By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
On a day when Baylor's high-octane offense wasn't hitting on all cylinders, particularly in the second half, the defense was in the unfamiliar place of having to come up with stops.
And Phil Bennett's defense did just that, forcing four turnovers and making a critical fourth-down stop at the start of the fourth quarter as the second-ranked Bears knocked off the Iowa State Cyclones, 45-27, for their 20th consecutive home-field win.
"You'd like for everything to be like it's been, but it's not going to be that way. It's not reality," said the Baylor head coach, whose team improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the Big 12 with its 11th straight victory at McLane Stadium. "I thought our guys did a great job of just sustaining and maintaining and not panicking and just taking care of business."
Quarterback Seth Russell, who struggled with his accuracy all day - completing 16-of-37 for 197 yards and two touchdowns with one interception - left late in the game with a neck injury. Postgame X-rays revealed a fractured bone in his neck, and the fourth-year junior is expected to see a specialist next week.
Briles, who didn't know the extent of the injury at the time, said he was concerned "first and foremost about his health, and then football. He's a tough guy, and it's hard to see tough guys hurt. . . . I know if he's cleared to play, he'll play, because he's a tough hombre, now."
Because of the uncertainty about Russell's status, sophomore receiver Chris Johnson has been moved back to quarterback and will back up true freshman Jarrett Stidham going into the Nov. 5 game at Kansas State (3-4, 0-4).
"I'm concerned, because that's my No. 1 quarterback," receiver Corey Coleman said. "We'll see what's wrong with him, and (I) hope we can correct that."
The nation's leader in scoring and total offense, Baylor had a string of consecutive 60-point games stopped at an NCAA record-tying five games, and the Bears were held to a season-low 485 total yards.
Despite playing through a steady rain (14 inches have fallen over the last two days), Baylor could not have gotten off to a much better start for its annual Homecoming game.
While the offense came out on fire and scored on three of its first four series, the defense forced three straight three-and-outs, created a turnover and held the Cyclones to 49 yards on their first 21 plays.
After missing on four of his first six passes, Russell hooked up with Coleman on a 36-yard TD pass despite blanket coverage from cornerback Jamal Wiltz. Coleman finished with 85 yards and two TDs on six catches, giving him a national-best 18 touchdowns for the season and a BU career-record 31 (breaking Kendall Wright's previous mark of 30).
"It's a blessing to be in that category with Kendall," Coleman said. "We didn't do everything that we needed to do, but at the end of the day we won and it goes down as a `W' in the books." The defense started on a good note as well, with nickel back Travon Blanchard recovering a fumble by the Cyclones' Mike Warren near midfield. After a rare three-and-out by the offense, the defense answered the bell again and got the Bears the ball back at the 45.
This time, it took them just three plays to hit pay dirt. Shock Linwood got it started with an 18-yard run, and Russell finished things off with a 37-yard TD run on an option keeper. Exactly seven minutes into the game, it was already 14-0.
Following the third straight three-and-out by the defense, the Bears extended the lead to 21-0 on a 17-yard TD run by Linwood, who finished with 171 yards on 27 attempts to become just the second player in program history to top 3,000 yards for his career (3,107).
"I didn't realize I had that many touches," Linwood said. "My numbers were good, but not as good as I wanted them to be."
Starting the second quarter the same way as the first, the defense forced its second turnover when Xavien Howard picked off a Sam Richardson pass intended for Quenton Bundrage.
"Even though the offense is always going to get the hype, we like to show people that we can make stops," said cornerback Ryan Reid, who got his second interception in as many games on the Cyclones' next series. "Put us out there, and we want to show people that we're a great defense that can make stops."
Baylor converted on the back-to-back turnovers, scoring on Russell's six-yard TD pass to Linwood and Devin Chafin's two-yard run, and extended the lead to 35-0 with 8:14 still left in the half.
From there, things got a lot tougher for the Baylor offense. The Bears went six straight series without scoring for the first time since a 30-10 win over Texas on Dec. 7, 2013, when they had seven straight scoreless drives.
"There was a combination of things," senior All-American tackle Spencer Drango said. "We kept shooting ourselves in the foot with penalties . . . just little things we can't have. We kind of took our foot off the gas a little bit."
Iowa State (2-5, 1-3) finally got on the board, driving 75 yards in eight plays and scoring on a three-yard TD run by Joshua Thomas.
Baylor actually had two more chances at the end of the half, but Russell was picked off by Brian Peavy and then Cole Edmiston bobbled the snap on a 50-yard field goal attempt.
"We had a chance to really get away from them right at the end of the first half," Briles said. "We probably could have made the field goal. Spencer (Evans) has a great leg; makes 50-yarders every day in practice."
Briles blamed himself, but said he could tell coming out of halftime that the team didn't have the same energy "we had starting the game."
And it showed.
The Cyclones marched 75 yards in 10 plays and scored on a two-yard pass from Joel Lanning to Bundrage on the opening drive of the third quarter, quickly cutting the deficit to 35-14.
"That drive was a pivotal point for us from an energy level," Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. "With that drive, our whole sideline, our whole football team, picked up and responded."
With Baylor's offense mustering just 43 yards in the third quarter and then turning it over on the first series of the fourth, things got a little interesting when the Cyclones closed to within 35-20 on Lanning's four-yard TD pass to Jauan Wesley.
Iowa State lost some of that momentum when Cole Netten's onside kick failed to go the required 10 yards, giving the Bears the ball starting at the Cyclones' 37.
After Russell was stopped short on a third-and-five play, Baylor settled for a 34-yard field goal by Chris Callahan rather than going for it on fourth-and-one.
"(Russell's neck injury) is why we actually opted for the field goal," Briles said. "We didn't feel like he was ready to go on fourth down. And I hated to put (freshman quarterback Jarrett) Stidham out there just cold, with his first snap being a fourth-down play in a 15-point game."
The defense came up with its fourth turnover of the game when defensive end Jamal Palmer forced a fumble by Lanning that K.J. Smith recovered at the ISU 23. Five plays later, Stidham rolled to his right and found Coleman wide open for a 12-yard TD pass.
"It put a lot on us, and we kind of want a game like that where they don't score all the time so we can show what we can do on defense," Palmer said of the offense's struggles.
Iowa State tallied its final touchdown with just 10 seconds left on the clock, with Bundrage scoring from 29 yards out. The Cyclones, who had put up more than 450 yards in their previous four games, finished with 232 yards rushing and 388 yards total.
Baylor will have its second bye of the season next Saturday before traveling to Manhattan, Kan., for the Nov. 5 game against Kansas State that will be nationally televised by FS1.