By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer
Baylor’s defense held Iowa State scoreless in the first three quarters of its Big 12 opener on Saturday, but then the Bears ended up giving away three touchdowns in the fourth. Although worry began to grow in the stands, junior defensive end James Lockhart said there was no panic to be seen on the defensive sideline.
“Normally in the past, like last year, there were times where things kind of got chaotic, and sometimes I feel like that hurt us in the past. But I feel this time when there was chaos, we embraced it,” Lockhart said.
Despite the fact that the defensive unit is built of an array of veterans — including senior linebacker Clay Johnston, who led the team with 13 tackles against the Cyclones — 18 different players recorded at least one tackle on the day. Head coach Matt Rhule said the game was one of the best defensive-line performances since he’s been at Baylor, pointing out freshman defensive lineman Gabe Hall, junior transfer Niadré Zouzoua and redshirt freshman Bralen Taylor as some of the guys that stood out.
“There was a lot of young guys playing,” Rhule said. “A lot of those guys had to step up in the game. […] They played hard, took away the run game and turned it into a drop-back pass game, and we made some plays.”
The defense recorded three sacks, eight pass breakups, seven quarterback hurries, and most importantly, two turnovers — something that Lockhart said Joey McGuire, associate head and defensive ends coach, has emphasized during the last year.
“That’s one thing the coaches taught us going into the off season — even last year — turnovers win games,” Lockhart said. “Coach McGuire, he preached that all of off-season, and all spring ball and all fall camp. I felt the defense came back and responded like we needed to.”
Rhule agreed, adding how he noticed the defense “enjoy the battle.” In the first half alone, the Cyclones had nearly 18 minutes of possession, 10 of which were in the first quarter. Regardless of having over 200 yards of offense, Iowa State was unable to finish drives due to being pressured by the Bears. Rhule said he was proud of how his team contained the Cyclones and their quarterback Brock Purdy.
“For Iowa State to be the type of team that they are and for Coach [Matt] Campbell to be the type of coach he is — I’m really proud of our players because they needed to get this win,” Rhule said. “We’ve been working really hard. This was a year’s worth of work to get to this game. Now I have to kind of let it go. I’m going to enjoy it for a little bit more, then let it go.”
The Bears next travel to Manhattan, Kan., to face the Kansas State Wildcats at 2:30 p.m., Saturday.