Baylor coach Matt Rhule said sophomore Zach Smith remained the starting quarterback as of Monday, but the competition with freshman Charlie Brewer will continue throughout the week leading up to Saturday’s game against Texas at McLane Stadium.
With Smith nursing a stomach flu, Brewer stepped in at the end of the third quarter against West Virginia last Saturday with the Bears trailing, 38-13.
Brewer hit eight of 13 passes for 109 yards with two touchdowns and ran 10 times for 48 yards to lead the Bears to 23 unanswered points in the fourth quarter.
After hitting a 9-yard touchdown pass to Trestan Ebner with 17 seconds remaining, Baylor’s attempt for a game-tying two-point conversion failed when Brewer was sacked as the Mountaineers hung on for a 38-36 win.
Rhule wants to see how both Smith and Brewer progress this week during practice before making a final decision on the starting quarterback against Texas. The Bears fell to 0-7 overall and 0-4 in the Big 12 with the loss to No. 22 West Virginia.
“We have a lot of confidence in Zach, he’s been our quarterback, so I would say if we played (Monday) he would be our quarterback,” Rhule said. “But the whole program is based on competition, so we’ll go out there and practice the next couple of days and see if Charlie can pick up where he left off and see if Zach can get into a rhythm for this week.”
Smith has started the last five games for the Bears after Anu Solomon suffered concussion-like symptoms in the second game of the season against UTSA. Smith hit 16 of 27 for 261 yards against the Mountaineers, but was sacked five times and led the Bears to just one touchdown and a pair of field goals in the first three quarters.
While Smith has the strongest arm among the Baylor quarterbacks, Brewer has good mobility, which is an asset with a thin offensive line.
“I thought Charlie’s performance was gutty,” Rhule said. “I thought it was tough. It’s kind of all these things we know about Charlie. He’s a competitive, fiery guy that really got out there, and really at the end of the day, the biggest thing was that he kept plays alive with his feet. I was proud of him.”
Regardless of which quarterback starts, Baylor will have one less wide receiver available after freshman R.J. Sneed suffered a broken leg against West Virginia and will miss the final five games of the season.
Texas coach Tom Herman also doesn’t know which quarterback will start against Baylor after Sam Ehlinger was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms after Saturday’s 13-10 overtime loss to No. 11 Oklahoma State.
If Ehlinger isn’t cleared to play, sophomore Shane Buechele will start for the Longhorns (3-4, 2-2).
Rhule and Herman coached against each other in the American Athletic Conference before they moved to their present jobs this season. In the 2015 AAC championship game, Herman guided Houston to a 24-13 win over Rhule’s Temple squad.
Though Baylor hasn’t yet won a game, Herman is impressed by the program Rhule is building.
“At both Temple and Baylor, the effort of Matt’s teams jump off the screen,” Herman said. “When they play with great effort like that, they give themselves a chance to win every game. He’s doing a great job of improving them every week. They do it the right way, they play tough, they play hard and tackle well. They make every effort not to beat themselves.”
Herman believes Rhule has done a good job adapting to Baylor’s personnel. During his four seasons as Temple University’s head coach, Rhule ran a great deal of pro-style offense but is using more spread formations at Baylor.
“Their offensive philosophy is a bit different,” Herman said. “Credit him because he inherited players at Baylor built for the spread. So instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, he adapted his system to his players.”
Rhule is gearing up to play one of the toughest, most physical defenses in the Big 12 under Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando. The Longhorns contained an Oklahoma State offense that was averaging more than 40 points per game.
“They probably have one of the most talented defenses we’ve seen in a long time,” Rhule said. “They have great players at every position. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Orlando. You take a great defensive coach like Coach Orlando and outstanding players, you can see why they have the defensive production they have.”
Rhule said Baylor preseason all-Big 12 defensive lineman K.J. Smith is still unavailable to play after suffering shin splints early in the season, but could return before the end of the year.
“He’s a great player and we’re not going to risk his future,” Rhule said. “We’re not going to put him in there until he’s 100 percent.”
BEAR FACTS — The Nov. 4 Baylor-Kansas game in Lawrence will kick off at 11 a.m. and will be televised on FSN.