Being ranked No. 7 and behind a Big 12 Conference rival that they defeated in TCU should have been enough motivation to handle their business against a 5-7 Texas Tech Red Raiders team that had struggled most of the season, but with all rivalry games you really can never tell how each team will respond.
In front of a split crowd of 54,179 fans in AT&T stadium in Arlington TX, the Baylor Bears needed a sack by KJ Smith on the 2-point conversion to avoid a potential upset by a Texas Tech team that was a 24.7 point underdog.
Despite losing starting quarterback Bryce Petty to a concussion midway through the third quarter — on a questionable roughing the passer hit by linebacker Sam Eguaveon, it was the Bears defense that seemed to struggle in the latter stages of the game.
After a Chris Callahan 38 yard field goal gave Baylor the 45-20 lead, the Red Raiders offense went into overdrive to close the gap to 45-40 with 8:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. Freshman quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who finished the game with 593 yards on 30-of-56 pass attempts, led the barrage of 21 unanswered points as all three scores came on passes of over 40 yards.
Defending the big play was an issue for the Baylor defense all afternoon. In addition to the three late touchdowns, Texas Tech converted on four plays of 30+ yards and amassed 707 yards of total offense.
“We just didn’t finish the way we were supposed to finish as gang green defense” said junior defensive end Shawn Oakman when asked about the performance of that side of the ball. “We got lackadaisical!”
Maybe the Bears defense assumed that Texas Tech would intimidated and overwhelmed by the environment, but that did not happen and they were given a hell of a fight all afternoon.
Despite the scoring outburst on Saturday, the Red Raiders showed why this has been a frustrating season as the offense turned the ball over four times; including fumbles on three consecutive drives midway through the first quarter — unfortunately the Bears offense was only able to convert one into a score.
Despite seeing their Big 12 championship and college football playoff hopes flash before their eyes when Petty went down, back-up Seth Russell played well enough to hold the fort offensively. but he didn’t do it alone — running back Shock Linwood rushed for 60 of his 174 yards while Russell was in the game.
“It’s definitely big whenever you have running backs back there and receivers that will catch anything, it makes my job easier” said Russell of the support he had in his teammates. “We kept pounding on the ground and we knew were we going to be able to do that… and we just stuck to it.”
On his first pass after entering the game Russell connected with senior receiver Levi Norwood for his only touchdown of the evening — a 27 yard pass where Norwood easily beat the Red Raiders defensive back to extend the lead to 45-17.
With the victory the Bears put themselves in the position to do something that has only been done once in the Big 12 and that’s repeat as champions. The game this weekend in Waco, TX against a tough Kansas St. program will not be easy and Coach Art Briles has to hope the team will have Bryce Petty back in the line up as well as dealing with some of the defensive issues.
“We just gotta be better, a lot of those plays were (plays) in the open field where there’s one on one match-ups and they made the play but we didn’t” said Coach Briles. “Pressure on the quarterback comes to mind, I thought he did a good job of evading pressure… we gotta make plays in space.”
If they are able to shore up that side of the ball and handle their business against K-State, in convincing fashion, there is no reason that the Bears should not be in contention for that final playoff spot.