Big 12

Big 12 spotlight: Baylor DB feels pressure to improve team defense

The Baylor sideline celebrates as cornerback Xavien Howard intercepts a pass from Kansas State last season.
The Baylor sideline celebrates as cornerback Xavien Howard intercepts a pass from Kansas State last season. AP

Among the returning starters in an oft-maligned Baylor secondary, no player had more interceptions (four) and pass breakups (13) last season than cornerback Xavien Howard.

But the junior knows he will be under the microscope Friday against SMU (6 p.m., ESPN) when the fourth-ranked Bears seek to show improvement in a pass defense that allowed 24 touchdown receptions last season. Among Big 12 teams, only Texas Tech (27) allowed more. Howard predicted he and his fellow defensive backs will be up to the challenge in a season that begins with CFP playoff hopes.

Overall, defensively, we can do way better. I don’t think people gave us credit for having as young a defense as we had last year and still being Big 12 champs with a new starting bunch. ”

Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard

“I feel like I left plays out there, and I can bring more to the table this season,” Howard said. “The expectations are going to be a lot higher. I feel like the team can depend on me.”

Howard said the Bears’ defense, which returns nine starters from last season, should make major strides because of familiarity gained during an 11-2 season marked by defensive inconsistencies in high-profile games. Baylor gave up more than 40 points in its two losses, to West Virginia (41-27) and Michigan State (42-41), and needed a fourth-quarter comeback to post a 61-58 victory over TCU.

24 Passing touchdowns allowed last season by the Baylor secondary, second only to Texas Tech’s 27 in the Big 12.

“Overall, defensively, we can do way better,” Howard said. “I don’t think people gave us credit for having as young a defense as we had last year and still being Big 12 champs with a new starting bunch. Now, we’ve got our same starters back, pretty much, and they’re going to be much better.”

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