DALLAS – After two weeks of turmoil and distractions, Seth Russell wasn’t going to let anything stop him from having a splashy debut as Baylor’s No. 1 quarterback once he stepped into SMU’s Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
Exhibiting both his powerful arm and escapability, Russell threw for 376 yards and five touchdowns as the No. 4 Bears pulled away for a 56-21 win before 32,047 fans Friday night.
Though the Bears didn’t deliver a dominating performance after earning their highest preseason ranking in school history, they opened the game strong and finished with a flurry to win comfortably against the outmanned Mustangs.
“We didn’t think we’d just show up and win,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “We knew it would be a dogfight. Our offense came out hot and then we self destructed. But when you’ve won as many games as we have you hang on. We felt if we could get away from them we’d be in decent shape.”
The Baylor football program has been under a national microscope since former Baylor defensive end Sam Ukwuachu was found guilty on Aug. 20 for sexually assaulting a former soccer player at the university.
Third-team All-America defensive end Shawn Oakman and starting safety Orion Stewart were on the sidelines as they served a one-game suspension for violation of team rules. The Bears obviously missed them as the defense allowed 369 yards.
“From a leadership standpoint and a play making standpoint we missed them a bunch,” Briles said. “Shawn could have been disruptive. You’re talking about all-Big 12 players. But it was encouraging to see our guys rally around each other and win.”
Making only his second career start and first since taking over as Baylor’s top quarterback, Russell hit 15 of 30 passes with an interception. But he kept coming up with big passes when the Bears needed them and created plays with his running ability.
The Bears finished with 723 total yards and averaged a school record 10.4 yards per play.
“When our offense is clicking I feel like we can be unstoppable,” Russell said. “We weren’t quite sure what SMU would do but we came out looking to hit the deep ball early to help out our running game. We knew this would be a shootout with the energy in the stadium. We knew we had to put up a lot of points.”
Playing their first game under new head coach Chad Morris, the Mustangs looked completely different than the team that finished 1-11 last year. Trailing 28-21, the Mustangs appeared in a favorable position for an upset before the Bears scored four unanswered touchdowns.
After taking a 28-14 first-quarter lead, the Bears had trouble moving the ball before reeling off an eight-play, 97-yard touchdown drive with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
Pinned at their own 16, Russell found KD Cannon flying down the right sideline for 56 yards. Russell finished off the drive by hitting Jay Lee crossing to the right sideline for a 22-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 35-21 lead.
On Baylor’s next possession, Russell spotted Lee on a play-action pass for a 41-yard touchdown to push the lead to 42-21 with 27 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
It was Corey Coleman’s turn on Baylor’s next drive as he caught a pass from Russell along the left sideline and turned on the jets for a 57-yard touchdown to take a 49-21 lead with 13:20 left in the game.
“Seth was unbelievable,” Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango said. “We started executing better across the board. We minimized penalties and finally got a rhythm going.”
Lee made three catches for 70 yards that all went for touchdowns. Coleman made five catches for 178 yards and a score and Cannon made three catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.
The defense had trouble containing SMU quarterback Matt Davis who hit 16 of 23 for 166 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for 115 yards. The Bears missed numerous tackles but Taion Sells and Tion Wright intercepted passes.
“Sometimes it takes a while to play at a high level,” Baylor safety Terrell Burt said. “We made some adjustments as the game went on. We work on tackling every day and we shouldn’t let (misses) happen.”
Russell opened the game looking like he was trying to make up for lost time as he fired a perfect 42-yard pass to Coleman down the left sideline on the Bears’ first play.
But Baylor’s special teams and defense showed holes from the start. Braeden West returned the kickoff 59 yards and Davis found Courtland Sutton behind Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard for a 46-yard touchdown.
The Bears needed just 52 seconds to eat up 75 yards on four plays for their second touchdown. Russell and Coleman kick started the drive again with a 60-yard pass over the middle.
After Linwood hammered for 11 yards, Russell dashed around the left side for a 4-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 14-7 lead.
With Davis flashing his running ability, the Mustangs answered the Bears again. Davis picked up 18, 24 and 13 yards to push SMU to the 13. Xavier Jones finished off the 12-play, 81-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run as SMU tied the game at 14 with 7:02 left in the first quarter.
On their next possession, the Bears ate up a little clock as they drove 75 yards on 13 plays with Russell hitting a 7-yard touchdown pass to Lee over the middle.
The Bears went back to their quick strike offense on their next drive as they needed just three plays to move 63 yards. Russell fired a perfectly timed 36-yard touchdown pass to Cannon down the right sideline to give the Bears a 28-14 lead with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.
But after doing anything they wanted in the first quarter, Baylor’s offense bogged down in the second quarter and didn’t score. After hitting nine of 14 for 186 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter, Russell missed all four of his second quarter passes and threw an interception.
“We hit a lull in the second quarter but luckily the defense stepped up,” Russell said. “I missed some passes and had the interception. We have to get better and not have things go wrong.” The Mustangs cut Baylor’s lead to 28-21 when Sutton caught a pass from Davis and slipped away from Burt inside the 10 to finish off a 31-yard scoring play.
SMU had a chance to tie the game after Darrion Richardson intercepted Russell’s pass. Taking over at Baylor’s 33, the Mustangs moved to a first down at the 3.
“That was the biggest drive of the whole game,” Burt said. “Grant is a great player and he’s going to be a leader for us.”