When your team is as explosive and talented as Baylor, it won’t take long for people to stand up and notice.
Many Baylor players felt they were snubbed when they didn’t make the preseason Top 25 coaches and Associated Press polls. But after Saturday night’s 69-3 massacre of Wofford, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bears at least make one of the polls when they’re released Tuesday.
This could very well be Art Briles’ best team in six seasons at Baylor.
Some fans thought the Bears’ best days were behind them after Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III left for the NFL after leading them to a 10-3 record in 2011. But Briles came to Baylor to build a program, not just produce a one-Heisman wonder.
After finishing 8-5 last year and winning a second straight bowl game, the Baylor players have talked for months about achieving their next goal of winning a Big 12 championship. They brought it up again Saturday night but they realize it’s going to take a lot of big steps to get there.
“Going forward, our goal is the Big 12 championship,” Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said. “When you have those aspirations it’s very important to not look too far ahead. I think our guys did a good job coming in especially in Tuesday and Wednesday workouts, just with that whole mindset knowing this is Game 1 and we need to be 1-0 by this time next week.”
While blowing away Wofford isn’t in the same league as beating Oklahoma or Texas, the Bears couldn’t have played much better in their season opener. Wofford is a good Football Championship Subdivision school that’s reached the playoffs five of the past six years, losing last year in the quarterfinals to a North Dakota State team that won its second straight title.
By the way, that’s the same North Dakota State that pulled off a 24-21 upset of defending Big 12 co-champion Kansas State on Friday night in Manhattan.
With their great speed and athleticism, the Bears looked like a turbo-fueled Porsche racing a chuckwagon. The Bears hit the overmatched Terriers from every angle, whether it was receivers Tevin Reese, Antwan Goodley or Corey Coleman getting loose in the secondary, or Lache Seastrunk racing 10 yards downfield before the Terriers even saw him.
Learning his lesson
After sitting behind Griffin and Nick Florence for the last three years, Petty looked like a quarterback who had learned his lessons well from his predecessors and was eager to show how he could perform. The fourth-year junior delivered a superb debut as he hit 19 of 24 passes for 312 yards and two scores.
“He did exactly what we planned out to do, what he’s worked out to do, what he’s here to do,” Briles said. “He’s not a redshirt sophomore — it’s his fourth year that he’s been here. He’s been through four springs already and he’s experienced. He’s got some mileage on him, some good mileage.”
While Baylor’s offense left scorch marks all over the turf, the defense looked like the same aggressive crew that shut down UCLA in last year’s Holiday Bowl win. Eight starters are back from last year’s defense and young, athletic players are pushing them hard every day.
The Bears were concerned about Wofford’s throwback, wingbone triple-option attack that’s ranked among the top FCS rushing teams for the last three years. But the Bears limited the Terriers to 173 yards and just 2.9 yards per carry.
When the Terriers tried to pass, the Bears smothered them. Defensive end Chris McAllister batted quarterback Michael Weimer’s pass into the air, grabbed it and then sped into the end zone for a 25-yard interception return to give the Bears a 28-0 first-quarter lead.
Sophomore defensive end Jamal Palmer delivered a monster game as he recovered two fumbles and picked up a sack. Nickelback Sam Holl and backup linebacker Aiavion Edwards also collected sacks and the Bears finished with an astonishing 15 tackles for losses.
Penn State transfer Shawn Oakman, a 6-9, 270-pound manchild, began showing his vast potential at defensive end with 3 ½ tackles for losses. Linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey were their usual reliable selves with 12 and nine tackles, respectively, while safety Ahmad Dixon collected eight, including several bone rattling hits that have become his trademark.
“The UCLA game set the bar and that’s what we’re trying to get back to,” McAllister said. “We have a lot of guys that came back from last year’s team and we have a lot of the young guys that are going to stay and play well like they did today.”
Not only were the Bears up for the game, so were 44,989 fans, which was the second largest opening-day crowd in Floyd Casey Stadium history. When the Bears ran on the field through the massive freshman Baylor Line before the game, they received a jolt of energy that seemed to carry them all night.
“You come to a Baylor football game and it’s supposed to be fun,” Briles said. “It’s supposed to be a lively atmosphere. You’re supposed to enjoy it and fans have been doing that for a couple years. It was a great way to start.”