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Bowl win sparks Baylor defense

Confidence in Baylor’s offense hasn't been hard to come by in recent seasons. Robert Griffin III, Kendall Wright, Josh Gordon and Terrance Williams are just a few of the former Bears making plays for NFL offenses every Sunday.

Confidence in the Bears’ defense? Well, that’s been a longer journey but one that was kick-started ten months ago. Its success this season has been a surprise to some but it has been rooted in a four-game winning streak to finish the 2012 season including a 49-26 win over UCLA (Or if you listen to the Bears, a 49-19 win). That stretch, particularly the victory over the Bruins, helped give the Bears the confidence they could get it done this season.

And they have.

Overshadowed by an offense that is averaging 64.7 points and 714.3 yards per game, BU’s defense has more than held its own this season. The Bears lead the conference in points allowed (16.2), yards per play (4.25), yards per rush (3.0), sack percentage (10.5 percent) and red zone efficiency (38.9 percent).

“That [UCLA] game basically showed the defense what we are capable of doing when we have a game plan and execute it for four quarters,” defensive end Chris McAllister said. “We feel like we played pretty well that game.”

In some ways it was a foreshadowing of the 2013 version of the Bears as they cruised to a 35-10 halftime lead while their offense averaged almost 8 yards per play and their defense held the Bruins to 3.4 yards per play.

“We had a vision and a plan heading into that bowl game and for after that bowl game,” running back Lache Seastrunk said. “We always had confidence and swagger, you just have to go into the game and play one play at a time and we’ve been doing that, especially after that bowl game, to take it a day at a time to get where we want to be.”

The Bears offense in 2012, much like this season, had been consistently productive. Yet when its defense found more consistency, they reeled off four straight wins to end the year.

“There were ups and downs throughout the season,” McAllister said. “But to have a string of games at the end of the season where we played good defense and to cap it off in the Holiday Bowl the way we did, it showed we can play defense for a stretch, more than one game. That motivated guys to try to do that for the whole season and keep that momentum going through this season. We saw that if we play defense like that, we have a real good chance to achieve our goal of winning the Big 12.”

That confidence carried over into the offseason and helped the Bears enter summer workouts with the belief that no goal was out of their reach this fall.

“It was humble yet confident around here,” McAllister said of the vibe around the program this summer. “We knew we had enough [talent] to achieve all our goals this season. We knew we had to work hard, knew it was not going to be given to us but at the same time we were very confident that it’s not something that’s impossible, it’s something we can do.”

The impressive win over UCLA, the Pac-12 South champions, also sent an early message to the nation that the Bears could be on the rise heading into 2013.

“I think people noticed that we’re changing the culture here at Baylor,” McAllister said. “This is becoming a really good football team and one that people should take notice of.”

All of this matters because, as good as the offense is, there will be moments when the game rests on the shoulders of the defense. Baylor's 35-25 win over Kansas State on Oct. 12 was an early example as the Wildcats took the field with a three-point deficit and the opportunity to win the game with just under five minutes left in the fourth quarter before Ahmad Dixon’s interception sealed the Bears’ win.

“The game is on us regardless of what the offense does,” McAllister said. “That’s how we look at it and how we approach things.”