Two teams, long the bottom-feeders of their respective divisions, but recently showing signs of life. Both driven by high-powered, Big 12 offenses with similar statistics in every meaningful category. Both coming off frustrating losses to ranked opponents.
Most reasonable people probably would have predicted a shoot-out, a close match where the team with the last big drive wins.
But, of course, they would have been way off. But hey—this is college football we're talking about, right?
"I hate to say this was a must-win, but we needed it," Baylor head coach, Art Briles, said. "Any Big 12 victory is hard to come by, and this was a good step in the right direction. We’ve felt all along we’re a good football team, and maybe we’re starting to show it a little bit."
Maybe. After all, out-scoring a Big 12 opponent by 28 points only ties Baylor's highest margin of victory since joining the conference.
It started with a TD in the first quarter and Baylor never looked back. It wasn't until halfway through the fourth quarter when ISU avoided complete embarrassment by putting together a TD drive to bring up the final score of 38-10.
I will dispense with the play-by-play. Honestly, the drive summaries speak for themselves:
ISU: Punt, Punt, Punt, FG, Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, TD, Int.
To summarize, Iowa State head coach, Gene Chizik, gave one of the most depressing post-game quotes I've ever heard: "I don't really have a word to describe the game honestly. It was bad football all the way around; offense, defense and obviously special teams. We were not clicking and we were not in sync, anywhere."
BU: Punt, TD, TD, TD, Halftime, TD (kickoff return), Punt, FG, Punt, Knee.
"That’s the most complete game we’ve played all year," Briles concluded. "We were very crisp from an offensive standpoint and everybody acted like they knew what they were doing. Our defense did an outstanding job of making plays when they had to. Baker’s kickoff return really ignited the crowd."
Clearly, Briles' Bears came to win. Chizik's Cyclones just came to visit.
Granted, any team can have a bad week, and that seems to be the case here. But superior teams also cause lesser teams to look bad.
Here's how Baylor did it.
The Robert Griffin Show
Robert Griffin completed 85 percent of his passes for 278 yards and two TDs. Whatever criticism of his passing may have been whirling around in Iowa (Matt Gubbels, writing for Iowa State Daily, made up this little gem: "Baylor has shown no ability to throw the ball") is quickly drying up.
There have been two basic approaches to containing Griffin so far this season: blitz or spy. The Cyclones tried both.
When they spied him, Griffin was content to sit back and pick apart the secondary. When they rushed, three sacks notwithstanding, Griffin actually made his most spectacular throws of the night (including a 34-yard bomb on 3rd-and-long).
Although Griffin actually had negative rushing yardage this week, he still managed his sixth straight game with a rushing TD—out of six total games.
Speaking of amazing streaks, out of his six total games, how many interceptions does Griffin have? None, nada, niet, nein.
According to stats on ESPN.com, he's the only FBS quarterback with more than 100 attempts (128 so far) who can claim that stat. The other contenders, Jack Locker of Washington (probably out for the season with a broken thumb) and Tyler Lee of Miss. St. only have 93 attempts each.
Receiver Kendall Wright had the best game of his brief career. The freshman pulled in seven receptions for 132 yards and two TDs through the air, plus two more runs for 13 on the ground. He even passed on a trick play (it was incomplete).
And how about that No. 3 Sportscenter top 10 highlight reel of his 51-yard TD play (also pictured above)?
It should come as no surprise, though; Wright is unbelievably athletic. Wright was a star HS quarterback, now transitioning nicely to receiver at Baylor. He is also on the Baylor track team (along with teammate Robert Griffin) and will play guard for the recently successful Baylor basketball team (watch his basketball highlight reel on Youtube sometime).
Wondering why he ended up at Baylor?
"I feel like the program’s going to change under Coach Briles," Wright said in an interview with the Waco Tribune-Herald. "You can play fast in his offense — and that’s the way I like it."
Coming into the season, Wright was clearly one of the most talented recruits of this year's crop. It was just a matter of time before he proved it.
Red Zone Stonewall
In the second quarter, Iowa State made its first sustained drive to the Baylor four yard line, but couldn't close the deal after two false starts. Chizik called in his kicker for the FG but, in the ensuing play, a devastating roughing the kicker penalty was called on the Bears.
1st-and-2 now, the Cyclones looked poised to halve Baylor's 14 point lead.
Somehow, at the end of a bizarre series with another false start, a delay of game, an illegal block, and great defense, ISU had to settle for the FG again.
This is just one highlight of the steely defensive play that won Baylor this game.
Discipline and Improvement
I've had a few standing complaints about the Bears this season. Thankfully, there was improvement in each area this week.
First, the previously inconsistent Baylor offensive line dominated the trenches the whole game. Consequently, Griffin had plenty of time to make all his passes count, dramatically increasing his pass efficiency over last week against Oklahoma.
Second, Baylor's penalties were not significant enough to make a difference. Although there were seven penalties, they were only good for 39 yards.
Third, the Bears put aside a sometimes unipolar offense with eight players rushing and seven players catching passes.
Fourth, the defensive secondary stepped up and made a few big stops. The blown coverages of the Oklahoma game were apparently drilled out of existence by the Baylor coaching staff.
Fifth, the special teams finally got the big kickoff return they've been wanting all season. 93 yards to be exact. This partially makes up for the still mediocre kickoffs and punts.
The Bottom Line
Art Briles evened up the record to 3-3 overall, 1-1 in conference play. Every loss so far is against teams ranked in or near the top 25 (UConn only dropped out after losing without its star QB to a ranked UNC squad).
But a schedule already easily among the ten toughest is about to get even tougher. A grueling stretch against OSU, a somewhat improved Nebraska, Missouri, and Texas looms.
Baylor will have to take at least one of these games away to keep any hope of a post-season alive. This win is a solid start and, I think, demonstrates that Baylor is capable of hanging with anyone when it brings its "A" game.