DALLAS — Distracted driving leads to nasty wrecks.
You’ve seen the frightening commercials. Mom looks down at her cell phone to check Facebook while driving, then — CRASH! — she collides with another car as she blindly rolls through a stop sign.
Considering all the distractions it has endured over the past couple of weeks, Baylor was fortunate to avoid a season-killing crash against SMU.
The Bears had some heavy-duty, self-inflicted distractions, to be sure. The Bears suspended two of their top defensive starters, including sackmaster Shawn Oakman, for violating team rules. News circulated of a recent marijuana arrest for freshman safety J.W. Ketchum. Of course, former defensive end Sam Ukwuachu’s sexual assault conviction has hovered over the program like a low-hanging storm cloud for the past couple of weeks.
The Bears accelerated headlong into that dark abyss, and managed to emerge unharmed. But you certainly got the sense that the Bears felt more relieved than redeemed.
Against another team it could have been different.
Now, let this be known: This SMU team has traveled light-years ahead of last year’s woeful 1-11 Mustang mess. Quarterback Matt Davis showed why he was a highly-sought recruit coming out of high school. The other skill players looked lively and energetic. Expect Chad Morris to win a lot of coaching awards by season’s end.
If it plays like it did Friday night, SMU could easily win seven or eight games this year. The upside of that development for Baylor? It would make the Bears’ nonconference schedule look a lot better than anyone expected.
“Kind of what we figured. We knew it was going to be a dogfight, no question,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “Everybody thought we were going to just show up here and win. Doesn’t happen. They’re a good football team. Matt Davis is a great player, and Coach Morris is about as well-schemed that you could have to open up with in a blind situation.”
Briles might have figured it, but as he alluded to, nobody else did. We’re talking about the fourth-ranked team in the country, a legitimate national title contender, going up against a one-win team from a year ago, a team it blitzed 45-0.
And if you just woke up at 10 p.m. and clicked on your GameTracker, you’d look at the 56-21 final score and figure the game was about what you expected.
You’d be wrong. This sucker was a contest until late in the third.
It may be picking nits, but Baylor definitely has some stuff to work on. For much of the game, the Bears’ tackling was atrocious. Over and over, the Bears put a paw on an SMU ball carrier, only to see the Mustangs slip away.
“It was our fault. That’s on us,” safety Terrell Burt said. “We work on tackling every day, and that’s something that shouldn’t happen.”
It’s also pretty clear that Baylor’s defensive secondary remains a work in progress. Sound familiar? Davis torched those guys with several deep tosses in the first half, though credit Phil Bennett and the Bears for making adjustments at halftime and tightening the screws as the game progressed.
And while it would seemingly be hard to find much fault with an offense that generated 723 yards and averaged a first down for every play, the Bears haven’t remotely eliminated the flag football from their midst. Baylor was flagged 13 times for 105 yards in the opener. That’s not exactly the precedent it wants to set after finishing last year as one of the most penalized teams in the country.
Nobody on the Bears really said so, but I’ve got to think the distractions swirling around the program made a difference. For the past couple of weeks, the headlines and sound bites related to Baylor football have had nothing to do with football itself. You’d have to go completely off the grid to ignore those stories – and have you seen a college student lately who hasn’t had a smart phone surgically attached to their palm?
In the end, Baylor’s talent and depth won out. You’d expect that against SMU. Ditto for the next couple of games against Lamar and Rice.
But some of these distractions aren’t going to fade anytime soon. As the journey progresses, the Bears would be wise to keep their hands at 10 and 2 and their eyes on the road ahead.
Anything less, and their season could end up wrecked.