Now that Baylor has secured its first win of the Matt Rhule era, the next step is to follow up with more success.
The Bears don’t have many chances left with only three games remaining beginning with Saturday’s 11 a.m. kickoff against Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Texas Tech appears to be Baylor’s best chance for another win since the last two games are against No. 24 Iowa State on Nov. 18 at McLane Stadium and No. 8 TCU on Nov. 24 in Fort Worth.
The Bears (1-8, 1-5) delivered strong performances on both sides of the ball in their 38-9 thrashing of cellar dwelling Kansas to put them in the win column.
“I’m really proud of our team, I’m proud of our players and coaches,” Rhule said. “A lot of guys contributed, a lot of guys stepped up, and that’s what we needed. I’m hopeful that we can continue that as we move forward, and hopefully we can be a better team as we get ready for a tremendous Texas Tech team this Saturday.”
Rhule said freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer would start against the Red Raiders as of Tuesday, but he’ll keep monitoring sophomore quarterback Zach Smith’s progress during the week. Following five straight starts, Smith didn’t play against Kansas after suffering a shoulder injury in a 38-7 loss to Texas on Oct. 28.
The Bears will face a Red Raiders squad that reached the Top 25 after a 4-1 start, but has been reeling with four straight losses.
In last weekend’s loss to Kansas State in Lubbock, the Red Raiders (4-5, 1-5) blew a 35-24 lead in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats rallied for a 42-35 win when third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Byron Pringle in overtime.
But Rhule is wary of Texas Tech’s array of offensive weapons. Quarterback Nic Shimonek has passed for 3,068 yards and 26 touchdowns while Keke Coutee has caught 69 passes for 1,026 yards and nine scores.
Texas Tech also has a strong ground game led by Justin Stockton with 525 yards and four touchdowns and Tre King with 504 yards and three scores.
“Offensively they’re dynamic,” Rhule said. “They go fast, so they challenge you with tempo. They spread the field, they find a way to run the football. Keke Coutee has really kind of torn up everybody that he’s played against. He’s a deep-play threat and is going to be a challenge for us defensively. The quarterback is playing really, really well. They’re as good of an offensive line as we’ve seen.”
The Bears hope they can deliver another powerful defensive performance like last weekend when they held the Jayhawks to 249 yards and forced two turnovers as defensive lineman James Lynch recovered a fumble and Harrison Hand intercepted a pass. That won’t be easy against an offense as explosive as Texas Tech’s.
With 10 tackles including three for loss, senior Taylor Young played one of his best games after moving from outside linebacker to middle linebacker.
“Watching Taylor was like ‘Wow that’s who he is,’ he is a mike linebacker, that’s where he fit,” Rhule said. “I think he told me it took him a series or two to get his bearings where he was really comfortable, but after that he really played well. Just some instinctive things that he does that you can’t really coach.”
Rhule also thought outside linebacker Jordan Williams performed well along with Baylor’s entire defensive line. Williams collected six tackles including one for loss.
“We’ve always believed in Jordan, but this was his opportunity, and he flew around, hit people, knocked the ball out and was physical,” Rhule said. “I thought Jordan Williams was the difference for us on defense with his ability to come in and play.”
Rhule expects to continue to play cornerback Blake Lynch at receiver at least part of the time since Baylor’s receiving corps is banged up. There’s a chance Tony Nicholson could return after missing last week’s game with an ankle injury.
“I think really at the end of the day, Blake’s probably going to leave as one of the great safeties to have played here,” Rhule said. “He’s just got unique defensive skills. We need him on offense right now, and we kind of need him on defense. Guys are banged up on defense as well. “
Freshman running back John Lovett is expected to return after missing the Kansas game with strep throat. While Rhule doesn’t anticipate defensive lineman K.J. Smith to play this week, he said he could return in the final two games from his shin splits injury.