To simulate crowd noise at the Alamodome, Baylor coach Matt Rhule piped in music and other loud noises over the speakers during practice this week.
Playing under a roof will present a whole different atmosphere for the Bears when they face UTSA at 6 p.m. Saturday in San Antonio.
“I’ll let the players listen to music during practice, what they always ask for,” Rhule said. “I say no most of the time. So we’ll put a little bit of crowd noise in here to be prepared for it. The quarterback’s cadence, make sure they can hear it and all that. To me, it’s just about communication. What we don’t want to do is give up a big play because we didn’t communicate on defense.”
The game will mark the Bears’ first trip to the Alamodome since Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III’s last college game when Baylor outgunned Washington, 67-56, in 2011.
But the last thing Rhule wants to see is a shootout. After his defense gave up 466 yards to Abilene Christian in the Bears’ season-opening 55-27 win last weekend at McLane Stadium, Rhule wants to see a tougher, more focused unit that takes pride in keeping the opposing offense off the scoreboard.
“I told the team it takes someone special to be a defensive player,” Rhule said. “On offense, you can miss a block and say, ‘Hey, my bad.’ It’s seven yards instead of 11 yards. Maybe I take a play off in the O-line and my guy beats me, but the quarterback scrambles. You take a play off on defense, or you miss a play on defense, it can be six. We need to have 11 guys that are all playing of one mind and all playing the exact same details. A lot of that is communication.”
UTSA beat the Bears, 17-10, last season at McLane Stadium by playing physical football. The Roadrunners piled up 220 yards rushing and controlled the clock for more than 38 minutes. With limited possessions, the Bears finished with just 274 yards total offense.
Baylor put a lot of emphasis on improving its run defense during practice this week after allowing 220 yards against Abilene Christian, including a 75-yard touchdown run by Billy McCrary.
“ACU ran for 220 yards against us,” Rhule said. “That is completely unacceptable. UTSA did that against us last year. We have got to get our defense together. That comes down to toughness, physicality and better angles. Last year they out-toughed us and they were the type of team I respected and liked. We have worked really hard to become a team with that type of brand.”
Baylor also wants to become more opportunistic defensively by creating sacks and forcing turnovers. Defensive end James Lockhart notched Baylor’s only sack against Abilene Christian while linebacker Terrel Bernard forced the only turnover when he intercepted a pass and returned it 28 yards to set up a first-quarter touchdown.
This could be an opportune time for Baylor to raise its sack totals after UTSA allowed nine sacks for 63 yards in losses in a season-opening 49-7 loss to Arizona State last weekend in Tempe.
With defensive end Greg Roberts returning in the second half after missing the first 1½ games for disciplinary reasons, the Bears will have another player on the defensive line who could disrupt things for UTSA quarterbacks Cordale Grundy and D.J. Gillins.
“I think the biggest thing for us is our defensive line just playing with an edge,” Rhule said. “We did a lot of movement in the last game, and we didn’t really finish the movement. We were kind of playing tentatively up front, and that’s not really who we are. We want to get off and move and change gaps, and try to win with quickness. I didn’t really see that from us last week.”
Rhule will continue to alternate quarterbacks Charlie Brewer and Jalan McClendon after they both produced solid performances last week.
Brewer started the game and hit eight of 15 passes for 138 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. McClendon played brilliantly in his Baylor debut as he hit 10 of 13 for 173 yards and two touchdowns, and led the Bears to touchdowns on the first four possessions that he quarterbacked in the first half.
Rhule took Brewer out of the game midway through the third quarter for precautionary reasons following a back injury. But Brewer has practiced all week and will be ready for the game.
“I’m feeling good, 100 percent, so I’m excited for this week,” Brewer said. “I’m obviously glad nothing’s wrong with it and I’m just looking forward to this game this week. I wanted to get back in there just like everybody. It was definitely a little bit frustrating, but we’re on to the next game.”
After amassing 295 yards rushing and averaging 8.2 yards per carry against Abilene Christian, the Bears want to establish a dynamic running game again against UTSA. The Bears lost left tackle Josh Malin for four weeks with a knee injury, but Jake Fruhmorgen is expected to return from a knee injury to give the offensive line more depth.
Carrying the load against Abilene Christian was John Lovett who rushed for 115 yards and three touchdowns and JaMycal Hasty who finished with 102 yards and two scores.
“JaMycal has worked really hard on not dancing and making moves but to trust his speed, and he hit those holes,” Rhule said. “Both long runs were his own reads, and the quarterbacks did an elite job. Both guys I think hitting it and trusting the guys around them is a fun thing to see.”
With Duke and Kansas coming up the next two weeks at McLane Stadium, this will be Baylor’s only road game in the first four weeks before facing Oklahoma in Norman on Sept. 29. Rhule wants his squad to get the most from the experience.
“I think sometimes it’s maybe a little bit easier,” Rhule said. “When we’re at home there’s so much going on, the Bear Walk, cheerleaders are there which I know they normally are. It’s comfortable to be at home. Sometimes you go on the road and you’re kind of sequestered in the hotel. You just hope you kind of come together and rally together going into hostile territory against a team we respect. We know it’s going to be loud, you know they’re going to have a great crowd, and I’m hopeful that mentality is one our guys will relish and rally to.”