Rare is the game with a 56-21 final score where both teams come away feeling better about themselves than when they started, but that’s what we saw Friday night in Dallas as No. 4 Baylor dominated the second half for an as-expected 35-point win.
Let’s start with the winning team. Baylor picked up exactly where it left off, needing only four plays and 50 seconds to notch its first touchdown, a three-yard Devin Chafin run. The Bears added three more scores in the first quarter, driving 75, 75 and 63 yards to get them. Baylor was shut out in the second quarter – the Bears actually posted a minus-1 total offense number in the frame – but stole momentum for good at the end of the first half, sacking SMU quarterback Matt Davis at the Bears’ 9-yard line as time expired.
Baylor thoroughly dominated the second half, owning a 28-0 scoring advantage, as Seth Russell hit Jay Lee for a pair of third quarter touchdowns and capped his night with a 57-yard catch-and-dash touchdown to Corey Coleman. True freshman Jarrett Stidham entered the game late and connected with Chris Platt for a 42-yard touchdown on his very first collegiate pass.
Overall, Russell hit 15-of-30 passes for 376 yards with five touchdowns and an interception while adding six carries for 59 yards and another score. Chafin, Shock Linwood and Terence Williams combined to rush 28 times for 219 yards and one score. Each of Baylor’s three primary wide receivers posted big numbers – Coleman snagged five passes for 178 yards and a score, Cannon snared three grabs for 104 yards and a score, and Lee compiled 70 yards while scoring on all three of his grabs.
But the night was not as easy for the two-time defending Big 12 champions as the final score indicated, as SMU played even or ahead of the Bears for all but the final play of the first half. After Baylor opened the scoring, SMU used a 49-yard Braeden West kickoff return to set Davis up for a 46-yard scoring strike to Courtland Sutton on the Ponies’ very first snap from scrimmage.
Remember, this was the same SMU team that came out the gate last season looking more lifeless than a Walking Dead casting call, needing a full 120 minutes to notch its first points of the 2014 season. But it wasn’t really the same team at all, thanks to new head coach Chad Morris.
After scoring on its first drive, SMU answered another Baylor touchdown by marching 83 yards in 12 plays to again tie the game. SMU shut Baylor out in the second quarter while mounting another long scoring drive, this time a 12-play, 78-yard, 6-minute, 22-second slog to pull within 28-21.
That was pretty much the high point for the Mustangs. Their next drive ended in an interception, and the drive after that saw SMU get only two plays off in the final 43 seconds of the first half after driving to the Baylor 3 with a chance to tie the game.
SMU did not threaten to score in the second half, punting on five straight possessions before throwing another interception, but the point had been proven. The Mustangs played a top-five team to a relative draw for 30 minutes, and showed in Davis that they have a quarterback. The junior Texas A&M transfer connected on 16-of-23 passes for 166 yards with two touchdowns and two picks while leading the club in rushing with 24 carries for 115 yards. Xavier Jones rushed 13 times for 38 yards and a score and caught four passes for 38 yards, and Sutton totaled 82 yards and two touchdowns on his three receptions.
More than the statistics, though, SMU looked different than it ever did under in 2014. The Mustangs played crisper, harder and with purpose and certainty. Credit Morris for that.
Baylor may very well go on to win a third straight Big 12 title and reach its first College Football Playoff, but here’s one thing that is absolutely certain: the days of SMU being a pushover ended the day Morris was hired.