For as long as Baylor has been in the Big 12, the Bears’ non-conference schedule has been shameful. They want to remedy that in the next few years, having been on the rise in recent times, but having gone through a tumultuous offseason, opening against FCS Northwestern State might have been the confidence boost the program and its fans needed under new coach Jim Grobe.
“I really felt good about our players, and I felt good about our coaching staff,” Grobe said, “But I wanted to see us put it together. And I wanted to see how we reacted as a team. I was very pleased tonight. But I just liked the cohesiveness of our team and how hard we played, and I just got a good feeling about these guys.”
Winning 55-7 will do that for a team. Compare that win to Baylor’s 70-6 rout in 2014 over the same team, and there’s more reason to get excited even if the margin of victory shrank.
Not only is the offense looking like a well-oiled machine — registering 393 yards of total offense with the first half starters — but the defense appears to be in top form, and possibly better than any defense in the Art Briles era.
In the first half, Northwestern State gained just 20 yards. It took the Demons five drives to gain a first down, and that was their lone success against Baylor’s starters. It’s hard to get very far when every other run is caught behind the line — the Bears forced eight tackles for loss in the first half.
Five of those came from two of Baylor’s star defenders. Nose tackle Ira Lewis had three tackles for loss while linebacker Taylor Young was good for a couple in addition to a brutal sack.
While this year’s matchup with the Demons didn’t match 2014’s three sacks, the Bears wrapped up 10 runners in the backfield compared to seven in the last meeting. It was a team effort with a mob bursting through the line, but Lewis and Young were the ones on the forefront of this revolution, feeling they couldn’t allow a single yard.
“It was a big deal to come out there and have that type of mindset out there, that mentality,” Young said. “Just to say that they don’t need to get a yard. That was our mentality going in there. Just doing that, it’s really an accomplishment for us.”
Though getting through the trenches was a vital factor, the entire defense impressed at a level which eclipsed Shawn Oakman’s and Andrew Billings’ banner 2014 campaigns.
Against the Demons in 2014, Baylor allowed 202 total yards. On Friday night, that line dropped to 78 total yards. Ending plays before they even started is what principally shaped the low total, but even so, allowing just 1.3 yards per play is an impressive feat no matter the team. Even the specific task of controlling single players was executed in a new light.
Northwestern State quarterback Brooks Haack was only 3-of-13 for 14 yards. In 2014, Zach Adkins was 7-for-17 and 112 yards. A lot of moving variables exist, but Baylor successfully upped the ante, suffocating the NSU offense in every direction.
That mob mentality even crossed over to special teams. The kickoff unit pinned Demon returners inside the 15-yard line twice. That’s partly a testament to kicker Drew Galitz, but more so a team accomplishment stuffing any path for a return — though Grobe said he felt there could still be some improvements along that front.
While this all came against a cupcake, Baylor’s past successes against low-tier teams have been a fair indicator of its potential down the stretch. It won’t instill the confidence to win a big bowl game, but at least it provides hope — as does an aggressive defense — that at least nine wins could be in store for this team.