Defense learning quickly under new coaching staff

Baylor senior safety Verkedric Vaughns and the Baylor defense celebrate after stopping the Abilene Christian offense on Sept. 1 at McLane Stadium. Liesje Powers | Multimedia Editor

By Noah Torr | Broadcast Reporter

For Baylor football, defense has become a serious focal point for head coach Matt Rhule.

At Rhule’s previous coaching stop, Temple University, defense was an issue in the first season as well. Phil Snow, Baylor’s defensive coordinator, was also at Temple with Rhule and came under scrutiny because of his defense’s poor play.

Rhule said during his first year at Temple, many wanted Snow fired, but by the end of season two, he was asking for money to keep Snow.

“I think we have a lot of good players,” Rhule said before the season started. “My experience working for coach Phil Snow it usually takes two years for guys to get it.”

And after year two, the progress isn’t fast but it is evident. The team seems to be improving.

In 2017, Baylor’s defense allowed 35.9 points per game and in 2018 it dropped to 31.2. The total yardage allowed didn’t drop below 400 but it did dip from 456.9 to 412.6. The touchdowns allowed did stay roughly the same with about two passing and rushing touchdowns per game.

One concern for the defense was turnovers. Before the game against Texas Tech, Baylor was one of the worst in the country in creating interceptions with five on the season. The Bears snagged two in their game bringing the total up to seven, but they’re still tied for 94th in the country in creating interceptions.

After the game against Tech, senior defensive lineman Ira Lewis said he was proud of how the defense played.

“We had emphasis that we had to play well,” Lewis said. “We felt we could build off TCU. We had to keep playing hard. Other guys bought in. So everybody just played hard and did their job.”

In 2017, Baylor had three defensive players earn honorable mentions from the Big 12. This season, sophomore defensive end James Lynch and junior linebacker Clay Johnston were both selected to the All Big 12 Second Team and five others were selected as honorable mentions on the defensive end.

Before the season, Rhule said that he and his staff studied Iowa State and Texas’ defensive schemes to see how they were able to combat the Big 12’s high powered offenses.

“I think what Iowa State and Texas did really changed the outcome of the season for a lot of teams last year,” Rhule said. “It’ll be interesting to see who does it and how much success they have with it, where it goes this season.”

This season, Iowa State only had one game where their opponent scored over 40 points and Texas only had two games. Baylor is right behind Texas with only three games where opponents scored 40 or more points.

The old saying goes “progress not perfection” and the foundation Rhule has been laying for his team emulates that. It may be slow, but Rhule said he’s happy with how his team played this season and that they made it into the collegiate postseason.