Baylor wasn’t playing for a Big 12 championship or even trying to shock the country with an upset of a Top 25 team.
But for a team that hadn’t won a regular season game in almost 13 months, the Bears’ 38-9 win over cellar dwelling Kansas meant everything.
Saturday’s win in Lawrence was Baylor’s first regular season win since a 49-7 thrashing of the Jayhawks on Oct. 15, 2016 at McLane Stadium. The Bears’ six straight regular season losses in the second half of last season and eight this year were broken up by a 31-12 win over Boise State in the Cactus Bowl.
Though first-year coach Matt Rhule won his first game at Baylor, he was happier for the players than himself. He had seen how hard his young team had worked to get the win, and how many close losses the Bears had endured along the way.
“When things looked bleak, they recommitted themselves,” Rhule said. “They’ve taught me a thing or two about process and about just continuing to move forward. This isn’t just a win, this is a culmination of a lot of efforts and hopefully the beginning of the fourth quarter of our season.”
Rhule was excited that seniors like linebacker Taylor Young, tight end Jordan Feuerbacher, defensive end Brian Nance and safety Taion Sells got to experience the win.
Young, Feuerbacher and Nance were freshmen and Sells was a sophomore who contributed to the second of Baylor’s consecutive Big 12 championships in 2014. They went from that high to watching the program decline after it was engulfed in the sexual assault scandal that cost former coach Art Briles his job.
Young has been starting since his freshman year and has been a superb player and a classy spokesman for the program throughout the highs and lows. Young played a major part in Baylor’s win over the Jayhawks with a team-high 10 tackles, including three for loss and a sack. His sack gave him 15½, leaving him just two behind Baylor career sacks leader Shawn Oakman.
Young put up big numbers against the Jayhawks in an emergency situation after moving from outside linebacker to middle linebacker when Clay Johnston went out for the season with a foot injury in last week’s 38-7 loss to Texas.
“To be honest, it was a big deal for us to come out here and get a W,” Young said. “It doesn’t matter who it is. It’s about the team and how hard we played. Our team comes out every week and practices hard. Even if we lost this game, we were still going to come out all out all of the time. Even though we’re young we’re still hungry.”
Feuerbacher also made an impact on the game as he caught his first touchdown pass of the season when he grabbed a 25-yarder from Charlie Brewer in the second quarter. It was Baylor’s first touchdown catch by a tight end since Feuerbacher’s 22-yard score against Rice on Sept. 16, 2016.
But Feuerbacher was thinking more about how much the win meant to the team than his personal accomplishments.
“It’s not really a relief, it’s just nice to see all the hard work we’ve put in,” Feuerbacher said. “We’ve come back every week and really just practiced hard and studied hard, and to finally get one and go out there and earn it feels good.”
While several of the seniors played important roles, Baylor’s win proved once again how much the freshmen mean to Rhule’s program now and looking toward the future.
Making his first start for the Bears, quarterback Charlie Brewer showed remarkable poise as he stepped in for sophomore Zach Smith who was nursing a shoulder injury.
He looked like a veteran as he hit 23 of 29 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns while showing his mobility by rushing for 22 yards on eight carries. Brewer even caught a 20-yard pass from wide receiver Jared Atkinson.
“Charlie is going to go out there and play as hard as he can for you,” Feuerbacher said. “When you have that from anyone on your team, especially quarterback, I mean he’s out there trying to run guys over and make plays with his feet and arm. It gives you a little something extra when you have someone out there like that for you.”
Freshman wide receiver Gavin Holmes played his best game as he collected four catches for 66 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown catch from Brewer in the second quarter. He also ran for a four-yard touchdown in the second quarter as he scored the first two touchdowns of his college career.
“It was really exciting to come out and produce for the team and help get a win,” Holmes said. “This has been our ultimate goal all season and we finally got it. I think this will propel us forward in the future.”
Freshman running back Trestan Ebner made three catches for 34 yards while freshman cornerback Harrison Hand got his first interception. Freshman defensive lineman James Lynch continued to be a force up front as he came up with a fumble recovery.
With so many young players making contributions, it bodes well for Baylor’s future. But their immediate focus is on finishing strong in the last three games against Texas Tech on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, No. 24 Iowa State on Nov. 18 at McLane Stadium, and the finale against No. 8 TCU on Nov. 24 in Fort Worth.
“I think this kind of gives everybody an extra boost of confidence,” Holmes said. “Knowing if we come out here and play to the best of our ability we can come out here and get wins like this, that should help us in the future.”