Baylor defensive line

Baylor defensive end BJ Thompson (48) and linebacker Jordan Williams (38) try to chase down Kansas State quarterback Skylar Thompson earlier this season. The Bears have produced just 16 sacks in eight games.

Short of creating a turnover or actually scoring a touchdown, the sack may contain the most pent-up momentum of any play in football.

Suddenly, the opposing offense is behind the sticks. The first down marker doesn’t feel as attainable. The defensive players are lively and engaged, worked up to a lather.

Lately, Baylor’s defense hasn’t experienced that type of energetic joy. The Bears have lived a sad-sack existence instead.

In each of the Bears’ past two games, their defense has produced just one sack. On the season, Baylor ranks in a tie for 69th nationally with just 16 sacks in eight games. That’s a far cry from the stated goal of 40 that Baylor’s defenders laid out before the season.

“(Sacks) usually involve critical situations. They usually involve large chunks of loss,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said. “Just like a penalty can kill a drive, certainly a sack can kill a drive and end the game. I think there’s also something to taking down the other team’s quarterback. He’s their leader and putting him on the ground (is big).”

Not surprisingly, when the Bears have dumped the opposing quarterback with more regularity, it has worked out well on the scoreboard. Baylor has tallied 12 sacks in its four wins, and just four in its four losses.

Big 12 teams have taken to adopting the same strategy against Baylor’s defense. They’re having an extra blocker hang back in pass protection, either a tight end or a running back or sometimes both, a device known as “max protection,” as Rhule calls it. Then they’re trusting that one of the remaining receivers will beat BU’s secondary and get open.

And it’s working.

“They ran three-man routes. They’re saying, ‘You’re not going to get to us,’” Rhule said. “(West Virginia) did hold the ball, but they always had one more blocker than we had. We should have been able to cover the routes, because you have more defenders back there.”

It may seem counterintuitive to consider that the defensive backs play a significant role in a defense’s sack production. But such thinking goes to the essence of the “coverage sack.” When the secondary has the receivers on lockdown, the quarterback tends to hold onto the ball a little bit longer, thus opening a slightly wider window of opportunity for the defensive linemen to slip through.

“We have to start winning in the secondary, we’re not winning in the secondary right now at the level that we need to,” Rhule said.

The secondary’s downfield coverage may work in concert with a defensive line’s ability to rack up sacks, but obviously the linemen have to win their battles, too. BU defensive end Greg Roberts, who ranks second on the team with three sacks, said that a recent focal point of practice has centered on the linemen continuing to make moves as the play progresses, whether it’s a swim move, a spin, a bull rush, or whatever.

“Coach O (Defensive line coach Frank Okam) is emphasizing you can be taken off the field if you don’t make a move. You won’t win every time but that’s how you win,” Roberts said. “As long as you constantly try to make a move you’ll eventually get there, that and effort. Sixty percent of the sacks in the league don’t come from moves, they come from effort. You’re rarely going to beat a guy off your first move. Are you going to outwork him for the sack?”

The Bears need those hosses in the trenches to labor with intensity, because the significance of the sack can’t be overstated. Baylor’s 16 sacks this season have occurred on 16 different possessions by the opposing team. Only two of those drives led to points – a field goal following a 3rd-and-goal sack against Abilene Christian, and a 43-yard touchdown pass scored by Oklahoma two plays after a Roberts sack of Sooners QB Kyler Murray.

The rest of those sacks completely disrupted the opponent’s offensive flow, leading to 11 punts, two missed field goals and a turnover.

As Baylor gets ready to face Oklahoma State for its homecoming game on Saturday, it’s apparent that Baylor’s defenders need to pack both their lunch pails and their sacks — and not the trick-or-treat kind. Rhule expects that the Cowboys will employ many of the tactics teams have used recently against the Bears. It’s just up to Baylor’s pass rushers to change the storyline.

“As we’re going through it, there’s now a book on us,” Rhule said. “People are max-protecting and saying, ‘Hey, let’s run three-man routes and take a shot and see what we get.’ These guys are no different.

“Oklahoma State, they’ve got great receivers, (Tylan) Wallace is one of the best in the country, (Taylor) Cornelius has a great arm. So, they’ll run, run, run, play-action, max it up, and then take their shots.”

Bear Facts: Baylor quarterback Charie Brewer has participated in non-contact workouts this week, but still has steps to pass before he is cleared to play for Saturday, BU coach Matt Rhule said on Wednesday. Brewer suffered a concussion in last week’s loss at West Virginia.

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