’s usually high speed, potent offense struggled to get going in the first half, Baylor needed the defense to make some plays in order to buy senior quarterback Seth Russell and the offense some time to make the adjustments needed to be successful.
“We are just a team. We don’t really get upset,” senior nickelback Patrick Levels said. “We just go out there and try to make plays to get our offense going because sometimes they don’t always come out hot. Defense got to step it up, that’s what we did today.”
Russell gave SMU’s defense all the credit for their first half offensive struggles.
“Give it to SMU. They were flying around on defense,” Russell said. “They’ve got some really good players. They’re gonna do a real great job in their conference. They’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
The Baylor defense did more than promised to help out the struggling offense. After sophomore cornerback Jordan Wyatt intercepted Russell and returned it inside the Baylor 20, senior cornerback Orion Stewart returned the favor and picked off Mustang senior Matt Davis’ pass in the end zone. Russell would then lead the Bears on a 19 play, 80 yard drive that resulted in a turnover in the end zone.
Immediately following the fumble in the end zone, the Bears’ defense forced a fumble and Levels recovered it at the SMU 25, putting Russell and company back in business offensively. That drive would result in a 38 yard field goal by junior kicker Chris Callahan, tying the game at 6 at the half.
After Russell led the offense on a 10 play 79 yard drive capped off by a 31 yard touchdown strike to redshirt freshman inside wide receiver Blake Lynch on the opening drive of the second half, the defense only got stronger.
After a second interception by Russell and the defense with their backs up against the wall, junior deep safety Davion Hall intercepted Davis’ pass in the end zone and returned it 62 yards to the SMU 38. The Mustangs third turnover of the game would lead to a 19 yard touchdown scamper by Russell.
“Those were huge. The defense kept us in the ball game,” Russell said. “They won the game for us.”
Orion Stewart would keep the defensive motor going by picking off his second pass of the game and returning it 33 yards for the Baylor score, increasing their lead to 26-6.
“We just wanted to wait until our offense got rolling because eventually you can’t stop them all day,” Levels said. “Keep going out there, keep getting three and outs, not letting them get touchdowns and force them to field goals and eventually Seth Russell going to get it going.”
The Baylor offense eventually found their groove in the second half, as Russell found junior wide receiver KD Cannon for a score early in the 4th quarter. Baylor also added some late insurance thanks to a four yard touchdown run by redshirt freshman running back JaMychal Hasty.
Ultimately the game was won by the defense. Phil Bennett’s squad, even though they surrendered 405 total yards offensively, held the Mustangs to just 166 in the second half, forcing 4 turnovers and recording one sack.
“The defense stepped up. They bowed their neck,” Russell said. “It shows how hard they’ve been working. They’ve got a chip on their shoulder. They’re going to go into every game with that chip for sure.”
Regardless of the struggles offensively by Baylor, the Bears came out on top, keeping their dreams of a trip to the College Football Playoff alive. That was enough to keep acting head coach Jim Grobe happy.
“We knew we were gonna have a challenge,” Grobe said. “We knew they were going to be ready to play but this was a great win. I think some of the best wins you have are when you’re challenged and you find a way to get it done.”
Baylor will look to get the offense back on track and keep the defense motivated as they head to take on Rice on Friday in Houston. The game will kickoff at 7 p.m.