Baylor’s McLane Stadium debut was rich with pageantry as Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, former President George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Perry all made pregame appearances.
Sailboats were out in force on the Brazos River and fans poured across the Umphrey Bridge for hours in anticipation for the historic game.
The Bears weren’t about to let SMU ruin the grand party at their picturesque $266 million new home.
Roaring to a 24-0 first-quarter lead, the No. 10 Bears dominated from start to finish as they christened McLane Stadium with a 45-0 blowout before Sunday night’s sellout crowd of 45,733.
After leading the Bears to their first Big 12 title last year, Baylor coach Art Briles wanted to make the McLane Stadium opener a game fans would remember.
“I don’t think I’ve ever coached in a bigger game where I felt so indebted to so many people,” Briles said. “We were ready and wanted to do well. The atmosphere prior to the game was everything I hoped it could be. No one can match this anywhere, and I felt we had a responsibility to maintain it.”
Defense was the story of the night for the Bears as they put tremendous pressure on SMU quarterbacks Neal Burcham and Matt Davis throughout the game. The Bears limited the Mustangs to 67 total yards and collected eight sacks.
Baylor’s shutout was its first since a 48-0 win over SFA in a lightning shortened game in 2011. The Bears’ last shutout in a full game was a 14-0 win over North Carolina State in 1995.
“Our defense was fabulous,” Briles said. “We weren’t that effective offensively because we hit and missed on some things. But what made the game was how we dominated defensively. They’re young but talented, and we’re very good up front.”
Playing only in the first half, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty threw for 161 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for a score. With the Heisman Trophy candidate suffering a lower back bruise, Briles took the cautious route and didn’t play him in the second half with the Bears already leading 31-0.
Sophomore quarterback Seth Russell finished the game for the Bears, who used a much more conservative game plan in the second half. Petty moved slowly as he entered the postgame press conference, but he expects to play in Saturday’s upcoming game against Northwestern State.
Petty said he took a shot in the back from SMU defenders on a first-quarter run, and felt pain the rest of the first half.
“I couldn’t plant and throw like I wanted,” Petty said. “It got to the point where it was hard to stand up. I probably could have played in the second half but wouldn’t have looked well. But it’s a bruise and it’s not that serious. I’m already feeling better, and we’ve got a great training staff.”
Baylor’s offense still piled up 574 yards but wasn’t as prolific as last year’s machine that led the nation with 52.4 points per game. But the Bears didn’t have all their receivers healthy as All-American Antwan Goodley was pulled from the game early with a recurring quad injury that hampered him in preseason camp. Corey Coleman was out with a hamstring injury while Clay Fuller will miss at least three games with a fractured clavicle.
However, Jay Lee made a career-high eight catches for 83 yards while freshman Davion Hall finished with seven catches for 86 yards. Highly touted freshman KD Cannon caught a 46-yard touchdown pass.
Grander in bronze
The festivities began hours before kickoff as Griffin’s 9 1/2-foot statue was unveiled before a large gathering Sunday afternoon. Now in his third year as starting quarterback for the Washington Redskins, the Bears’ 2011 Heisman Trophy winner seemed to be everywhere as he ran through the Baylor Line before the game, said the pregame prayer and fist-bumped Bush at the coin toss.
The crowd was clearly ready for a blowout, and the Bears were eager to oblige.
“We felt we were ready as a team as soon as we got off the bus for the Bear Walk,” Petty said. “It’s unbelievable the support we’ve gotten from people and we wanted to show off for them.”
After stopping the Mustangs on their first possession, the Bears started with great field possession at their own 42. Petty hit a pair of short passes to Lee and then faked out the SMU defense with a 16-yard run to the 23.
Following Shock Linwood’s 12-yard run to the 11, the Mustangs stiffened at the 6 and Baylor redshirt freshman Chris Callahan drilled a 23-yard field goal for the first points of his career.
Baylor’s defense sparked the game’s first touchdown as Aiavion Edwards picked up Stephen Nelson’s fumble after he caught a short pass from Davis. Edwards returned the fumble to the 6 to set up Linwood’s 4-yard touchdown burst up the middle to give the Bears a 10-0 lead with 6:23 left in the first quarter.
With Shawn Oakman sacking Davis for a 9-yard loss, the Mustangs couldn’t move the ball again. Oakman led the Bears with a pair of sacks but 10 players contributed to the defense’s eight sacks.
“We’ve been working and we felt we could get a good pass rush and stop the run,” end Jamal Palmer said. “We were determined and we played physical at the line of scrimmage. We had a good rotation going, so we looked good.”
Levi Norwood returned Jackson Koonce’s punt 45 yards to the 4 to set up Petty’s 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tre’Von Armstead.
After catching the touchdown pass, Armstead threw the ball over the Baylor band off a wall, and was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Armstead, who switched from offensive line to tight end last season, was obviously excited after making his first career catch and touchdown.
The penalty was assessed on the kickoff, but didn’t hurt the Bears. With the Baylor defense stepping up again, the Mustangs couldn’t get a first down and were forced to punt.
Cannon showed why he was one of the most celebrated recruits in Baylor history as he flew behind SMU’s secondary and caught Petty’s deep pass in stride for a 46-yard touchdown to push Baylor’s lead to 24-0 with 28 seconds left in the first quarter.
Baylor’s defense delivered a great stand once again as Xavien Howard intercepted Davis’ heave at the 33. Davis escaped blitzing safety Orion Stewart but received even heavier pressure from end K.J. Smith before he threw the interception.
Petty hit Lee with passes of 15 and 13 yards and then ran for a 5-yard touchdown. But Petty was hit hard by SMU defenders on the run and appeared shaken up as he walked off the field.
Petty’s touchdown with 10:50 left in the second quarter opened up a 31-0 lead. It would be the Bears’ last score of the first half as Callahan missed a 35-yard field goal with 53 seconds left in the second quarter.
With Baylor’s defense continuing to put great pressure on the Mustangs’ quarterbacks, SMU continued to have trouble moving the ball in the second half.
Baylor didn’t score again until Russell hit Lee with a 12-yard touchdown pass with 36 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Bears scored their final touchdown with 5:06 remaining when Silas Nacita rumbled over for a 1-yard score to push the lead to 45-0.
Russell hit 14 of 24 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown in his relief appearance.
“Coach prepared me in practice and I hoped to make the best of the opportunity,” Russell said. “It helped me psychologically that I was able to put the ball in the end zone.”