The Bears have pretty much been an offensive force from the moment coach Art Briles took over. But Baylor's defensive improvement has been a much more recent development. Just last year, Baylor ranked 60th nationally in Defensive S&P+, with its highest major category being the 69th the Bears placed on standard downs. This year, Baylor is 20th in Defensive S&P+, giving the Bears the third-ranked defense in the Big 12 behind just Oklahoma State and TCU. The Bears' low water mark is their 47th-ranked defense in Passing S&P+.
That's a pretty drastic improvement, one borne of increased experience and depth of talent. The Bears play so much faster this year despite employing so many of the same guys, something that's easily attributable to confidence. And the depth is significantly improved. No longer can you count on wearing out Baylor's defensive line because the Bears employ a 6-foot-9 Penn State transfer in Shawn Oakman as a backup defensive end, and the super-strong Andrew Billings, a player the Bears won over Texas, among others, as a backup defensive tackle. Not only did Baylor not used to have Oakman and Billings level talents, but they certainly weren't in situations where those kinds of players were allowed to come off the bench, supply depth and develop at a better rate.
The Bears largely employ a 4-2-5, though it comes out looking a lot more like a 4-3 because the nickel back is essentially another linebacker. And the Bears certainly aren't afraid to slide safeties into the box to provide a challenge for running teams.
End Chris McAllister (6-3 255) is the team's top pass-rusher, racking up 12 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks, this season. He's opposite right end Terrance Lloyd (6-3 245), who had three tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, but ranks second on the team in quarterback hurries. Oakman (6-9 275) is a really nice rotational piece, tying for the team lead with 12 tackles for loss among his 29 tackles, though he hasn't quite been able to channel that into pass-rushing success just yet. It may just be a matter of time.
Beau Blackshear (6-4 300) has been an active player at nose tackle, making five tackles for loss, while Suleiman Masumbuko (6-2 290) and Billings (6-1 310) provide some really nice pieces who have had their moments. As a group, they miss former elite talent Javonte Magee, who went home for the semester, but the defensive tackles certainly do enough to keep bodies off a speedy group of linebackers and to allow them to run around and make plays.
Eddie Lackey (6-0 220) has put together an All-Big 12 type season, making 84 tackles, including 11 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and picking off two passes. He teams with Bryce Hager (6-2 235), who has made 71 tackles on the year, to give the Bears two instinctive players who can run. When Baylor goes to a three-linebacker set, the third is often Brody Trahan (5-11 245), and he often rotates through to give the other two a break.
Sam Holl (6-2 210) serves as the nickel back, after Ahmad Dixon (6-0 205) moved to more of a true safety position this year. Both are excellent players, with Dixon ranking third on the team in tackles and Holl making nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and picking off a pass. Dixon will miss the first half of the Texas game after getting a targeting penalty in the second half of the TCU game. Terrell Burt (5-10 185) is Dixon's safety partner and has two interceptions this year.
K.J. Morton (5-10 190) has been a very good player for the Bears at one cornerback spot, including excelling as a blitzer. Demetri Goodson (6-0 200) is a very good athlete who is tied for the team lead with two interceptions and has a team-high 10 passes broken up.
Spencer Roth (6-4 225) is averaging an outstanding 46.5 yards per punt, with 16 fair catches and 14 punts pinned inside the 20.