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Brand awareness: Baylor knows that its defense must improve

September 6, 2018

Numbers don’t always tell the entire story, and they certainly can be manipulated to advance a certain message.

But when Baylor’s defensive players scanned the numbers from the Bears’ 55-27 opening win over Abilene Christian, there were several that stuck in their craws. To wit – one sack. One takeaway. Oh, and this ugly set of digits – 466 yards of total offense allowed, to a team that averaged only 331 last season.

The Bears know they’ve still got a lot of work to do on defense.

“In the moment, (the win) feels good,” said defensive lineman James Lockhart, a Texas A&M transfer. “But at the end of the day, we have a goal as a team, we want to be national champions. We have goals as a defense to have 40 sacks, 30 turnovers. So, you can’t just sit and dwell on one win. You’ve got to keep moving forward.”

If the BU defenders thought just scanning the stat sheet was painful, the film room review resembled a root canal. They didn’t have to wait for the coaches to point out the bad angles or missed tackles – it was pretty clear to see.

“It was tough,” said linebacker Terrel Bernard. “We didn’t play up to our standard at all on defense. The offense played really well and they carried us. And the defense did not play up to where we should have been.”

Baylor coach Matt Rhule said he wasn’t overly concerned with the Bears’ pass rush in the opener. Yes, Lockhart registered the team’s only sack in ACU’s 41 dropbacks, but Rhule noted that Wildcats quarterback Luke Anthony was releasing the ball quickly, eliminating the chance for a sack.

The Bears’ run defense, however, offered a different story. It was bad – period.

“The run defense, I think, upsets all of us,” Rhule said. “(ACU) did some really cool things schematically that I really liked, and they got the ball to the perimeter and we weren’t able to win on the perimeter. If we want to be an elite defense, our secondary has to get those guys down. We have to win on the perimeter and we didn’t do that on the level we wanted on Saturday.”

Abilene Christian running back Billy McCrary burned Baylor on a couple of long runs. The transfer from Cal zipped to the edge and then simply outran everyone to the end zone on a 75-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He finished with six carries for a staggering 141 yards.

The upside for the Bears is that they believe most of their lapses are correctable. Plus, there were flashes of brilliance here and there. Lockhart displayed nice upfield burst in dumping Anthony for the team’s only sack. Cornerback Harrison Hand swooped in to flick away a pass attempt during one show of skin-tight downfield coverage. Bernard showed off his instincts when he leapt to snag a short bullet pass over the middle for an interception, before weaving his way back 31 yards the other direction on the return.

Baylor’s defenders constantly chatter about creating a brand, and they want their brand name to leave a lasting impression on the opponent.

“One thing we started preaching, really always preached it but really emphasized it going to camp, is playing with explosive violence and precise aggression,” Lockhart said. “Doing everything with an edge and being detailed-oriented.”

The Bears will definitely need to be more fixated on the details in Saturday’s road contest with UT-San Antonio. Last year, the Roadrunners manhandled Baylor in the trenches, and consequently dominated the time of possession battle by nearly 18 minutes.

It’s a new year, and these are essentially new teams. UTSA didn’t show much in a 49-7 season-opening loss to Arizona State. The Sun Devils racked up 10 sacks and 15 tackles for losses. Baylor should also benefit from the return of linebacker Clay Johnston from injury, and defensive lineman Greg Roberts from suspension. Roberts will be eligible to play beginning in the second half. “He’ll provide us with a spark,” Rhule said.

But Baylor can’t afford to take anyone lightly, and the Bears must be more physical, must be tougher, must tackle better, if they’re going to escape the Alamodome with a victory.

“We’ll get better,” Rhule said. “I’m fully confident, I know our guys will. You’ve got to get out there and play and see it. Hopefully this week in practice we’ll see a little bit more edge from the defense in terms of angles and getting guys down.”

Bear Facts: Baylor coach Matt Rhule said on Wednesday that offensive tackle Jake Fruhmorgen (knee) should play against UTSA, but lineman Johncarlo Valentin is questionable to play. It also appears that middle linebacker Clay Johnston will return after missing the opener with a knee injury, but safety Verkedric Vaughns won’t play with a lower extremity injury. Blake Lynch will likely replace Vaughns at safety.

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