It felt like a big play at the time, and by all accounts it should have been.
When Greg Roberts punched his meaty paw into the air and deflected Joshua Rowland’s field goal attempt in the first quarter of Baylor’s 38-7 loss to Texas, the Baylor players leaped and bellowed with euphoric abandon. What a difference-making play, right? Baylor had given Texas prime field position following a Terence Williams fumble that was recovered by UT’s spectacular defensive back Holton Hill, yet the Bear defense managed to hold. When Roberts swatted away the field goal try, the score remained just 7-0, Longhorns.
Then the Baylor offense strode onto the field – and promptly went three-and-out.
As a former special teams coordinator, Baylor head coach Matt Rhule understands as well as anyone the momentum-shifting impact the kicking game units can bring to a game. But momentum fizzles out quickly if the offense is unable to sustain it.
“You need to sustain momentum. That was such a big moment in the game,” Rhule said. “What I liked about it was that we went out and threw the pick-six and they had all the momentum. And then we went down and shot ourselves in the foot, and then they went down and we stopped them. And then we fumbled to give them the ball, and they had all the momentum in the world, but we got the stop. We held them to the field goal and blocked the field goal. That was a huge turn of events for us.”
Or at least it should have been. One of Baylor’s many pressing issues has been the inability to make smooth baton handoffs from one unit to the next. The Bears are still seeking a complete game from all three phases of the game – offense, defense and special teams.
If this year’s NFL season should remind football fans of anything, it’s that special teams matter. NFL teams have combined for 52 touchdowns from their defenses and special teams units this season, and those scores often swing the outcome of a game one way or the other.
Baylor’s players recognize this, and while the field goal block against Texas didn’t result in a touchdown, the Bears sensed at the time that it could have a lasting benefit.
“It’s a game changer. It shocked the other team,” Baylor defensive lineman Ira Lewis said. “Whoa, a blocked field goal. What are we going to do next? We’ve just got to keep pushing forward. If we can keep getting things like a blocked field goal and turnovers, it can be really big for our offense to get the win.”
He may not have transformed himself into Dikembe Mutombo yet, blocking everything in sight and wagging his finger in glee, but Roberts has shown an affinity for rejection. The block against Texas was the junior defensive end’s second of his season, and he is one of just 15 players in the country with as many as two field goal or punt blocks.
“It’s really a D-line thing,” Roberts said. “Coach (Elijah) Robinson coaches us up and we try to execute it. I can’t do it without Bravvion (Roy), Tyrone (Hunt) and Ira. They’re the weight behind it, I just get the name tag to it.”
When Roberts turned back his first field goal of the year against UT-San Antonio, it came in the first quarter of a scoreless game. Yet, just like against Texas, the Bears were unable to directly translate that opportunity into points. The offense picked up one first down on the ensuing possession before punting back to the Roadrunners.
It’s little wonder why wins have proven so elusive for the Bears. They know that disjointed trend can’t continue. If the special teams unit provides a spark, either with a kick block or a long return, the offense must catch hold of that spark and ignite it into an all-out explosion.
“Every week we come back like, ‘OK we’ve got to bounce back’” Lewis said. “What’s the new game plan, what’s the next step forward. We don’t like to dwell on the past. We know if we keep pushing forward and preparing and working hard we’ll be that much closer.”
Running back Trestan Ebner (thigh) and cornerback Harrison Hand (concussion protocol) are expected to play against Kansas. Running back John Lovett (strep throat) is likely to play as well. Receiver Tony Nicholson (ankle) is doubtful to play. Quarterback Zach Smith (shoulder) has seen some practice time, and coach Matt Rhule hopes he would be ready in an emergency situation.