Baylor football

The Baylor Bears will meet up with UTSA for their second game of the 2017 season.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte

After Liberty’s shocking 48-45 season opening win last weekend, first-year Baylor coach Matt Rhule received a text message from former Temple quarterback Phillip Walker who now plays for the Indianapolis Colts.

“Remember a loss isn’t a loss, it’s a blessing,” the text message read.

What Walker meant is that the loss can be a teaching moment for Rhule and his staff and a huge lesson for the Baylor players who admitted they took Liberty too lightly and paid the price.

The Bears say they’ll play with much more focus and attention to detail against UTSA at 7 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium.

“Geez, that was hard,” said Baylor defensive tackle Bravvion Roy. “We’re moving forward but it’s still in the back of your mind. You know something like that can’t happen again, whether it’s UTSA, Liberty or whoever, Oklahoma. We’ve got to prepare every game like it’s the Big 12 championship.”

While Baylor hopes to bounce back from its loss, UTSA will play its first game after last weekend’s season opener at the Alamodome in San Antonio was postponed at the University of Houston’s request due to the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.

Instead the Roadrunners did their best to create a game-like atmosphere during a practice last Friday at the Alamodome.

“We had several of the spirit groups and cheer units, we had music and the (video) boards were on,” said UTSA coach Frank Wilson. “The guys were excited about it, they were spirited about it, and we had a very productive day. I think our focus is there. I think our team has a tremendous amount of energy built up and (they) want to play against another opponent.”

Wilson is starting his second year as UTSA’s coach after leading the Roadrunners to a 6-7 record last season that ended with a 23-20 loss to New Mexico in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl in Albuquerque.

The Roadrunners return six offensive starters, including quarterback Dalton Sturm who passed for 2,170 yards and 20 touchdowns last season and running back Jalen Rhodes who rushed for 827 yards and nine scores.

Seven defensive starters return, including preseason all-Conference USA defensive lineman Marcus Davenport who made 10 tackles for loss and 6½ sacks last season and linebacker Josiah Tauaefa. Former Baylor defensive back Austin Jupe is a senior cornerback and Midway graduate Brenndan Johnson is a redshirt freshman safety for the Roadrunners.

“Coach Wilson has done a really nice job there really in one year,” Rhule said. “They’re a tough, hard-nosed, physical program. They’ll challenge you. They won’t back down from you. Coming out of the last game, that’s the one thing that I think bothers all of us. We didn’t really respond to the physical challenge that Liberty presented, and that was unfortunate, so we have to move forward, and we cannot allow that to happen again this week.”

Making his first start for the Bears, Arizona graduate transfer quarterback Anu Solomon hit 14 of 29 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 97 yards on six carries.

He had a costly interception that Liberty’s Chris Turner returned for a 32-yard touchdown at the start of the third quarter. But Rhule said the interception was the Baylor receiver’s fault because he didn’t complete his route.

Rhule was impressed with Solomon’s toughness and the way he maintained his composure despite several dropped passes by his receivers.

“On two of the touchdowns, he took a hit that no one should have to take,” Rhule said. “And he knew it was coming because someone busted our protection, but he stood in there in threw it. Anu needed like two or three more guys to go out and make plays for him, and he throws for 400 yards. I thought he did a good job with his feet.”

Solomon has experience playing against the Roadrunners as he hit 17 of 32 passes for 231 yards and a touchdown in Arizona’s 26-23 win at the Alamodome in 2014. The next season, he hit 22 of 36 passes for 229 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-32 win in Tucson.

The Bears will be without their top two running backs as JaMycal Hasty went down with a knee sprain against Liberty that will keep him out at least four weeks while Terence Williams is likely two weeks away from returning after offseason shoulder surgery.

But Rhule is confident freshmen John Lovett, Trestan Ebner and walk-on Dru Dixon can carry the running game. Lovett enjoyed a strong debut against Liberty as he rushed for 89 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries.

“I was proud of Lovett,” Rhule said. “He got in the game and makes a tackle on the opening kickoff. He’s playing on the punt team. He’s not too good to do all that stuff. And then he gets a chance to carry the football and he’s ready. I think the one thing you see is that you have the big play potential.”

With several players returning from injuries, Rhule expects the secondary to be in better shape this week after Liberty quarterback Stephen Calvert torched Baylor for 447 yards and three touchdowns.

Safety Davion Hall and cornerbacks Jameson Houston and Timarcus Davis are back from injuries, but safety Chance Waz will be suspended for the first half after he was flagged for targeting against Liberty. Freshman Harrison Hand, junior Jourdan Blake and sophomore Blake Lynch rotated at cornerback last week.

“Davion is a big, physical athlete,” Rhule said. “He looks the way you’re supposed to look. People are talking about the coverage, as we should, but we had a lot of balls caught last week that were like that far away from being incomplete. So to have a guy out there that’s 6-2, you have a chance to maybe pick some of the balls off or knock those balls away.”

After recording just one sack against Liberty, the Bears hope to get a better pass rush but will have to do it without preseason all-Big 12 defensive lineman K.J. Smith who is expected to be out with shin splints. Baylor played freshman defensive ends D.J. Artis and B.J. Thompson last week to improve depth up front.

Former Baylor basketball player Ish Wainright will get his first start at tight end with senior Jordan Feuerbacher out for two weeks with a hand injury. Rhule has been impressed by how Wainright has adjusted to playing football in his first action in seven years.

“I think Ish got in the game and played well,” Rhule said. “Jordan’s a really smart, intelligent football player, we’ll miss his savviness. But I think Ish is ready, it’s his time, so I’m excited to see him go play.”

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