The Baylor offense grabs the headlines, but it’s the Bears’ defense that has quietly been the X-factor during their ascent in the Big 12 Conference this year.
Although last week’s loss at Oklahoma State gave Baylor its first blemish on an otherwise perfect season, it’s still shaping up to be one of the best in school history.
The offense has been the star since Art Briles took over in 2008 after five seasons at Houston, with Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright rewriting the Baylor offensive record books. But since RGIII’s campaign, the offense has continued to put up big numbers, first under Nick Florence in 2012, and now Bryce Petty in 2013.
The defense, which ranked last in the Big 12 a year ago, ranks second this season under defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, who is in his third year with the Bears. The Bears went from allowing 502.2 yards per game to 350.1.
TCU coach Gary Patterson praised the turnaround as the big reason for Baylor’s success.
“I think coach Bennett has done a great job of feeding off the offense,” he said. “Besides the hiccup last week [at Oklahoma State] that’s why they’ve been undefeated and why they’ve been beating people by such large margins.”
The Bears start seven seniors and a junior on their defense. The unit leads the conference with 30 sacks, one more than TCU.
“They’ve got 11 guys who just play hard and are very smart and are in the right places and make good plays,” TCU quarterback Casey Pachall said. “It’s a simple formula to a good defense. They’re not going to trick you in any way. They’ve just got a lot of guys who love playing.”
Patterson said it’s good for the league to have teams such as Oklahoma State and Baylor challenging for the conference title.
“The great part about seeing a Baylor do what they’re doing is it just raises the level of everybody,” he said. “And Oklahoma State — it’s not the traditional powers.
“What we’re trying to do is raise the level. It’s like the SEC, you’re trying to raise the level of what people think about your whole league. Every university has an opportunity to go win a conference title.”
4 Interceptions TCU forced in its 49-21 win at Baylor in 2012. Baylor has only thrown four this season, including just one thrown by quarterback Bryce Petty.
“We’re having a roller coaster year right now, but you have to go through the storm before you can see the sunshine. And I feel like next year this program is going to do great things.” — TCU senior cornerback Jason Verrett assessing the 2013 season.