Sophomore Zach Smith will start at quarterback in Baylor’s first road game at Duke on Saturday.
Smith will replace graduate transfer Anu Solomon, who started Baylor’s first two games. He struggled in Saturday’s 17-10 loss to UTSA at McLane Stadium as he hit 10 of 26 passes for 121 yards and a touchdown and one interception. He was sacked four times as the Bears fell to 0-2.
“We’re going to turn to Zach and let him do his thing,” said Baylor coach Matt Rhule on Monday. “We’ll rally around Zach. He’s a competitor, you know. Anu got banged up a little bit in the game and Zach is ready to go. He’s healthy now. I think that ankle’s 100 percent. He’s moving around well.”
Smith started the last four games of his freshman season after starter Seth Russell went down with a season-ending injury.
After the Bears lost their first three games with Smith, he led them to a 31-12 win over Boise State in the Cactus Bowl as he hit 28 of 39 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns despite playing on a gimpy ankle.
Smith has seen minimal action in the first two games this season, hitting one of two passes for 16 yards. But Rhule said Smith performed well throughout the spring and preseason camp, and didn’t sulk after he named Solomon the starter before the opener against Liberty.
“I like the fact that he had to watch Anu play, and he had a tremendous attitude about it,” Rhule said. “It was a tough, tight race in camp. I think people maybe thought I was messing around when I went right down to the last day. After two games, in terms of where the offensive line is and some of the hits Anu has taken, I think Zach is more ready to play.”
Duke will be Baylor’s final nonconference game before opening Big 12 play against No. 2 Oklahoma on Sept. 23 at 5:30 p.m. at McLane Stadium. The Oklahoma game will be televised on FS1, it was announced Monday.
The Bears will face a Duke team that’s off to a 2-0 start following its 41-17 win over Northwestern on Saturday in Durham, N.C.
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 108 yards and two more scores. Duke’s defense was outstanding as it limited Northwestern to 191 yards total offense while collecting four sacks and three turnovers.
“Jones is a threat on the perimeter, so there’s a lot we’ll have to work on schematically,” Rhule said. “The biggest thing about Coach (David) Cutcliffe’s offenses is that they’re methodical. If we overload the box, they’ll throw it.”
Rhule hopes to see a complete game from his team after watching the offense play well in a season opening 48-45 loss to Liberty and seeing the defense improve against UTSA. Rhule was disappointed in Baylor’s discipline against UTSA as the Bears were flagged for 10 penalties for 98 yards.
“During the first week our offense played well enough to win, and the second week our defense played well enough to win,” Rhule said. “We’ll have to put it all together to have a chance to win. We can’t have crucial mistakes. You can’t beat a great team like Duke on the road, starting first-and-25.”
Despite the 0-2 start, Rhule expects his team to begin playing better football even as the schedule gets tougher.
“We’re almost in a panic state right now, and I’m the guy who has to settle things down,” Rhule said. “I didn’t think we’d be in the position we are now. At the end of the day, we had chances to win the last two games. I expect our kids and coaches to get a lot better. I like to win, but I like playing winning football a lot more.”