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September 11, 2010

Baylor's defense, Big Phil grow up

What happens at the end of a blowout - and trust me, Baylor 34, Buffalo 6 was a butt kicking - tells you a lot about a team, a unit (in this case the Bears' defense) and in particular, a player.

The player is Phil Taylor. A vital member of the Baylor defense. A big part of this Baylor football team. But we'll get back to that.

Let's get back to the moment at the end of this blowout. It's 34-6 Baylor. Quarterback Robert Griffin is out of the game, staying healthy for TCU. Mostly backups are on the field for a Baylor defense that through seven quarters and three minutes has allowed three field goals and no touchdowns.

Buffalo's Jeffvon Gin rattles off a 40-yard run to the Baylor 13 with around 12 minutes left in the game. The Bears' "no touchdowns stretch" is on the line. Onto the field trots a group of five players, mostly starters. In the middle of the pack is Big Phil Taylor.

Now I don't pretend to have been a part of a football team and don't know exactly the protocol here. But I'm guessing if the coaches wanted to come up with a reason not to put Big Phil back out there, they'd come up with one. A hang nail. A hammy. A buffet line to get through.

Again, it's a blowout. Whether or not Buffalo scores a touchdown at this point isn't going to matter against TCU or Rice. But we're talking about team pride here. We're talking about personal pride here.

The Baylor defense, and Big Phil Taylor, have come a long way.

Two incomplete passes, a 4-yard run and a big stop by Rodney Chadwick and LaQuince McCall on 4th-and-six a yard short of the first down help keep the Bulls out of the end zone. I don't recall if Taylor was a big factor on any of the four plays, but he was out there.

He holds a large spot on this football team, and not because he weighs 340 pounds. He's a leader and he's become a difference maker.

"He's come a long way," linebacker and defensive spokesman Antonio Johnson said. "He's starting off the season the right way. He's an all-around player."

And the Bears through two games are an all-around defense. This is the best start by a Baylor defensive unit in over a decade. I asked a couple of people close to the program. One of them mentioned the 1994 defense. Another the 1991 group. That is high praise.

The Bears have allowed three trips inside their 20-yard line in eight quarters. No touchdowns. One field goal. A dominant start to say the least.

"We're out there doing what it takes," Taylor said.

It's just what Baylor needs heading into next week's game at No. 4 TCU. The Horned Frogs are renowned for their defense. Baylor hasn't been.

The Bears held Buffalo to six points on night when it was humid as you know what. It was a tough night to play football, but defensive coordinator Brian Norwood rotated players in and kept his guys fresh and they produced at key moments.

The depth on the Baylor defense is vastly improved, whether it's players who have been in the program for a few years like Romie Blaylock, Elliott Coffey and Tracy Robertson, or newcomers like Prince Kent and Ahmad Dixon.

Chris McAllister made seven tackles off the bench. Cornerback Chance Casey led the Bears with eight tackles. The Bears are more active at safety. They are fast. They are active.

"The type of defense we're playing, we switched up our defense," Casey said. "We went from a 3-10 team to a cover-four team. We did that because we picked a lot more speed everywhere and coach (Norwood) feels comfortable when guys man up."

The Bears' defense will be tested by a TCU team that will probably score a touchdown. Or two.

But there's a different aura about this group. And if you ask the players, the Caseys and the Johnsons, they'll tell you it starts up front.

And that's why seeing Big Phil go back out on the field in a blowout matters. A lot.

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