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September 4, 2010In so many ways Saturday night's home opener had to be satisfying for Art Briles, his coaching staff and the Baylor players.
A dominating 34-3 victory over Sam Houston State led by a relentless defensive effort. The largest crowd for a Baylor home opener since 1975. The sea of yellow on the field before the game as Baylor students said hello to their 2010 football team.
Robert Griffin back in action. Jay Finley too. Big Phil Taylor making plays behind the line of scrimmage. Aaron "Stork" Jones making two of his three field goals.
And the most satisfying thing, in a strange way - this could have been a lot more. It could have been Baylor 62, Sam Houston 3.
That was the theme of Art Briles' press conference after the game, and Griffin's too. As well as the defense played, the offense sputtered at times. As nice as Griffin's final stats look - 242 yards passing, 65 yards rushing and a part of three touchdowns - he could have pushed 400 total yards.
If a football team's greatest improvement really is from the first game to the second, next week's opponent Buffalo is in real trouble.
"Offensively, I thought we just really left a lot of stuff on the table," Briles said. "They were pretty aggressive with their philosophy from a defensive standpoint. They took some chances, kind of dictated to us what they wanted us to do, and we didn't do a great job of taking advantage of it. The good thing is we have a lot of improvement to do on that side."
Baylor receivers dropped at least two touchdown catches, and arguably three. Griffin had a touchdown run called back because of a holding penalty. Griffin and Kendall Wright, who was held out of all three scrimmages in fall camp, never clicked (least of the coaching staff's worries).
The offense started with a flurry. After Jay Finley was stopped on a fourth-and-two at the Sam Houston 23 in the first quarter, the offense clicked on its next two possessions.
Griffin and tight end Brad Taylor hooked up for a 68-yard touchdown for a 7-0 lead. Griffin took things into his own hands on the next drive.
He took off on a run for the first time with defenders actually out to bury him, and he scooted 15 yards for a first down. Later on the drive Griffin got loose and could have actually run out of bounds around the Bearkats 20 - he admitted after the game that he considered it. But he saw that his receivers had pushed the secondary into the end zone, which allowed him to sprint his way to a 30-yard touchdown run.
Things kind of died off for the offense after that in the first half, except for a Griffin touchdown pass to Terrance Williams that was as much a product of a Bearkats defensive back realizing his man as it was RG3's perfect strike to his receiver.
The lone touchdown in the second half came on a 44-yard touchdown run by Jay Finley, maybe the most important development of the night. Finley seemed to get his sea legs as the game went on, and thanks to a crushing block by the other Robert Griffin, Baylor's left guard, Finley had his first big play of his senior season.
"We weren't clicking on all cylinders, but we won the game, so that's what matters," Griffin said.
Part of the reason the Bears only scored one touchdown in the second half was because this was the season opener. Briles still called running plays even though the Bearkats were loading up the box with eight and nine defenders. He's trying to give this offense an identity, and he knows the running game is going to be critical against the rest of teams on Baylor's schedule.
"We could have went on a fade throwing frenzy, but we really needed to work on our offense, so we tried to just run to it," Griffin said. "When you have eight or nine guys in the box, it's pretty hard to do that. So I'm sitting there on the field telling Jay, 'hey they came in here to stop you.'
"We still tried to run it in there and try to work out some of the plays that help us this year, but we ended up just having to go air raid on them."
If this is the game plan opposing defenses choose to throw at Baylor, to stop the run first, they'll regret it, because Griffin and his receivers are going to make big plays all season.
"If people are going to do that and take those chances, we have to take advantage of those things," Briles said. "The eighth game of the year is totally different than the first game because it's so hard to simulate in practice."
And that's where the positive spin comes in. Baylor could have put 60 on the board. The offensive line had a solid night. Finley, Terrance Ganaway and Jarred Salubi showed some flashed of brilliance. The receiving corps is still the strength of this team, and the dropped touchdown passes will disappear soon enough.
"You can always spin it positively," Griffin said. "On the sideline we were saying it's going to be great when we're clicking, because we were really off and we still scored 34 points. When we start to click it will really be great."