WACO, Texas (AP) — Offensive-minded Baylor coach Art Briles spent a lot of time during the offseason trying to convince everyone how good he expected the Bears to be on defense.
There are plenty of reasons to start believing him after a strong defensive performance by the No. 10 Bears in their season-opening 45-0 win over SMU.
“We had about seven guys returning that had played a bunch for us, and felt like we’d be really solid up front, and I think that held true,” Briles said Monday, a day after the impressive McLane Stadium debut. “We felt we had talent and speed on the back end, and that showed up.”
SMU, whose coach June Jones is like Briles in his fondness for throwing the ball downfield and piling up big offensive numbers, was held to 67 yards on 64 plays. The Mustangs got past midfield only three times in their 17 possessions, with their deepest penetration to the 36 before a fourth-down incompletion in the first quarter.
Baylor had eight sacks, one short of the school record, and five other tackles behind the line of scrimmage. The Bears forced four fumbles, recovering two, and had an interception.
“We really played well on defense, and kind of hit and miss on the offensive side,” Briles said. “Those guys were really dominant.”
The Bears (1-0) will be at home again Saturday night against Northwestern State (0-1).
Big defensive end Shawn Oakman, a 6-foot-9, 280-pound Penn State transfer who had 12 1/2 tackles for loss last season without starting a game, had two sacks in his first Baylor start.
“He makes big plays, he can do that,” said Jamal Palmer, Baylor’s other starting end. “This is his time.”
Palmer also was among the 10 different players who had a part in the sacks, and 19 players who got in on multiple tackles.
“Every time the defense is out there, we’re expecting to turn the ball over. Let’s get the ball back to our offense. Let’s get a three-and-out,” said linebacker Bryce Hager, the most experienced defender with 36 career games (20 starts). “The defense did a really good job doing that. We’re expecting to win every game. We’re expecting to get the ball back to our offense.”
The 67 yards were the fewest ever for Jones as a college head coach, including his time at Hawaii (1999-2007) and SMU since 2008. His lowest output at Hawaii was 221 yards, and he had a Mustangs team that gained only 144 yards against Navy his first year there.
“We knew they were more talented than what they’ve been given credit for,” Jones said.
Jones’ predecessor at SMU was Phil Bennett, now in his fourth season as Baylor’s defensive coordinator. During that time the Bears have gone from being among the nation’s 10-worst defenses to one of the Big 12’s best.
The last time Baylor allowed fewer yards was in 1988 when UNLV had only 50 total yards against the Bears.
“Coach Bennett and that staff have done a great job, and those guys are fighting hard and believing,” Briles said. “That’s very encouraging.”
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