It’s been a long five weeks for Baylor, but the Bears were finally able to breathe again after their 41-14 win against the Kansas Jayhawks tonight, the Bears’ first conference win this season.
“A tremendous relief, quite honestly,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said about the end of the winning drought the team had experienced. “We’ve kind of felt like we’ve been carrying a burden the last three or four weeks and it’s a relief to get out there and really play well as a football team.”
Baylor opened strong against Kansas utilizing a strategy that had lately fallen to the bottom of the playbooks – its running game.
With the talents of Baylor running backs Glasco Martin and Lache Seastrunk, Baylor effectively and efficiently drove the ball to the red zone. After opening the field for the passing game, quarterback Nick Florence turned to his trusted receiver, Terrance Williams, on a nine-yard pass to capture the Bears’ first touchdown of the game.
“That felt really good to come out there, to run the ball good to make [Kansas] tighten down on defense,” Williams said.
Baylor running backs continued to impress. On the first play of Baylor’s second drive of the game, Florence completed a pass to Seastrunk, who outran the Kansas defense for a 10 second, 68 yard touchdown to put the Bears ahead 14-0 five minutes in to the game.
“Lache (Seastrunk)’s a special player,” Florence said. “He’s gotten a lot better and he’s been patient, been a team player. For him it’s just taken some time to get this offense down, and so he’s done a heck of a job.”
Kansas responded with two touchdowns. The first came off the Kansas running game – a 58-yard run from halfback James Sims. The second came at the start of the second quarter when Kansas quarterback Michael Cummings ran for a 22-yard touchdown, bringing the game to a 17-14 Baylor lead. Those were the only scoring plays from the Jayhawks.
After two touchdowns and two field goals, Baylor entered the locker room up 20-14, the first time the Bears have held the lead at halftime since their win against University of Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 21.
“You want to go into halftime with a lead so you’re not playing catch up, and then you treat it as a zero-zero ball game, but in reality you know we have a little cushion,” Florence said. “But a zero-zero ball game, that’s how we try to approach every half.”
In the first half, the Bears rushed the ball 22 times for 93 yards, and had 232 passing yards. Safety Sam Holl led the Baylor defense with eight tackles, followed by cornerbacks Chance Casey and Joe Williams, and linebacker Eddie Lackey.
Coming out of a 30-minute weather delay, Florence completed a 43-yard pass to Williams, positioning the Bears at the one-yard line. After a quick quarterback switch, Baylor backup quarterback, Bryce Petty, came in for one play allowing Baylor to scored a touchdown off a quick one-yard rush from Petty to give Baylor the 27-14 lead on their first drive of the second half.
“We have a lot of confidence in [Petty],” Briles said. “He’s a good football player and he’s going to be a great contributor to us someday. He’s another guy that can do something, maybe, to help us pick up two yards when you have to make two yards.”
The Bears’ defense, which has been criticized almost non-stop this year, continued to make effective plays throughout the third quarter coming up with big stops, breaking up would-be touchdown passes, recording two sacks, and even registering two interceptions, one each for Williams and cornerback Ahmad Dixon.
“As a corner with the most experience, I should step up and take that role, and I’ve just been trying to do my job and be a leader to the rest of the corners,” Williams said.
The offense was able to take advantage of Dixon’s interception with a seven-yard rushing touchdown by Florence, the Bears’ second rushing touchdown by a quarterback of the night.
“I don’t want to take all the credit for that,” Dixon said about his interception. “Coach made me run that play all week…I saw the guy cut to the outside and I just got underneath it.”
As the Baylor defense shutout the Jayhawks in the second half, the offense didn’t take a break from scoring. After a 37-yard run by Martin, Florence connected with receiver Tevin Reese on a 40-yard touchdown pass to drive the final score up to 41-14.
After seven weeks of play and zero conference wins, Baylor finally developed the perfect formula – an efficient running game and an effective defense.
“We had to run the football…we felt like we needed to run the ball tonight,” Briles said. “Glasco (Martin) did a great job, our offensive line did a great job, Lache (Seastrunk) made a few little runs in there, Nick (Florence) had a few runs, and Salubi had a couple, so it was a good effort.”
Baylor’s defense, which never allowed Kansas to grab a lead, held the Jayhawks to 96 passing yards, the lowest opponent total since the Bears held Colorado to 75 yards in a triple overtime win in 2006. In addition, the defense allowed zero passing touchdowns from Kansas, only 342 total offensive yards and 17 first downs.
As the Baylor football formula begins to evolve, hope for a third straight bowl game still looks bright. With an effective run game and a crushing defense, this may be the beginning of a momentum wave Baylor is ready to ride out for the rest of the season. -- Savannah Pullin