DALLAS (AP) — Art Briles and the Baylor Bears made the most of their fresh start — and chance to finally move past the playoff snub and Cotton Bowl meltdown that ended last season.
New starting quarterback Seth Russell accounted for six touchdowns, with three of his five scoring passes to Jay Lee, and the No. 4 Bears finally broke out in the second half in a 56-21 victory at SMU on Friday night.
“We’ve got money in the bank with these guys. We’ve been through a lot with them,” Briles said. “We got to right a little bit of a wrong today from the Cotton Bowl eight months ago. … We got a little bit of a decent feeling for a little bit.”
Russell succeeded two-year starter Bryce Petty and the Bears kept rolling on offense, as has become usual under Briles, starting his eighth season. Russell completed 15 of 30 passes for 376 yards and had a 4-yard TD run in the opener for both teams.
“He did unbelievable,” All-America tackle Spencer Drango said.
The Bears, the national leader in total yards and points each of the past two seasons, had 723 total yards. They averaged 10.48 yards per play, a school record.
Russell would have had another score, but a penalty nullified a 69-yard TD run on his last play. Corey Coleman (five catches for 178 yards) and KD Cannon (three for 104), both 1,000-yard receivers last year, had TD catches. There also were three 70-yard rushers.
SMU played its first game for new coach Chad Morris, Clemson’s offensive coordinator the past four seasons.
“I’m extremely proud of the way they played, but this feeling all of us have in our stomach, after all the hard work we put in, is unacceptable,” Morris said. “We’re going to continue to work hard and build on this moment.”
The Mustangs scored only 12 total points their first four games last season including a 45-0 loss at Baylor. They had 21 points in the first 21 minutes in Morris’ debut, and were close until two impressive TD catches by Lee in the third quarter.
“(SMU) had all the momentum in the second quarter. You could feel it. You just hang on. You hang on and you keep fighting, try to make plays,” Briles said. “I thought our guys did a great job of staying the course.”
Baylor won a share of its second consecutive Big 12 title last season, but was the first team left out of the first College Football Playoff. The Bears then had a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Cotton Bowl before losing to Michigan State.
The Bears were also without two All-Big 12 starters on defense. Big end Shawn Oakman and safety Orion Stewart were suspended for the opener for violating unspecified team rules.
Lee had a 7-yard scoring catch in the first quarter to put Baylor ahead to stay at 21-14, before his TDs of 22 and 41 yards. He caught the ball and stayed inbounds near the right sideline while shedding defenders on both scores in the third quarter.
With dual-threat quarterback Matt Davis, SMU immediately responded with touchdowns on its first two drives. Davis threw a 46-yard TD pass to Courtland Sutton on the Mustangs’ first offensive play of the season, and they later connected on a 31-yard score.
Davis was 16 of 23 passing for 166 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran 24 times for 115 yards.
But with SMU at the 3 and within 28-21, Davis was sacked on the final play of the first half. The Mustangs were out of timeouts and couldn’t get lined back up for another play
“We did some positive things,” Davis said. “We were with them for a majority of the game. … We made a lot of mistakes, but I think we had a lot of positives.”
Davis redshirted as a freshman in 2012 behind Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M, where he went after being recruited by then Clemson OC Morris. After one junior college season, Davis went to SMU and was the starter by the end of last season before Morris became his coach.
The opener came two days after Baylor hired a Philadelphia law firm to do an independent investigation into the university’s handling of sexual assault complaints, including one that led to a conviction last month against former transfer Sam Ukwuachu. The defensive end never played a down for the Bears.