There are plenty of teams that have scored a lot of points in recent seasons. Unfortunately, aside from the Oregon Ducks, most of those point-a-minute teams were offensive dreams and defensive nightmares. Teams playing shootout games like the 2011 Oklahoma State Cowboys or the 2012 West Virginia Mountaineers.
The 2013 Baylor Bears are officially out of that realm. After being held at arm's length for the first two months of the season, this is a squad that should be embraced as among the nation's elite—all thanks to its defense.
Offense is what put the Bears on the map. The shootout against Washington in the 2011 Alamo Bowl. The 63 points in a losing effort to West Virginia as season ago. The 52 points hung on Kansas State in an upset win. Even the 63.9 points per game in 2013 through October led to talk about their firepower.
Yet, there is something not quite the same about this Baylor team, and it is time for the nation to acknowledge the difference. After a pair of nearly identically woeful seasons on defense, this Bears unit has broken through the "give up 37.2 points per game" floor.
|Year||Points Per Game||Yards Per Game||Yards Per Play|
The numbers don't lie; this Baylor team has seen its defense take a massive turn in the right direction. A move from one of the worst to one of the nation's better units. The Bears are No. 6 in scoring defense, No. 28 in rushing defense, No. 7 in pass defense, No. 9 in total defense and No. 2 in yards per play. At 306.1 yards allowed per game in 2013, defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's unit is nearly 200 yards better than it was a season ago.
Looking at the numbers is nice and shows the growth, but the true beauty of the Baylor defense is in its approach to the game. This unit is playing defense the way it was meant to be played, and for that Bennett and his staff deserve their props. Baylor is playing physical and disciplined football, and that is the type of defense that turns a high-flying great offensive act into a high-quality football team.
That is the goal-line stand against Oklahoma from Baylor's most recent win over Oklahoma. The Bears demonstrate just how physical they have been playing on the fourth-down stop of Sooners quarterback Blake Bell. Baylor is playing on the offense's side of the ball, consistently, and the bodies up front are pushing the line of scrimmage into the backfield to stop runs before they start and getting penetration against the pass.
The other major turn for Baylor this year is, simply put, a defense doing its job. That means maintaining gap integrity, sticking to rush lanes, taking proper pursuit angles and, something that seems to be a lost art in college football, tackling the ball-carrier.
Baylor is big on just doing its job this year. Defensive end Chris McAllister (No. 31) stops the ball on the option play against Kansas. Notice cornerback K.J. Morton (No. 8) engaged with a wide receiver as linebacker Eddie Lackey (No. 5) and safety Ahmad Dixon (No. 6) flow over the top in pursuit.
Morton disengages as Lackey forces the ball-carrier to turn inside to a pursuing McAllister and a waiting Morton. The tackle is made short of the first down.
This unit flows fast to the football, linebackers Lackey, Bryce Hager and hybrid backer-defensive back Sam Holl can get to the edge with their quickness. Mix in Dixon, a safety that likes to play physical and be a factor in the box, and the Bears have a defensive unit that can track the ball to the edges with great speed. However, it is not just the edge where Baylor is stout on defense.
Following the previous third-down stop, the Bears stop Kansas on 4th-and-1 to force a turnover. Lackey, Hager and Holl are tight to the line of scrimmage prepared to stop the run.
Defensive tackle Suleiman Masumbuko (No. 93) makes the first big play here, pushing into the backfield, getting past the guard and forcing the lineman to turn his shoulders, creating a lane for Lackey to get penetration. On the backside, as the center and guard double-team the second defensive tackle, Holl is given a run lane to stop the cutback.
Holl is now in the backfield, Lackey has stoned the fullback in the hole and Hager is moving over the top, reading the back. Masumbuko is closing on the running back, and Andrew Billings (No. 75) successfully defeats the double-team.
The back avoids Masumbuko, but both Holl and Hager are there to secure the tackle and stop the ball-carrier from picking up the first down.
A season ago, Baylor was not getting this done in the short yardage. A year ago, Baylor was not maintaining gap integrity, taking proper pursuit angles, securing tackles and stopping plays for a loss or minimal gain.
That is the difference in this Baylor team. The offense is great, but Baylor's defensive renaissance is the reason the Bears are a squad that needs to be taken seriously. This defense is converting folks, myself included, and plenty others should get on board.