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Bears find season's silver lining

Nov. 30, 2005

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Henry Chan / Lariat Staff
Sophomore running back Brandon Whitaker breaks free down the sideline en route to a 44-34 victory over Oklahoma State University in the Bears' season finale Nov. 19 at Floyd Casey Stadium.
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by JORDAN DANIEL, sports writer

While competing in a sport in which the benchmark for success is achieving bowl eligibility, this season for Baylor football would be viewed as a failure by outsiders after the Bears finished with a record of 5-6. But for a team that has struggled mightily in the past decade, five wins can be a stepping stone for greater things to come.

The Bears finished within striking distance of a bowl game for the first time since 1995 when former head Coach Chuck Reedy led Baylor to a 7-4 finish, but the team did not receive a bowl berth. On the way to this season's 5-6 finish, Baylor dropped overtime contests to Texas A&M University and the University of Oklahoma, and a stingy pass defense kept Baylor within six points of Texas Tech University late in the game.

"I think it puts a little icing on a disappointing season," said head Coach Guy Morriss about the Bears' 44-34 season-ending win against Oklahoma State. "This season didn't go quite as well as we hoped. We didn't accomplish the goal we set out at the beginning of the season, but today will certainly make them feel better and springboard us into the spring."

One of the biggest keys to Baylor's improvement this season was its ability to force turnovers. Last season, the Bears forced a paltry nine turnovers in 11 games, but this season the Baylor defense and special teams turned up the intensity and ranked No. 10 in the nation in turnovers, forcing 29 on the season.

"The defense sparks the offense, and we feed off of each other," junior Marcus Foreman said. "A turnover gives the offense a short field, and football's a field position game. We were in position and they made mistakes."

In Baylor's season finale against Oklahoma State, the Baylor defense and special teams recovered four Cowboy fumbles and picked off two passes from starter Bobby Reid and two more from Al Pena when he relieved Reid in the second quarter.

"We almost got more turnovers in one game than we got almost all of last season," senior Jamaal Harper said about the Oklahoma State win.

Foreman returns for a defensive line that rolled up 10.5 sacks in 2005, and he is looking forward to contributing as a senior leader next season.

"I'm looking forward to every single game that we didn't win this year but we should have. We drew a lot of attention this year, especially from a defensive standpoint. It's something to build on and come out better next year," he said.

Offensive accomplishments

Also key to the Bears' success was the accuracy of junior quarterback Shawn Bell. The China Spring native set the Baylor football single-season record for completions in a season with 190 and ranks No. 2 all-time in completion percentage after hooking up with his receivers on 59.4 percent of his attempts.

Equally important to Baylor's offense this season was the consistency of the receivers and running backs. Junior wide receiver Dominique Zeigler has caught at least two passes in 21 consecutive games, including 9 receptions for 141 yards against Oklahoma. Junior receiver Trent Shelton has been the model of consistency, catching a pass in 33 straight games and is just one game shy of tying Reggie Newhouse's record of 34 straight games with at least one reception.

Baylor's running backs, junior Paul Mosley and sophomore Brandon Whitaker, combined for 323 touches without a single fumble. The dynamic duo also rushed for a cumulative 1,195 yards and eight touchdowns.

Defense underrated?

However, the most notable improvement this season came on the defensive side of the ball. The speedy, hard-hitting defense kept the Bears close during Big 12 play when the offense began to struggle to move the ball. Under defensive coordinator Bill Bradley, Baylor's pass defense ranked 16th in the nation in pass efficiency defense and was one of the most opportunistic in the nation.

With senior linebackers Jamaal Harper and Colin Allred holding up the middle of the field, the defensive backs were able to stifle opposing receivers all season. Juniors C.J. Wilson and Anthony Arline were among the conference leaders in interceptions, and with that kind of talent returning, Harper is confident the Bears can only get better.

"We laid a foundation. Five wins this year can just as easily be six wins next year," Harper said. "I'll never forget that we should have beat A&M and we should have beat Oklahoma, but the scoreboard didn't end up that way, and you just have to move on."

New coordinator wanted

After the Baylor offense struggled to find its rhythm in 2005, offensive coordinator Brent Pease resigned Nov. 15.

According to reports made by the Dallas Morning News, the Baylor athletic department is speaking with Texas Tech co-offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen.

Holgorsen coached with Texas Tech head Coach Mike Leach and Morriss at Valdosta State University in the 1990s. "I'm just in the process of trying to make some decisions, thinking about the opportunity down there and thinking about my position here at Tech,'' Holgorsen told The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "I'm going to think it through and see what happens.''

Baylor opens up next season against former Southwest Conference rival Texas Christian University on Sept. 2.

The meeting will be the first between the two since Baylor departed for the Big 12 after the 1995 season.