Baylor quarterback Zach Smith hit 16 of 27 passes for 261 yards against West Virginia despite playing with stomach flu.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson

Though freshman Charlie Brewer gave Baylor a huge shot of energy last weekend, Matt Rhule is still leaning toward starting sophomore Zach Smith at quarterback against Texas in Saturday’s game at McLane Stadium.

Smith has started the last five games for the winless Bears, and hit 16 of 27 passes for 261 yards against West Virginia despite playing with stomach flu.

“I just think in these times Zach’s done too much,” Rhule said. “He led that comeback against Oklahoma, and I think it’s too quick to say ‘Charlie played great.’ Charlie needs to be ready to play, but I don’t want to have a quick trigger on our quarterback.”

With the Bears trailing the Mountaineers, 38-13, Rhule replaced Smith with Brewer late in the third quarter. Brewer showed the leadership that made him a state championship winning quarterback at Lake Travis last year as he hit eight of 13 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns while running 10 times for 48 yards as the Bears scored 23 unanswered points.

Though West Virginia hung on for a 38-36 win when Brewer was sacked on a two-point conversion attempt with 17 seconds remaining, the young quarterback gave a lot of reasons why Rhule is excited about his future.

Rhule said he will likely have offensive packages ready for Brewer even if he doesn’t start. After burning his redshirt with a brief appearance on Sept. 30 against Kansas State, Brewer played in the final 11 minutes in a 59-16 loss to Oklahoma State on Oct. 14 before coming in at the end of the third quarter against West Virginia.

“There might have been smaller roles for Charlie, but we know he’s a gamer,” Rhule said. “We’ll probably have a package for Charlie ready to go. We were up all night working, and we’ll be working all day today, so we’ll see where that leads. I think the biggest thing is that this is such a hard defense to prepare for that you can’t be random with what you want to do. They’re so hard to attack schematically and talent-wise that we have to be really sharp in the way we decide to do it.”

While the Bears fell to 0-7 overall and 2-2 in the Big 12, the Longhorns dropped to 3-4 overall and 2-2 in conference play following last weekend’s 13-10 overtime loss to Oklahoma State in Austin.

Texas appeared on the verge of a win before freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger threw an interception in the end zone. Ehlinger is questionable to play against Baylor with concussion-like symptoms. If he isn’t cleared, sophomore Shane Buechele will step at quarterback for the Longhorns.

Rhule indicated that Baylor won’t prepare for a specific Texas quarterback since Ehlinger’s status is uncertain.

“I think you just go in and prepare for UT’s offense,” Rhule said. “I don’t know if we’re in a position yet where we can focus on taking things away. We’re still just trying to eliminate the big passing plays. This week, for us, is much more about us and much less about them and the things that they do. We’ve just got to continue to get our guys ready on defense.”

While Texas’ offense has been mediocre most of the season, the Longhorns’ defense has become one of the best in the Big 12. That was especially evident last weekend as Texas limited the powerful Oklahoma State offense to 428 yards and one touchdown and two field goals.

“They have great players, and I think (Texas defensive coordinator) Todd Orlando does a good job of taking away what you do well and attacking you in all areas,” Rhule said. “You have to be ready for the blitz. They’re number one in the conference right now on third down. They get off the field better than anybody.”

Establishing a better running game will be a key for the Bears to take the pressure off Smith or Brewer. The Bears rank eighth in the Big 12 in rushing with 134 yards per game while Texas’ rush defense ranks third by allowing 120.9 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry.

“They have a tremendous defensive line,” Rhule said. “Their nose tackle, Poona Ford, is as good as we’ve seen. We’ve faced a lot of really good D-lines, but when you watch these guys, you see their defensive talent everywhere. They’ve got six-foot-one corners that can run. They’ve got real skill.”

With freshman receiver R.J. Sneed going down with a broken leg against West Virginia, the Bears now have two key receivers out for the season. Junior Chris Platt suffered a knee injury in the fourth game against Oklahoma.

“Well, my heart aches for R.J.” Rhule said. “There’s not a better kid or a better family, and when you break your leg, that’s a painful one. That’s a surgical answer. R.J. is built from the right cloth and he will come back.”

While the Bears hope they can build off last week’s fourth-quarter rally, Rhule would like to replicate the starts they’ve had in the last two games without the lulls in the middle.

“I think the thing I’m excited about is the last two first quarters,” Rhule said. “We’ve come out and we’ve been ready to play, and we’ve been more ready than we had previously. It’s just that in the second quarter and at the end of the half we got a little tired. You’re hopeful that the players begin to recognize the mindset that was present in the fourth quarter. We just need to have that mindset the whole game.”

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