UTSA Baylor Football

UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm (right) slips past Baylor defensive end Xavier Jones (left) on a short run Saturday.

Staff photo — Michael Bancale

There was a moment at the end of the halftime performance, when Baylor’s alumni band, accompanied by the current Golden Wave Band, approached one another to form the traditional interlocking BU.

The crowd cheered, though I’m not sure everyone picked up on the symbolism.

Two games into the Matt Rhule era in Waco, the Bears are clearly still trying to figure out who they are. First impressions are just that — a momentary dimple, an impulsive snapshot. Repeat meetings reveal bits of additional information. Over a hefty chunk of time, an identity materializes.

Until Rhule’s Bears deduce how much of the past they want to merge with the current, wins are not going to come easy.

There may be a day, three years from now, where Baylor fields a physical, rugged offense that is capable of pounding teams between the tackles and exploiting Gronk-like tight ends in mismatches.

But in the here and now, Baylor has a team that is built for the old Art Briles spread attack, while in the midst of trying to integrate some new ideas and looks.

I’m not saying it can’t work. Different doesn’t have to be wrong. But like a kid enrolled in a new school, the Bears will need time to figure out what direction they’re headed.

Baylor fans must be looking at this team and wondering if the Bears were a victim of identity theft. Whatever happened to the Baylor team that burned opponents with the big play, that buzzed up and down the field racking up touchdowns left and right?

Forget that. What happened to the offense from last week?

“We’re tremendously disappointed in the result,” said Rhule, following Baylor’s 17-10 loss to UTSA. “Offensively, we did not make the plays we needed to make to win the game.”

Anu Solomon struggled mightily in his second start for the Bears, cementing the fact that Zach Smith will be the most popular guy in Waco over the next week. Indeed, many wondered why Smith didn’t get a crack against the Roadrunners on Saturday, given Solomon’s erratic play.

Baylor’s defense made strides after getting rocked by a load of Buckshot in the opener. Not well enough, though, to overcome an absolute disappearing act from the offense.

Baylor isn’t good enough to win with an incomplete showing. After falling to 0-2 upon completion of the easiest part of their schedule, the Bears might not be good enough to win with all playing well in concert. Look at the schedule ahead: At Duke — a suddenly far less winnable road game. Then home to Oklahoma (yikes), at Kansas State (double yikes) and at Oklahoma State (did Stephen King and his creepy clown make this schedule?)

At this point, it would be an upset if Baylor didn’t start out 0-6. At least.

Long-term, Baylor will probably be OK. Rhule has recruited surprisingly well. The team’s health — and depth — should improve. As the games pile up, the young players will gain experience, the greatest teacher of all.

In the short term, Baylor can help itself by not helping the other team. There are areas the Bears absolutely must shore up if they want a chance to beat Kansas on Nov. 4, much less anyone else on the schedule. Ten penalties? In the UTSA game? That’s unforgivable. Those false starts and holding flags are less an indictment of Baylor’s talent level than its level of concentration.

They’re also a flag on the coaching box. The Bears are already bleeding, they don’t need to gouge themselves with additional self-inflicted wounds.

“Before you can even think about winning, you have to play winning football,” Rhule said. “As always, that comes back on me.”

They also need some more guys to step up and make a play. Dodge a tackle. Catch a ball. Get after the other quarterback.

For now, though, they’re stuck between the past and the future, seemingly lost and confused about who they’re supposed to be in the present.

For some reason, after Saturday’s game, the two Baylor bands — alumni and current — gathered on the field for one final performance. They played Uptown Funk and the Baylor Line, among other tunes. The rookies and the vets came together in a far more cohesive way than their brethren in the helmets and chin straps.

Also telling, perhaps — virtually no one was around to watch it.

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