To their credit, no member of the Baylor defense spent Monday trying to sound a false alarm about this week’s challenge of stopping a Lamar offense that erupted for 66 points in its season opener.
Even better, no Baylor administrator sought contact information about trying to schedule a future nonconference showdown with Bacone (Okla.) College, the NAIA school that surrendered those points last week.
Instead, the fourth-ranked Bears turned the focus on themselves heading into Saturday’s game in Waco (6:30 p.m., FSN) that will mark the season debuts for defensive end Shawn Oakman and safety Orion Stewart. Both players earned All-Big 12 honors last season but missed last week’s 56-21 victory over SMU while serving one-game suspensions for unspecified violations of team rules.
We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to play smarter. We’ve got to be more intense. We’ve got to get in sync a little bit better.
Baylor coach Art Briles on the Bears’ defense
Both return to bolster a defense that turned in an up-and-down performance against the Mustangs, but expects to apply a serious clamp to this week’s visitor from the FCS ranks.
“Those are two big, impact players for us,” linebacker Grant Campbell said. “Those guys are huge pieces. It’s going to be great having those two back. It should make it a lot better for us going into this week.”
Baylor coach Art Briles, who confirmed the return of his two defensive stalwarts during a Monday news conference, said Oakman and Stewart bring “energy and excitement” to the Bears’ locker room. They also bring playmaking skills that were missed while SMU racked up three first-half touchdowns in last week’s opener, throwing a brief scare into Baylor defenders before some halftime adjustments quieted the uprising and led to a scoreless second half for the Mustangs.
The Bears (1-0) plan to build on that goose egg, particularly with last year’s team leaders in sacks (Oakman, 11), tackles for losses (Oakman, 19.5) and interceptions (Stewart, 4) back in the fray Saturday.
For the Bears’ defense, the biggest key Saturday will be playing to a championship standard worthy of College Football Playoff inclusion.
“Oakman and Stewart, they have a lot of experience and they’re really good football players,” Briles said. “Those are the biggest keys for them.”
For the Bears’ defense, the biggest key Saturday will be playing to a championship standard worthy of College Football Playoff inclusion after. That exceeds winning by just one point. And that standard did not consistently surface, in Briles’ estimation, while allowing 369 yards to the Mustangs.
“Our motivation this week is to be better,” Briles said. “Settling down from a defensive standpoint … was an issue. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to play smarter. We’ve got to be more intense. We’ve got to get in sync a little bit better.”
If that triggers a shutout against Lamar, a prohibitive underdog that has been outscored by an average of 45 points in its past five matchups against FBS opponents, so be it. If not, Briles and his defensive coaches will have more talking points to stress during next week’s open date before a Sept. 26 game against Rice.
The bottom line, said defensive tackle Andrew Billings, is to make the Bears’ defense airtight by the time Big 12 play begins Oct. 3 against Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Bears, who return nine defensive starters from last season, flashed occasional glimpses against SMU. Billings contributed 2 TFLs and defensive end Jamal Palmer, playing for the first time since undergoing knee surgery last October, added 4 TFLs and a sack.
6 Tackles for a loss that tackle Andrew Billings and end Jamal Palmer combined for in last week’s victory over SMU
But the Bears missed Oakman and Stewart, whose off-season appearances on police blotters included: Stewart’s arrest in March on a charge of evading arrest in a motor vehicle (he was released after posting a $5,000 bond) and an arrest warrant issued for Oakman after he failed to pay a $266 fine for running a stop sign. The failure to appear citation is $188.
Bottom line: Baylor does not release information about player suspensions. But the conduct outlined above is the sort of behavior that triggers one-game suspensions at FBS programs from coast-to-coast. Now that the suspensions have been lifted, Billings said the Bears’ defense can expect “a big lift” in its remaining regular-season contests.
“With everyone coming back, we’re ready,” Billings said. “We’re getting even more experience on the field and guys that we practice with every day. We can get back to what we’ve been doing from snap one.”
Asked if he expects it to be easier playing defense with a full complement of first-teamers in the mix, a smiling Billings said: “A lot easier.”
Facing an FCS team that fell to Texas A&M 73-3 in last year’s contest also should make things easier. Briles did not hedge about that when asked about what he expects from a team playing down in weight class this week.
“Competitors, they perform. They give their best every time they step out on the field,” Briles said. “Our motivation is to win. And that’s what we plan to do.”
Adding Oakman and Stewart to this week’s mix simply makes that task a little easier from a defensive perspective.