Baylor defense, not offense, steals show on festive night

08/31/2014 11:36 PM

09/01/2014 9:10 AM

Baylor’s breathless offense was finally upstaged Sunday night.

And not just by the Bears’ dazzling new, $260-million, banks-o’-the-Brazos stadium.

But by its often-ignored defense.

The Bears, as has become their custom, rolled up 574 yards and overwhelmed SMU 45-0 on a festive first night at McLane Stadium.

The story this time, however, was the zero, not the 45.

It was Baylor’s second shutout of the Art Briles era, and it was both relentless and thorough. The Mustangs changed quarterbacks, rotated receivers and sporadically gambled on fourth down, all to no avail.

Coach June Jones’ SMU offense concluded the game with minus-24 yards on the ground, in large part because its three quarterbacks were sacked eight times.

It seemed more like 80 times. Baylor’s defensive line, the same one that Briles labeled “one of the dominating in America,” argued its coach’s case well.

At 6-foot-9 and 280 pounds, Bears defensive end Shawn Oakman looks like a giant tree. An angry, scary, fast-moving tree.

The transfer from Penn State spent his night haunting and stalking SMU’s Neal Burcham and whoever followed at quarterback. Oakman finished with six tackles and two sacks, even though Briles all but cleared his bench.

The Mustangs never got closer than the Baylor 36-yard line.

“Honestly, I didn’t feel like we were that effective offensively,” Briles said after the game. “I didn’t see any fluid or dynamic quality to a lot of things.

“But defensively — that’s what made the game. That’s what allowed the game to be won tonight.”

With only Jones’ reputation, frankly, to support the notion that SMU is always going to have a dangerous offense and an array of skill position athletes, the Mustangs were found to be tellingly undermanned. That had to factor into SMU’s net of only 67 yards.

It was only two seasons ago, however, that Baylor gave up 42 points to Louisiana-Monroe and 70 to West Virginia.

That was the year that Oakman had to sit out after being kicked off the team at Penn State. Now, he starts and his name is on the watch lists for the Chuck Bednarik, Bronco Nagurski and Ted Hendricks awards.

Before the opener, Oakman admitted that Baylor’s bitter Fiesta Bowl loss to Central Florida was still fresh in the defense’s minds.

“We got our butts kicked in that game, and we’ve been sitting around here with a sour taste in our mouths for awhile now,” Oakman said. “We’re ready to hit somebody else.”

He did. And did and did, as the Bears defense — not the offense — controlled the game’s tempo for a change.

“The thing I liked,” Briles said, “was we kind of felt going in that we had a chance to have a good defense, and we thought we had a chance to be very good up front.

“The thing I saw tonight was a lot of strength and speed.”

The Bears lost star safety Ahmad Dixon and cornerback Demtri Goodson to the NFL, but Briles’ defense was strengthened by the return of fifth-year senior Bryce Hager at middle linebacker. The plan, for now, is to use a nine-man rotation along the defensive front.

On this night, the Baylor defense stole a page from its offense, playing with overwhelming quickness.

“There’s always a chip on our shoulder,” Oakman said early in August. “We don’t get the respect that we deserve.

“But we’re always willing to earn it.”

They picked a festive night to start.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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