Without a stat sheet in hand in the postgame interview room, Baylor coach Art Briles tried to guess the numbers Seth Russell put up in a 56-21 season-opening romp over SMU.
“I’m going to say he completed 24 out of 30,” Briles said.
When informed Russell had completed 15 of 30, Briles asked, ‘Well, how many touchdowns?’”
The answer was five.
“We’ll take it,” Briles said. “That ain’t bad.”
So would any other college coach in the country. Making his first start as the Bears’ No. 1 quarterback, Russell threw for 376 yards in Friday night’s blowout in Dallas.
With his big arm, Russell came out firing and didn’t stop. The fourth-year junior found Corey Coleman streaking downfield for 42 yards on his first pass to set up the No. 4 Bears’ first touchdown.
On the Bears’ second drive, Russell spotted Coleman streaking across the middle for 60 yards to set up the quarterback’s own 4-yard touchdown run.
The big plays kept coming for Russell as he hit Jay Lee on touchdown passes of 7, 22 and 41 yards. He hit KD Cannon with a beautifully placed 36-yard touchdown pass and then watched Coleman use exceptional footwork to turn a short pass into a 57-yard touchdown.
“As a team we really showed what we can do,” Russell said. “If everybody is clicking I feel we’re unstoppable. We haven’t taken a step back. If anything we’ve taken a step forward just with experience. The offensive line is all returning and most of the receivers.”
Russell also showed how big a threat he can be as a runner by breaking loose for what would have been a 65-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Bears were called for holding on the play but it was a pretty thrilling sampler for the future.
But if you asked Russell to grade himself, he wouldn’t mark down an A. He might not even call it a B-level performance.
“I’d say subpar,” Russell said. “We did a lot of things right and we did a lot of things wrong. Starting off the season it’s the first game and you’re going to have those type of deals. We’ll get better at it and we can’t have those things go wrong.”
After a near-flawless first quarter in which he hit nine of 14 for 186 yards and two touchdowns, Russell missed all four pass attempts in the second quarter. The play that kept running through Russell’s head was his overthrow to Lee that was intercepted by SMU defensive back Darrion Richardson.
Because of a great Baylor defensive stand, the Mustangs didn’t score. But that interception is the kind of mistake Russell knows can be costly against a stronger opponent.
“The interception can be a big game changer going against a team with a real potent offense,” Russell said. “When you get those types of turnovers the momentum can carry teams to a win. I forced that ball. I probably shouldn’t have thrown it. I should have run for 3 yards and got down. That’s a mistake we can’t have in a tough game.”
Good teams have a way of picking up the slack when one side of the ball is struggling.
When Baylor’s offense jumped off to a hot start with a 28-point first quarter, it covered for a defense that had trouble containing elusive SMU quarterback Matt Davis.
After the Bears’ offense hit a lull in the second quarter, Baylor’s defense stepped up. Replacing suspended starter Orion Stewart, safety Taion Sells intercepted a Davis pass. Middle linebacker Grant Campbell made one of the biggest plays of the night when he sacked Davis for a 6-yard loss at Baylor’s 9 as the second quarter clock expired.
Everything was clicking for the Bears in the second half as they scored four unanswered touchdowns and the defense was outstanding. With suspended defensive end Shawn Oakman and Stewart back in the lineup Saturday against Lamar, Baylor’s defense should play at a higher level.
Finally getting his chance to start in his fourth year at Baylor, Russell wants to be great like predecessors Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence and Bryce Petty. That means playing consistently from the first quarter to the last.
“This is the first time the guy has ever walked out and started a game in an environment like that,” Briles said. “I thought he played really well. I’m a little surprised there were that many incompletions, but that is stuff we’ll have to work on.