As Baylor’s painful season nears an end, Matt Rhule is looking for any positive signs that his team can build on.

Baylor’s offense needs to reduce turnovers after committing six in the last two losses to Texas Tech and Iowa State. The offensive line must get much better to allow the running game to flourish and to give quarterback Charlie Brewer more time to throw.

But Baylor’s defense has clearly been a bright spot during the last month in this 1-10 season. A defense that was burned by Liberty in a 48-45 loss in the season opener has become a unit the Bears can win with if the offense can produce enough points.

Despite giving up several big plays in Saturday’s 23-13 loss to Iowa State at McLane Stadium, Rhule likes the progress the defense is making.

“I think the defense has gotten better,” Rhule said. “It’s clicked for them at some point. I think a lot of our young players are getting better and better and better. So if we continue to improve and continue to recruit and continue to develop, I think the defensive structure will continue to take off.”

Even after four-year starting linebacker Taylor Young went down with a season-ending quadriceps injury in the first quarter, the Baylor defense played well against the Cyclones.

“I feel like the leadership spoke up and then we all got together,” said Lenoy Jones, who replaced Young at middle linebacker. “Just learning from T.Y., he taught me how to be a leader definitely. We just had to step it up and play our game. Football’s supposed to be played like little kids, just have fun and then play fast.”

The Bears held Iowa State to 394 yards, marking the third straight game they’ve held opponents under 400 yards. That’s a major feat in the Big 12 where high tempo spread offenses routinely rack up more than 500 yards.

Though the Bears’ offense and special teams often put the team in bad field position with turnovers, the defense performed admirably in a 38-7 loss to Texas on Oct. 28.

Baylor’s defense delivered its best performance of the season in a 38-9 win over Kansas in Lawrence on Nov. 4 as it held the Jayhawks to 289 yards. With middle linebacker Clay Johnston going down with a season-ending injury against Texas, Young moved from outside to middle linebacker and collected 10 tackles against the Jayhawks.

In a 38-24 loss to Texas Tech, Baylor’s defense allowed just 24 points as the Red Raiders scored on a kickoff return and a fumble return. The defense limited the Red Raiders to 337 yards but couldn’t overcome four Baylor turnovers.

Baylor’s pass defense had some bad moments against Iowa State as Allen Lazard made a leaping catch for a 36-yard touchdown in the first quarter and Hakeem Butler made a spectacular one-handed catch and broke away from Baylor safety Davion Hall for a 67-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

“I’m disappointed we gave up the two big plays, the deep balls that kind of hit on our safeties,” Rhule said. “But we played good red zone defense at times. They’ve kept people out of the end zone.”

The Bears had difficulty stopping Iowa State running back David Montgomery who rushed for 144 yards on 27 carries as he often slipped away from defenders and picked up yardage on his own.

“Oh my gosh, he’s like a bigger Shock Linwood,” Jones said. “He’s so shifty. He’s just a tough dude. I respect that dude very much.”

But there were a lot of good moments for the Bears as Iowa State freshman quarterback Zeb Noland hit just 14 of 28 passes for 180 yards. Baylor cornerback Grayland Arnold nearly intercepted a pass in Iowa State territory that could have swung the momentum in the first half.

“Getting turnovers and things like that mean a lot to us, because those are the things we work on every day,” Arnold said. “We go out to practice and it’s like, ‘Get the ball out. Get the ball out.’ Me as a corner, I always have to be hard on myself. I had two chances to get a pick this game. If I just catch the ball, that’s a touchdown.”

After Baylor freshman running back John Lovett fumbled at TCU’s 3 early in the fourth quarter, the Bears held the Cyclones without a first down. Following an Iowa State punt, Baylor regained possession at its own 48 but couldn’t take advantage of ideal field position.

“It was tough, but I was pleased that our defense went right out and got the stop,” Rhule said. “I was really pleased with the way the defense responded. That’s the biggest thing about the defense is their brains are changing in terms of it doesn’t matter what just happened. Let’s go out and play.”

Baylor’s linebacking corps was short handed with Young and Johnston out and linebacker Eric Ogor suspended because Rhule didn’t think he was properly prepared for the game. The Bears haven’t had preseason all-Big 12 defensive lineman K.J. Smith since the second game of the season due to shin splints, and defensive end Deonte Williams went out with an injury against Iowa State.

Despite the injuries, the Baylor defense has played with a lot of passion and energy. The Bears hope to continue to get inspired defensive play as they approach the season finale against TCU on Friday in Fort Worth.

“We’re still about halfway there,” Rhule said. “Their effort and their passion and their energy and their physicality show up. There will be a time next year where the guys are just sort of clicking in terms of knowing exactly what to do and the details of everything that it takes to be really good on defense.”