By Wendell Barnhouse
WACO, Texas - Grand openings of new sports venues require more than blueprints, brick and millions. When you open a new stadium, the ultimate requirement is that the home team wins the game.
(For those doubting that theory, check with the University of Houston, which christened a new on-campus stadium with a thudding 27-7 loss to UT-San Antonio.)
Baylor played its first on-campus game since 1935 with the debut of McLane Stadium. The setting (Brazos River: sail gating), the pageantry (Heisman winner Robert Griffin III was on hand to unveil his statue), the dignitaries (President Bush flipped the coin) were all perfectly executed.
“We wanted to show out for those fans and that might have caught up with us,” senior quarterback Bryce Petty said. “There was a lot of stuff going on.”
The 10th-ranked Bears made sure there would be no upset alerts. Baylor’s defense, with seven new starters, was astounding in its dominance and the offense blitzed to a 31-0 lead in less than 20 minutes en route to a 45-0 victory over SMU Sunday night.
All the pre-game glitz and pizzazz and pomp and circumstance could have been a distraction but only if Baylor had been facing an opponent that had any chance of competing. The Mustangs were coming off a 5-7 season and were basically holding quarterback tryouts during the game.
Baylor coach Art Briles apologized to the fans after the Bears lost to Wake Forest in his first game as a coach.
“I don’t think I’ve ever coached in a bigger game,” he said. “We’re indebted to so many people and to a cause, we really wanted to do well. I tried not to let it rub off on our kids. The atmosphere prior to the game was everything we hoped it could be.”
The only drama centered around Petty’s health. On his first carry of the game, a 16-yard keeper on a zone read, he got hit in his back. On his 5-yard touchdown run that provided the Bears their last points of the first half, he took a hit on the same spot.
“I feel old,” he joked after the game. “I couldn’t really plant and throw like I wanted to and it got to the point where it was hard to stand up. There was pain every time I was throwing it.”
Petty said his back was bruised. He didn’t play in the second half and reported that his back was already feeling better. His coach was a bit more cautious.
“We’ll wait and see how he feels,” Briles said. “He had a couple of passes that were errant and he missed ‘em and we knew something wasn’t right.”
Petty completed 13 of 23 passes for 161 yards and two touchdowns before giving way to sophomore backup Seth Russell. Petty broke RG3’s record by throwing for a TD in 14 consecutive games. The 2011 Heisman winner gave the pregame invocation and helped direct the Baylor band at halftime – all while wearing a dark green suede jacket – and made it clear his alma mater’s football program is built to last.
“I feel like Baylor is the powerhouse in Texas now,” Griffin said. “But I don’t know if anyone wants to admit that. Baylor has owned Texas for a while and is No. 10 in the nation and has a chance to compete for a national championship.”
Baylor kicker Chris Callahan’s 23-yard field goal with 11:38 remaining in the first quarter produced the first points scored in McLane Stadium. That would have been enough considering the dominance of Baylor’s defense.
“During the week, looking at the scouting, I knew our defensive line would have a great game,” said Baylor senior linebacker Bryce Hager, who forced a fumble to set up Baylor’s first touchdown.. “Our D-line makes my job easier and in the secondary, I think we’ve got more speed. Everybody was flying around to the ball.”
SMU switched quarterbacks twice in the first quarter. Matt Davis for starter Neal Burcham, then Burcham for Davis, then Davis for Burcham. Freshman Kolney Cassel played most of the second half. All three were wearing red meat uniforms and the Baylor offensive line was a bunch of ravenous Bears. The Mustangs had seven first downs and allowed eight sacks.
“We weren’t that effective offensively, we didn’t have any cohesiveness or dynamic quality,” Briles said. “Defense is what won the game, it was what allowed the game to be won. We felt like going in we’d have a good defense. We’re young but talented, we’ve got a lot of strength and a lot of speed.”
It was the second shutout in the last three games for SMU and coach June Jones, known as being an offensive innovator. The Mustangs ran 64 plays and finished with 67 total yards.
"We knew that they were a pretty good defense,” Jones said. “I just didn't expect us to not be able to block them at all. It's hard for the quarterback to go back and throw anything when he doesn't have time. We did not protect the quarterback."
With Baylor leading by 31 at halftime, SMU impotent and the outcome not in doubt, the second half cried out for a running clock.
“I think we came out and had a lot of energy early,” Briles said. “(In the second half) we were just trying to get through it and instead of getting better. We’re still a work in progress.”