Oct. 1, 2016: Iowa State Cyclones running back Kene Nwangwu (20) during a NCAA football game between the Baylor Bears and the Iowa Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA. (Photo by Merle Laswell/Icon Sportswire)
Baylor Bears

Baylor defense returns to basics to become more formidable

Merle Laswell/Icon Sportswire

Baylor’s offense has been the cream of the crop for the past few years. At this time last season, it was averaging over 60 points per game. To see the Bears stuck at 42 points per game is a little surprising (third in the Big 12 in scoring), but what’s more surprising is that the defense seems to be better than ever despite returning just five starters and switching the base scheme.

Coming off a game in which they allowed 42 points and kept the offense playing from behind for all but the last six minutes, it may seem a bit off to put the Bears’ defenders on such a pedestal. Yet, the defense still ranks second in the conference in scoring and total defense, allowing 19.2 points and 341 yards per game.

There’s a considerable drop-off from Kansas State and Baylor in the Big 12. TCU’s defense is allowing 75 yards more per game. Baylor is also tied for second in the league with nine forced turnovers and ranks first with 29 passes defended.

Just about any corner you turn, the green and gold defense is peering its head out, ready to get the ball back for the high-octane offense. It may have taken six Iowa State possessions to do that, but the final three drives from the Cyclones were punts that led to a 17-0 Baylor run which enabled BU to stay undefeated.

“This is not really a defensive plan to let the offense wear down by being out there too much,” Baylor head coach Jim Grobe said after the game. “But I really just felt like at the end we got a little bit of momentum. The offense was playing really well and all of a sudden our guys saw, ‘Hey, we might be able to get this thing done.'”

Indeed, Iowa State did find the end zone on six consecutive possessions (excluding one heading into halftime), and that’s what had the college football world ready to lambast Baylor, public enemy number one. That’s why Grobe is trying to use his team’s extra week off — in preparation for homecoming against Kansas — to return to basics, as the defense did in the fourth quarter.

The above Grobe comment Monday was in reference to individual players participating in practice, but it also fits with his discussion of getting back to the basics on defense. Practice well, play well. That means no more arm tackles or missed coverage assignments that let Iowa State have three passes for over 30 yards last Saturday, scoring twice.

Baylor was also greatly limited in sending the consistent pressure that had made its defense such a formidable force to open the season. There were just two tackles for loss and one sack from the Bears. Even nickelback Travon Blanchard was shut out from making an impact, though he still holds the conference lead with 7.5 tackles for loss in three games.

With Kansas up next, a win seems inevitable, but Grobe has never subscribed to the idea of an easy game as he discussed before playing one-win Iowa State. He was right — only a field goal saved Baylor from overtime. If the fundamentals aren’t handled right against Kansas, whose entire scheme hinges on basics, the hope for a surprise conference title might quickly dissipate.

Baylor defense returns to basics to become more formidable
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