DALLAS -- The nationwide grumbling over Baylor's lackluster nonleague schedule never accounted for the possibility that the Bears would be sweating out a win before Big 12 play. There was no doubt No. 4 Baylor would stomp SMU, Lamar and Rice, right?
SMU created some doubt for more than two quarters Friday night at Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
After a blistering start, Baylor nearly found itself tied at halftime after a woeful second quarter. The Bears rediscovered their big-play ability and pulled away for a 56-21 win, earning those much-needed style points in a dominant final 20 minutes.
What the win means for Baylor: First games are often messy, and despite a very strong finish, Baylor has plenty to tidy up. Quarterback Seth Russell stretched the field with dynamic wideouts Corey Coleman (178 yards) and KD Cannon (104 yards), but he completed just 50 percent of his passes in the first half. After 28 points and 273 yards in the first 15 minutes, Baylor had a seemingly unfathomable 1 yard on six plays in the second quarter. Suspended defensive end Shawn Oakman was a good teammate on the sideline, but the Bears missed him as SMU repeatedly attacked the side Oakman normally occupies. Mustangs quarterback Matt Davis was a headache until he cramped up in the third quarter, a concern as Baylor will see so many mobile signal-callers in the Big 12. Baylor also had 13 penalties.
What the loss means for SMU: Most predicted a first-round TKO, but the Mustangs not only took Baylor's first few punches -- they struck back, too. Coach Chad Morris' influence on the offense, and especially Davis, was obvious right away, as SMU scored 14 points in the first 7:58 -- two more than it accrued in the first four games last season. The Mustangs scored their third touchdown early in the second quarter, matching their season total from six home games in 2014. The defense can build on its second-quarter performance and won't see a team with Baylor's speed the rest of the season. SMU certainly would have liked to finish the game better, but it can build on what we saw for the first two and a half quarters.
The game turned when ... Baylor running back Devin Chafin raced 19 yards through the heart of SMU's defense on third-and-18 from the Mustangs' 36. SMU trailed by just seven and a Cannon penalty had backed up Baylor, but Chafin's run set up a touchdown pass from Russell to Jay Lee. With Davis in the locker room because of cramps, SMU went three-and-out and never recovered.
Uh, what? SMU's Davis had a brilliant first half (10-of-13 passing, 124 yards, two touchdowns, 64 rush yards) ... right until the end. After safety Darrion Richardson intercepted Russell to cap an excellent stretch for SMU's defense, the offense had an opportunity to tie the score at 28-28. The Mustangs reached the Baylor 3-yard line, but after they used their final timeout, Davis was stuffed (for no gain) and then sacked as time expired. Clock management must be a focal point for Davis and Morris going forward.