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Don't Break: Defense delivers big plays when team needs momentum swing

Nov. 3, 2010

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Matthew Hellman | Lariat Photographer
Baylor No. 18 defensive end Tevin Elliott tackles Texas No. 9 receiver Malcolm Williams during Saturday's game in Austin. The Bears won, 30-22, as the defense forced two turnovers and held to Longhorns to four field goals in the first half.

By Matt larsen
Sports Writer

Though the image of a tree bent 90 degrees in the midst of a hurricane may not at first seem the ideal comparison for a football team's defense, Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor points out one noteworthy quality of that tree (or defense) as it stands in the midst of a hurricane-like barrage of high-powered Big 12 offenses.

"We bend but we can't break," the 6-foot-4, 340 lb. senior said after the Bears defense held the University of Texas Longhorn's offense to just one touchdown in the 30-22 win last Saturday.

Taylor and his fellow members of the defense may not specifically call to mind images of trees and storms, but the "bend but don't break" mentality arises for more than just Taylor as the defensive unit looks to nail down its job in a conference exploding with offensive statistics and talent. Against such competition, senior safety Tim Atchison realizes all defenses will allow small yardage plays.

"When you play a team in the Big 12, that's going to happen sometimes," senior safety Tim Atchison said.

They win over Texas, he said, stemmed from great coaching.

"It is a testament to what Coach [Brian] Norwood has put a focus on, and that is finishing strong. If we are in the red zone, that is our job. Our job is to not let them in the end zone, and that's what we are going to try to do every time we are out there," Atchison said.

Atchison played a crucial role in Saturday's win as he delivered a hit to a Longhorn receiver just after the ball arrived. The hit popped the ball up in the air, allowing senior linebacker Antonio Johnson to slide over and haul it in for an interception that swung the momentum back in the Bears' favor while they were still down late in the third quarter.

Senior safety Byron Landor had no shortage of complimentary thoughts when asked about his fellow defensive back.

"There's so much I can say about Tim it's making my eyes water almost," he said. "I know I got Big 12 player of the week, but honestly I think he deserves it a lot more than I do. No matter what's wrong with him, because it seems like he's injured almost every week, he fights. He's a leader and we need him."

The leader on the other side of the ball had similar praises for Atchison, especially after graduating from the same high school.

"Copperas Cove is where it's at. It's the Cove Connection," quarterback Robert Griffin said, grinning.

But he knows the similarities run deeper than their high school letter jackets.

"We know how to win and as leaders we are helping install that into the team. Everybody, collectively as a team, we are learning how to win."

Yet, Atchison and Landor hold that they could not have kept Garrett Gilbert from tossing a single touchdown pass if it had not been for the efforts of the defensive line anchored by Taylor.

"Most of the plays that we have got off interceptions and stuff this year have come from the D-Line putting pressure on the quarterback," Atchison said. "I don't think there's a better D-tackle in the nation than Big Phil and the guys around him just feed off him."

Baylor fans and coaches saw Taylor and company's mindset of clamping down in the red zone take form in the Texas game unlike any previous game this season. Despite conceding 100 more yards of total offense on the evening, they held the Longhorns to four field goals and a punt in their five first-half possessions.

These defensive stands proved even more notable considering UT started one of those drives in Baylor territory and two more just a yard from midfield.

"Defensively they played great," Griffin said. "They really kept us in the game as we struggled on offense. It's a total team win. We have had to carry the defense a few games; they have carried us a few games. They realize that if they give us the ball enough times, we are going to make something happen with it."