WACO, Texas — Baylor has touted itself as the nation’s top offense for the past three years, and with good reason.
The Bears have led the country in scoring and yards per game over that span, so it was strange for the home fans to see them sputter in the first half, without a touchdown while locked in a low-scoring tie with SMU.
No. 23 Baylor finally reached the end zone with its opening march of the second half, igniting a 20-point third quarter on the way a 40-13 rout of the Mustangs on Saturday.
Seth Russell threw for 261 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score following the 6-6 halftime tie, and the Bears went on to a 13th straight victory over their former Southwest Conference rival.
“Give it to SMU,” Russell said. “They were flying around on defense. They were giving us things we hadn’t really seen them do, and they have some really good players on their team. They’re going to do a great job in their conference. They’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
Baylor missed on several deep shots in the first half, but Blake Lynch capped its opening march after halftime by breaking free in the right seam for a 31-yard touchdown reception from Russell, who added a 19-yard scoring burst on a scramble on the Bears’ next possession. Russell was 26 of 47 with two interceptions.
Orion Stewart intercepted two passes for Baylor. The first was in the end zone to stop a promising SMU threat, and he returned the second 33 yards for a touchdown to push Baylor’s lead to 26-6.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Ben Hicks, who was a high school classmate of Stewart’s in Waco, made his first career start for SMU (1-1) in place of senior Matt Davis, who left last week’s win over North Texas after taking a hard shot to the midsection and was listed as a game-time decision during the week.
Hicks helped the Mustangs to 405 yards total offense, but he was intercepted three times — twice in the end zone — and SMU scored only one touchdown in five trips inside the 20.
“I talked to (Stewart) a little after the game and during the game,” Hicks said. “I wish I didn’t throw it to him all night, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. I’ll bounce back, and Orion’s a great player.”
SMU outgained Baylor 184-32 in the first 10 minutes, but got just two field goals from Josh Williams.
Baylor’s Blake Lynch lost a fumble into the end zone that SMU recovered on the best scoring chance in the first half. On the opening drive of the second half, he lost his defender on a hitch-and-go for an easy 31-yard score.
Russell finished 26 of 47 with two interceptions.
Hicks threw for 144 of his 229 yards in the first quarter, and connected with Courtland Sutton for SMU’s only touchdown, a 20-yarder, in the third quarter.
“I felt like our guys deserved to be in that moment,” SMU coach Chad Morris said. “I’m extremely excited about the direction of where our football program is going.”
Florida dropped out of the Top 25 following an unimpressive win over UMass last weekend. The Bears probably spared themselves the same fate by outscoring the Mustangs 34-7 in the second half.
SMU: The Mustangs were much more competitive than they have been in their last three meetings with Baylor in which they were outscored 160-45. But they still have a long way to go to compete with ranked teams. SMU gets another shot in a visit from No. 15 TCU on Sept. 23.
Baylor: It’s a sign of how strong the Bears’ offense has been in recent years that it gained more than 500 yards and still didn’t look sharp for much of the game. Baylor turned the ball over three times and was 8 of 21 on third down, but still had plenty of firepower to pull away in the second half.
SMU: The Mustangs’ schedule lightens up next week when they welcome FCS school Liberty to Dallas for their home opener.
Baylor: The Bears have a short week before playing their second Friday night game of the season and first road contest against Rice.
Online: AP College Football website www.collegefootball.ap.org