No team had been better or more efficient inside the five-yard line than BCS No. 1 Kansas State, but on the Wildcats' first drive of the fourth quarter, a long drive ended with three plays inside Baylor's two-yard line. The defense held all three times to get the ball back and end K-State's comeback bid. The Bears' celebratory stampede to the sidelines provided a defining image for the program's first-ever win over a No. 1 team, but it did a lot more than that moving forward.
Briles and defensive coordinator can offer all the instruction and pep talks in their respective repertoires, but a performance and a moment like that has infinitely more impact.
"To have a chance to be believable, you have to have some realistic results, which, we got some in the Kansas State game," Briles told ESPN.com in a recent interview. "We made some plays that had to be made that kind of spurred us on through the rest of the season and certainly gave us a lot more confidence defensively."
That confidence turned into results, beginning with that Kansas State win. Over the final month of the season, Baylor ascended into the top three in the Big 12 in total defense and were +9 in turnover margin, five more than any team in the Big 12.
It's not a coincidence the Bears won their final four games of the season to finish 8-5 despite an 0-5 start in Big 12 play.
"It’s a process and I think we’re getting closer to the desired end result," Briles said. :We actually flashed in 2011 toward the end with a big turnover ratio in our favor, and then flashed again at the end of 2012. What we’ve got to do is flash early coming out the gates."
That 2011 flash ended in a game tape the defense would love to toss in a bonfire. Heisman winner Robert Griffin III and the Bears' offense put on a show in a 67-56 Alamo Bowl win over Washington, but the defense left San Antonio with a pall hanging over the offseason and their confidence perhaps as low as it had been all season. The Bears had given up more than 56 points just once in 2011.
"We finished the job in 2012 season defensively and it's a lot more mentally uplifting than the 2011 season," Briles said. "Although we won a bowl game, the first bowl game in I don’t know how long, the defense might not have felt like we won a game, and I know they don’t feel that way now, because in the UCLA bowl game, our defense dominated.
"We’re coming off a dominating defensive game that bleeds through all the offseason."
The Bears' held 1,700-yard rusher Johnathan Franklin to just 34 yards on 14 carries, his lowest output of the season. UCLA had scored just 19 points before the game's final play that was erroneously ruled a touchdown. The key for Baylor is clear moving forward. They've seen the results, but in 2013, if it wants to win the Big 12 title it's chasing as a stated goal, it can't afford to wait until November to turn the corner as a defense.
"We’re not going to make it hard, we’re going to make it simple on what everybody’s job is, so I think it’s just a combined fact of being in coach Bennett’s system. The longer consistency stays, the better chance you have to be consistent," Briles said. "After you go through a 2-3 year period, all of a sudden you don’t have to look to your left or right to see who’s standing there. You know who’s there, so we’re getting to that comfort factor from a schematic, athletic standpoint."