baylor football

Baylor looks to finish off its nonconference schedule with a 3-0 record, tackling Duke Saturday at McLane Stadium.

With Hurricane Florence bearing down on North Carolina, the Duke football team rearranged its travel plans as it flew to Texas on Thursday morning instead of Friday.

It’s been a chaotic week for the Blue Devils as they prepare for Saturday’s game against Baylor at 2:30 p.m. at McLane Stadium. But Baylor coach Matt Rhule has seen how adverse circumstances can unite a team.

“They’re a dangerous team because of their ability, and I think any time you deal with some adversity, and the adversity of losing some players, and now the adversity of having to come earlier, it can give you an edge,” Rhule said. “Football is a game of emotion and energy and edge, and I expect them to have a lot of it.”

Rhule recalled how Jimbo Fisher often flew his Florida State teams out of Tallahassee on Thursday to play a Saturday road game. That extra time together in a hotel can create team bonding.

“I know Jimbo Fisher at Florida State used to travel on Thursday nights, which a lot of people can’t do with money issues,” Rhule said. “Having that time of Thursday night here, our guys will be out going to study hall and doing different things, and they (Duke) will be in the hotel getting ready for a football game. I’m sure on their end that extra time together will be well spent.”

The Blue Devils will come into McLane Stadium with a 2-0 record after wins over Army and Northwestern. The Bears are also 2-0 following wins over Abilene Christian and UTSA, but facing Duke will be a definite step up in competition.

After last year’s 1-11 finish in his debut season at Baylor, Rhule has made it clear that he expects this year’s team to reach a bowl game. For the Bears to hit the six-win plateau, winning this week’s final nonconference game and next weekend’s Big 12 opener against Kansas will be crucial.

Duke will be without quarterback Daniel Jones, who threw three touchdown passes in last week’s 21-7 win over Northwestern before he broke his clavicle late in the third quarter.

Replacing him will be junior Quentin Harris, who played sparingly in his first two seasons at Duke but is a bigger running threat than Jones.

“It just brings in the unknown,” Rhule said. “We’re watching Quentin’s high school tape, we’re watching two and three years’ worth of film. So we’re preparing for everything, right? We’re preparing for all the things that you might see. At the end of the day, the issue is always us. We have to make sure we’re doing what we do. But you want to make sure you have answers.”

After giving up 466 yards in a 55-27 win over Abilene Christian, the Baylor defense played at a higher level in last week’s 37-20 win over UTSA by allowing 255 yards. The Bears collected four sacks and cornerback Derrek Thomas had a first-quarter interception.

But Rhule wants to see the defense play more disciplined football, and for each player to focus on executing his assignment.

“Defensively, I know we’re working hard to correct some of those big plays that popped,” Rhule said. “We’re getting better, we just need a little bit more in terms of discipline and gap integrity and making sure that we don’t come out of our gap. As we move forward, offensively, defensively and special teams, we’ve been able to overcome a lot of self-inflicted mistakes. You certainly can’t do that against Duke.”

The return of middle linebacker Clay Johnston from a knee injury gave Baylor’s defense a boost against the Roadrunners. Defensive end Greg Roberts played the second half after missing the first 1½ games for disciplinary reasons, and defensive end B.J. Thompson and linebacker Ashton Logan will be available against Duke after serving two-game suspensions.

But regardless of who lines up for the Bears, they’re looking to play more cohesively as a defensive unit.

“You just trust in everybody next to you,” said Baylor safety Chris Miller. “You’ve got to know your assignment, you can’t be out of your gap making plays. You just got to do your job. If everyone does their job, you’ve got no choice but to be successful.”

Like the first two games, Rhule will continue to rotate quarterbacks Charlie Brewer and Jalan McClendon. But the key for Baylor’s offense will likely be whether it can establish the running game against a strong Duke defensive line led by end Victor Dimukeje.

With the offensive line unable to open holes consistently, the Bears finished with just 91 yards rushing and averaged 2.9 yards per carry against UTSA.

“I think they’re always motivated,” Rhule said. “There are wonderful guys there. Last week wasn’t exactly what we wanted. The week before was. I think they recognize the guys they’re going against, and they had five sacks against us last year. So I know our guys are excited to go and ready to go.”

After commiting just two turnovers in the first two games, the Bears hope to play mistake-free football against the Blue Devils. In last year’s game, the Bears entered the fourth quarter trailing 24-20, but linebacker Ben Humphreys led the Blue Devils to a 34-20 win when he intercepted Zach Smith’s pass and returned it for a 22-yard touchdown.

Humphreys is tied for the team lead with 21 tackles in the first two games this season.

“He’s a dominant player,” Rhule said. “He does a tremendous job disguising when he’s coming, so you can’t really tell when they’re blitzing. He’s a disruptive force, he’s a sideline to sideline player, he can play man coverage and their zone coverages, and he’s played a long time.”

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