WACO, Texas -- The raw numbers were far from encouraging, so how would Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett assess his first defense?
"We weren’t by any stretch of the imagination a dominant defense," Bennett said.
The Bears gave up more than 37 points; only seven teams in college football gave up more. Bennett's unit gave up just under 490 yards a game; only four teams gave up more.
It wasn't pretty, and everybody knew it.
But even in the gaudy numbers, Bennett saw reasons to believe 2012 could be much better. Baylor's six-game winning streak to close the season was the longest among teams in automatic qualifying leagues. Along the way, the Bears forced 14 more turnovers than they committed.
"We were just so inexperienced, but the thing I will tell you, our turnovers came at the right time," Bennett said. "I thought we became an opportunistic defense."
Most importantly, they made the plays to win those games. Of course, having a Heisman winner in Robert Griffin III on offense helped a little bit, too.
"It’s obvious with Robert gone and what we did offensively, there’s a new challenge for us," Bennett said. "We’ve got to get stops and become so much better in our consistency level."
What could provide that consistency? The experience gained from a team that had almost none in 2011. Only two players -- defensive tackles Nick Jean-Baptiste and Tracy Robertson -- played the same position in 2011 that they had in 2010.
"I thought we lined up well, we played hard, but we weren’t consistent," Bennett said. "We’d do some things really good, but our tackling was atrocious at times. And I think a lot of that is when you’re unsure of yourself, you don’t play with a lot of confidence. We’ve got basically 9-10 guys that played quite a bit who have bright days ahead."
Fixing that "atrocious tackling" was the primary objective for Bennett's defense in the spring.
"If we can be a better tackling team, great things are going to happen. We’re watching the OU game and there’s a third-and-12 and they throw a swing pass," Bennett said. "Hell, they throw a swing pass, you ought to get out of there, right?"
Turning those frustrating missed opportunities into stops is as simple as tackling for a defense that has the athleticism to be better.
"I’m very excited about the direction of our defense, no doubt. Phil’s a tremendous communicator and a tremendous leader, our guys have enormous respect for him and what he brings to the table and what he’s going to bring to the table," coach Art Briles said. "We just had the appetizer, now we’re getting to the full course this year."