Baylor coach Matt Rhule spent most of his life on the East Coast in places like Philadelphia and New York City.
So with a cold front blowing into Waco before Saturday’s 11 a.m. Baylor-Texas kickoff, Rhule is almost giddy that some fall-like football weather has finally arrived at McLane Stadium.
“I was walking over here and they told me it was going to be like 40 degrees on Saturday,” Rhule said. “I’m so fired up, so excited.”
The forecast for Saturday’s game isn’t quite that cold, but Rhule will take 52 degrees and sunny over 90 degrees and humid. Whether a change in the weather means a change in Baylor’s fortunes remains to be seen. But the Bears (0-7, 0-4) hope they can finally break into the win column against Texas (3-4, 2-2), which needs a win to work toward bowl eligibility.
Both Rhule and Texas’ Tom Herman are first-year coaches at their respective schools, and have a lot of respect for each other. They know each other from playing in the American Athletic Conference where Herman’s Houston squad beat Rhule’s Temple squad, 24-13, in the 2015 conference championship game.
“He’s doing a great job of improving them each week,” Herman said. “At both Temple and Baylor, the effort of Coach Rhule’s teams jump off the screen. When you play with great effort like, you give yourself a chance to be in every game.”
The Bears are tired of coming close to winning. Though they made an inspiring comeback with 23 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against West Virginia last weekend at McLane Stadium, they still walked away with a 38-36 loss.
It’s been more than a year since the Bears won their last regular season game in a 49-7 blowout of Kansas on Oct. 15, 2016. Baylor has lost 13 of its last 14 games with the only win coming against Boise State in the Cactus Bowl.
“It’s frustrating not winning,” said Baylor running back JaMycal Hasty. “But you look around at the guys you’re playing with and you see everybody competing, everybody fighting until the end. Our common goal is to get a win and we’re just playing for each other.”
To beat Texas, Baylor will need to get a more consistent effort from start to finish. In last week’s game against West Virginia, the Bears were outscored 21-7 in the third quarter to fall behind 38-13 before their emotional fourth quarter comeback.
“I think the takeaway for us is not to give up three scores on three straight possessions, which really is just a matter of a lack of hope,” Rhule said. “I think we saw that at Oklahoma State and we saw it this past week. These kids are pushing so hard and fighting so hard that when things start to go down a bad path, we lose a little bit of hope. I think you saw the character of our team though as we fought back. Now, the key is to put together a 60-minute ballgame.”
Though freshman Charlie Brewer led Baylor’s fourth quarter comeback against West Virginia, Rhule will start sophomore quarterback Zach Smith for the sixth straight game. Playing with stomach flu, Smith hit 16 of 27 passes for 261 yards against West Virginia, but didn’t throw a touchdown pass and was sacked five times.
The Bears have had difficulty running the ball most of the season, which has allowed defenses to tee off on Smith when he drops back to pass. Since the Longhorns feature one of the top run defenses in the Big 12, generating a ground game could be tough for the Bears.
Texas shut down Oklahoma’s dynamic offense in a 13-10 overtime loss in Austin last week.
“They’re an elite defense,” Rhule said. “They take away the running game. They basically played Oklahoma State with no one in the box and they still took away the run game. They’ve got great, great players on defense and a tough scheme, so it will be a tremendous challenge. You have to find a way to run the football or otherwise your quarterback will be back there getting beat up.”
The Longhorns will start sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele after freshman Sam Ehlinger was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms following the loss to Oklahoma State.
Texas has also struggled offensively by averaging 22.8 points in four Big 12 games. The Longhorns’ rushing attack is averaging just 122 yards and three yards per carry in conference play.
Rhule hopes a big Baylor crowd will come out early for Saturday’s game, but there will likely be a considerable number of Texas fans at McLane Stadium.
The die-hard fans who stuck around to the end of last week’s game gave the Bears a standing ovation after a two-point conversion attempt failed that would have tied West Virginia with 17 seconds remaining.
“Our crowd and our fans have been fantastic so far, considering we haven’t been able to put a win together for them,” Rhule said. “The way they’ve been supportive and loyal to us, I cannot want for the day when we reward them back for their support.”