Baylor not overlooking Connecticut challenge
September, 16, 2009
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Early success could have expected to have been a heady experience for Baylor players.
The long-suffering Bears have endured the longest bowl drought in the Big 12. It would be understandable that their season-opening victory over Wake Forest would have marked a huge sense of accomplishment for players so accustomed to losing.
Instead, a week off after that conquest gave the Bears a chance to immediately refocus their goals as they prepare for their second game of the season Saturday against Connecticut.
“That was a huge game for us and people got excited about it, but we have to put it behind us,” Baylor senior linebacker Joe Pawelek said. ‘’And having the week off when we did was perfect. It was a great first win, but we still have a lot of things in front of us to work on.”
The Bears jumped ahead early in the Wake Forest game and appeared to have a comfortable lead before the Demon Deacons charged back. Their comeback came up short after a late Baylor defensive stop to finish off the 24-21 victory. It was coach Art Briles’ first road victory for the Bears.
It was exactly the kind of game that Baylor hadn’t been able to win in recent years. But winning like they did has provided them with some areas for immediate improvement.
“Coach Briles and those guys have done a good job of preaching discipline and instilling us to finish strong,” Pawelek said. “Really, we didn’t finish as strong as we would have liked, but we started fast and had things go our way. And just seeing how that played out is something we can build on.”
The week off will result in a grind of 11 straight games over the next several months. But Briles thinks that the opportunity to take a breath after the huge Wake Forest victory did his team some good.
“We almost treated the Wake Forest game like it was a bowl in terms of our preparation,” Briles said. “We had a month to rise up and prepare for it. Now, we’re bringing ourselves down, re-evaluated our goals learning from it. We’ve settled down and we’ll gear up again against Connecticut.”
Baylor’s young group of Canadian offensive tackles, former firefighter Danny Watkins and sophomore Phillip Blake, will be facing their most serious test of the season against the Huskies. They will have to account for Connecticut defensive end Lindsey Witten, who leads the nation with seven sacks and notched four last week against North Carolina.
The Huskies will arrive with a strong defensive unit that allowed only 268 yards last week against the Tar Heels. They carried a 10-0 lead into the fourth quarter, but couldn’t hold it as they lost the game on a holding call in the end zone late in a disappointing 12-10 loss.
Many of those same Connecticut players helped engineer the Huskies’ 31-28 comeback home victory over Baylor last season. Memories from that game have helped prepare the Bears for what they expect will be another difficult challenge.
“I don’t think this team is in any position to be getting big-headed,” Pawelek said. “We’re 1-0 and we all see that we have a long way to go and a long season ahead of us.”
But quarterback Robert Griffin can sense a big difference around Waco after the victory. Up to 40,000 people are expected to attend Saturday’s game.
“It’s been crazy around here,” Griffin said. “The fans are excited and they are hoping this will be the year. It’s a good feeling to have their support, but we realize they weren’t on our side for a few years. People will jump on a bandwagon after only one game.
“We can’t worry about that. We just need to go out and keep playing like we do. The rest will take care of itself.”