WACO, Texas — With a coach named Briles still calling the plays, and Seth Russell throwing touchdown passes, Baylor’s offense certainly looked very familiar.
Russell threw four touchdown passes in less than a half, and the No. 23 Bears beat FCS team Northwestern State 55-7 on Friday night in their first game since the sudden dismissal of coach Art Briles just more than three months ago.
“It felt like Baylor,” Russell said, who took the calls from offensive coordinator, Kendal Briles, the former coach’s son.
Two-time Big 12 Conference champion coach Art Briles lost his job in the wake of a May report from an external investigation into allegations the university mishandled complaints of sexual assault, including some against football players.
Acting head coach Jim Grobe retained the rest of the staff, and had no issues with the younger Briles having the initials “CAB” written on his hand — presumably for Art Briles.
“To think about him losing Art as his head coach … it had to be tougher on KB than anybody,” Grobe said. “I have no problems with that whatsoever. If you don’t love your dad, something’s wrong.”
Kendal Briles wasn’t available for comment since Baylor isn’t making assistant coaches available to speak to the media this season.
Russell was the top-rated FBS passer when he suffered a season-ending neck injury in the seventh game last year. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 163 yards with TDs to four receivers, including two tight ends. The Bears led 41-0 when he threw his last pass, a 10-yard TD pass to Pooh Stricklin with 5 minutes left in the first half.
“All for it, he’s who brought me here. He gave me opportunity and I love him for it,” Russell said when asked about Kendal Briles’ tribute. “Coach Grobe did a fantastic job of stepping into a risky situation. He’s done a great job of handling it, and he’s been staying positive the entire time.”
“It was refreshing honestly to get to football, for me. I wanted to see how we reacted as a team. … I’ve just got a good feeling about these guys after the game. That’s what I was wondering going in,” Grobe said.
NORTHWESTERN STATE: Really, the outcome should have been no surprise. Northwestern State had lost its previous four meetings against Baylor by an average margin of 50 points, including 70-6 two years ago. Brooks Haack, the second graduate transfer in a row to start for the Demons, was under constant pressure and completed only 3 of 13 passes for 14 yards, but did run 3 yards for their only score.
BAYLOR: The Bears, who are down to about 70 scholarship players, got some valuable playing time for true freshman quarterback Zach Smith and plenty of other non-starters, including third-teamers on offense and defense after halftime. Smith went through spring practice after graduating high school early, and was thrust into the role as backup when Jarrett Stidham left Baylor this summer. Smith was 5 of 7 passing for 60 yards and a touchdown and two other freshmen got into the game as well.
The defense was overwhelming, holding Northwestern State to 78 total yards, but will get a much tougher test against SMU, where Bears defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was once the head coach.
BAYLOR: Don’t look for the Bears to make much of a move in the poll. Sure, they could move up a spot or two if other teams ranked above them lose, but a 48-point victory against an FCS team isn’t likely to overly impress voters.
Baylor had 498 total yards (275 rushing, 223 passing). … Terence Williams ran a Baylor-high 11 times for 72 yards and two touchdowns. … Shock Linwood, who ran nine times for 97 yards, is 107 yards shy of becoming Baylor’s career rushing leader. Walter Abercrombie’s record of 3,665 yards has stood for 35 years. … The last time two Baylor tight ends caught TD passes in the same game was Sept. 8, 2007, when Justin Akers had two TDs and Brad Taylor one in a 42-17 win vs. Rice. … The Bears led 48-0 at the half, when Northwestern State had 3 total yards and eight punts.
NORTHWESTERN STATE: The Demons have never been competitive against Baylor. So they just have to move forward and get ready for their Southland Conference opener at home Sept. 8 against Incarnate Word.
“Coming out in the second half, offensively, defensively we were able to do some things,” Demons coach Jay Thomas said. “Baylor, they’re really good, man.”
BAYLOR: After easing into the season against a lower-division opponent, the Bears stay home next week against SMU. It is the first of consecutive games against former Southwest Conference rivals (the Mustangs and Rice) who are still in the field of candidates for possible Big 12 expansion.