Baylor’s up-tempo offense, on historic pace, opens Big 12 play with something to prove

Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk spent his time studying and playing video games for much of the two weeks the Bears had off in September.

The Heisman hopeful has been an avid video game player since childhood. Since transferring from Oregon two years ago, he refuses to play video game football if he’s not playing as Baylor. He’s seen a lot of high-scoring video games, too, including a recent 150-0 score.

“That’s crazy; I don’t think we could ever do that,” he said. “I saw that and I was thinking that’s impossible.”

On the field, Seastrunk and the Baylor offense have also been putting up crazy and impossible numbers through the first three games. The Bears (3-0) open Big 12 play at home at 7 p.m. Saturday against West Virginia (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) leading the nation in total offense (751.3 yards per game) and scoring (69.7 points per game).

Critics point to the Bears’ first three opponents — Wofford, Buffalo, and Louisiana-Monroe — for the reason Baylor has put up such eye-popping numbers. Let’s see the Bears do that against Big 12 defenses, they say. The doubters will get that chance soon enough, starting against the Mountaineers.

But who’s expecting the game to be low-scoring? WVU beat Baylor in a wild 70-63 shootout a year ago, a loss that started a four-game spiral before the Bears recovered to win five of their last six.

“They kind of took it to us last year in a high-scoring game, but they came out on top,” receiver Tevin Reese said. “This year they come back to our house.”

Both teams have improved defenses from a year ago. The Mountaineers have shown it twice already in Big 12 action — holding Oklahoma to 16 points in Norman, Okla., and beating Oklahoma State 30-21 in Morgantown, W.Va.

Saturday’s game will give Baylor its first chance to prove that its defense has turned a corner. The offense, however, has been a high-flying machine for much of the last three years.

Coach Art Briles is quick to admit that the Bears’ season has barely begun because of the two early off weeks.

“We understand we’re 0 and 0 in conference play,” he said Monday. “We’ve played one game in the last 27 days, so we’ve kind of just been sitting on the outside looking in for the last three or four weeks. We feel like we just have to get on the field and try to continue the momentum we created earlier on both sides of the ball.

“If we look up in seven or eight weeks and we’re still rolling on both sides, then we’ll be feeling pretty good with where we’re at.”

Baylor has to feel pretty good about its offense regardless of its first three opponents. The Bears have gained more than 400 yards of offense in 30 consecutive games, the nation’s longest active streak and 13 more than the next closest school, Texas A&M. Twenty-four of Baylor’s 25 offensive touchdown drives have come in under two minutes, including 11 in under one minute. The Bears’ longest touchdown drive this season lasted just 2:07.

Quarterback Bryce Petty has seamlessly followed in the footsteps of Robert Griffin III and Nick Florence to run the offense with efficiency. The Bears are scoring at an unprecedented pace thanks to a lightning-quick tempo that limits defensive adjustments and exploits single coverage.

And Baylor isn’t exactly piling up gaudy numbers to attract attention. The starting offense has played only five total series after halftime in the first three games. The 26 drives by the starting offense have resulted in 21 touchdowns, one field goal, one punt, one turnover on downs and two fumbles. So what makes this offense so tough to slow down? The scheme? The tempo? The speed and talent?

“I think it’s all of it,” Reese said. “Coach has a great scheme to use our talent, so he’ll put us in the best position to make the best plays. When he does that it’s kind of hard to stop us. We have fast people running a fast tempo, so that helps a lot and gets a lot of defenses tired. Our focus is never on points. We’re not really worried about the points, but when they do pile up like that it does kind of open your eyes a little bit.”

And they could be worse ... or better, if you’re a Baylor fan.

If the starters — including Seastrunk who has 417 yards and six touchdowns on just 38 carries — had played entire games, those video game scores might not have been out of reach. Still, the remaining doubters serve only as motivation.

“That’s fine, let them think that way,” Seastrunk said. “I want them to think that way so when they play us they’ll think, ‘OK, they’re really for real.’ We love being the underdog. I’ll take the underdog. I’ve been an underdog my entire life. I don’t know how many losing seasons they’ve had in the past, but it’s different. That’s in the past. Baylor Bears are the future.”

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