Baylor defense made stops, statement against Texas Tech

Art Briles' defense stepped up when it counted in the Bears' win over Texas Tech on Saturday. Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Third-and-7. Patrick Mahomes scrambles right. No pressure. He plants and chucks it deep. Baylor safety Orion Stewart misplays the ball and leaps at the 15-yard line, but he isn’t close. Texas Tech touchdown.

Fourth-and-6. Baylor linebacker Grant Campbell runs unblocked on a blitz past the left tackle. He just barely misses sacking Mahomes near midfield. Mahomes throws a laser across his body that eludes nickel back Travon Blanchard’s diving reach. Another touchdown.

One way to interpret that start: Baylor’s defense was in trouble and in for a four-quarter shootout. Another way to see it: maybe Texas Tech was just getting away with some crazy shots in a way that couldn’t be sustainable.

The No. 3 Bears decided to go with the latter. There was no downhill, snowballing, oh-here-we-go-again overreaction from this defense.

“Just busted plays by us,” Baylor defensive end Jamal Palmer said. “Simple things. That’s all it was.”

They got back to work, got stops and got a 63-35 win over the Red Raiders at AT&T Stadium, one that should give this defense an extra injection of confidence to start Big 12 play.

“I thought they were exceptional,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “You know, you’ve got to be realistic.”

He says that because the big Mahomes plays were always expected. The Red Raiders got their yards. But Baylor’s first-team defense gave up just four scores. They got five critical stops in the first half. In this conference, that’s usually going to get the job done.

After those first two wild touchdowns, Tech only had one more play of 20-plus yards in the first half, and it ended in a fumble. Two other drives ended in punts, two more in turnovers.

Baylor’s defense was on the field for just 20 plays over those five failed Texas Tech possessions. It got off the field, got the ball back in the hands of Seth Russell and Shock Linwood, and it took control.

The offense scored the points. But this frequently underestimated defense set it all up.

“We want to come out aggressive and get on them early. Be the first one to punch,” Palmer said. “I think we did that. We didn’t want it to be a shootout. We didn’t want that for this game.”

Texas Tech got stuck in third and long (7-plus yards) on 13 of 18 third downs. Mahomes got pressured on 21 of his 50 attempts. His performance on those pressure play: 141 yards on 9-of-21 passing, five first downs, one touchdown, two interceptions.

“He’s dangerous,” Baylor linebacker Taylor Young said. “Just getting him uncomfortable is always a good deal.”

Another important sign of where Baylor’s defense is heading: It didn’t get comfortable with a 49-21 halftime lead.

The Bears had blown a 41-21 lead over Michigan State on this same field in January. They’d almost let a 42-17 lead slip away against Texas Tech last November. Not again.

“With Texas Tech, you feel like you’ve got to have 35 points and the ball,” Briles said. “That’s when you feel like you might be able to hang on and make it happen.”

This time around, Baylor got stops in three of its first four second-half drives. Texas Tech was getting 6 yards a play on those drives, but they couldn’t get first downs.

“We had to stay on their chest,” cornerback Xavien Howard said. “We can't let up on them.”

That’s how these Bears will have to show up week after week to pull off their Big 12 three-peat. That’s how this defense can make a statement.

“It’s saying we’re here,” Young said. “We’re fighting to just be considered a top team.”