For most of the season, Baylor’s offense made it look so easy.
Bombs to Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley came at the flick of quarterback Bryce Petty’s wrist. Lache Seastrunk effortlessly raced through defensive lines for breakaway touchdowns.
The Bears’ attack was so dynamic that the starters were often on the bench by the fourth quarter. Even after demolishing three nonconference opponents, Baylor still racked up 73 points against West Virginia, 71 against Iowa State and 59 against Kansas.
The Bears are still leading the nation with 635.1 yards and 55.4 points per game, and they wouldn’t be 10-1 and gunning for at least a share of the Big 12 championship without them. Baylor remained No. 9 in both the BCS standings and the Associated Press poll, and is seventh in the coaches’ poll.
But the offense clearly isn’t operating at the same level that it was a month ago. That was evident in Baylor’s 49-17 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater and Saturday’s 41-38 win over TCU in Fort Worth.
In the Oklahoma State game, the Bears scored a season-low two touchdowns. Though 41 points was an impressive number against TCU, two touchdowns came on interception returns by Baylor safety Orion Stewart and linebacker Eddie Lackey. Another touchdown was set up at the 1 when Beau Blackshear recovered a TCU fumble.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” Petty said after the emotional win over TCU. “They’re the MVP of this team.”
Oklahoma State and TCU are two of the best defensive teams in the Big 12, and a lot of teams have had trouble scoring against them. But Baylor’s offense hasn’t been the same since Reese went out with a dislocated wrist in a 41-12 win over Oklahoma on Nov. 7.
Reese was arguably the most dangerous deep threat in college football as he averaged 25 yards on 33 catches. He averaged a spectacular 54 yards on eight touchdown catches. His presence freed up Goodley to go deep and took the pressure off Baylor’s running game.
Though Petty still occasionally throws the deep ball, Baylor has gone to more of a possession passing game without Reese in the lineup. Levi Norwood and Clay Fuller are outstanding receivers who are big assets for the Bears, but they don’t own Reese’s game-breaking speed.
With TCU All-America cornerback Jason Verrett smothering him all day, Goodley caught just one pass for 12 yards. Baylor’s longest pass play was Petty’s 33-yard touchdown throw to Norwood late in the third quarter.
The Bears wouldn’t have beaten the Horned Frogs if Seastrunk and Glasco Martin didn’t return from injuries that kept them out of the previous two games. Returning from a groin injury, Seastrunk cut and darted his way to a game-high 94 yards on 24 carries.
“I felt like my setback was a major comeback for me,” Seastrunk said. “I was still making moves like I was supposed to. They stacked the box on me, but I can’t be mad about it at all because we won the game.”
Back from a knee sprain, Martin plowed for 69 yards on 17 carries and kept the clock moving in the fourth quarter to help the Bears seal the win. But the Bears’ longest run was just 18 yards, and their attack was more about maintaining drives and grinding down the clock than breaking away for touchdowns like earlier in the season.
Baylor’s offensive line has undergone a transition since left tackle Spencer Drango went down with a back injury against Texas Tech. Kelvin Palmer has moved from right tackle to left tackle while Troy Baker has moved in at right tackle where he started last season. But there’s no question Petty has been under more pressure in the last two games and has had less time to throw.
Baylor’s offense got off to a good start against TCU as it amassed 201 yards on 40 plays in the first quarter to open a 10-3 lead. In the final three quarters, the Bears gained just 169 yards to finish with a season-low 370.
There have been many games when punter Spencer Roth was barely needed, but he punted a season-high eight times and averaged 45.1 yards, including three that were downed inside the 20. With Baylor having trouble sustaining drives, Roth’s punting was vital to the win.
In Saturday’s regular-season finale against Texas, the Bears hope they can show more flashes of what made them the nation’s most explosive offense. They don’t want to put such a heavy burden on Baylor’s defense.
“We didn’t have a lot going on offense,” Seastrunk said. “Missing key players hurts a lot. But we’ve got to get back to doing what Baylor does.”