Baylor coach Matt Rhule has always been impressed by the physical, disciplined nature of Duke coach David Cutcliffe’s football teams.
In last year’s 34-20 road loss to Duke, the Bears were knocked around in the trenches as the Blue Devils controlled the ball for more than 38 minutes.
Rhule hopes his offense can stay on the field longer and finish off drives in Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. rematch at McLane Stadium. The Bears’ offensive line will have to take a major step forward against a Duke defensive line that has dominated opponents in a 2-0 start.
“We have to play significantly better against an outstanding Duke defensive line,” Rhule said. “I know there are going to be lots of story lines in this game, but to me the biggest one is they have an All-American, all-everything defensive end in Victor Dimukeje, who was a freshman last year who was special. He has two sacks, he’s got 11 pressures, dominant sacks, dominant pass rushes, and it will be a challenge for us, along with the rest of their defensive line.”
Though the Bears finished with 494 yards total offense in Saturday’s 37-20 win over UTSA at the Alamodome, Rhule wasn’t pleased with the consistency of his offensive line. The Bears allowed three sacks and had trouble running the ball as they finished with 91 yards while averaging 2.9 yards per carry.
“I’ll always give credit to UTSA because they lined up and stopped it, but it was just a lot of errors on our end,” Rhule said. “A lot of our guys just getting whupped. Hopefully we can continue to develop a little more consistency up front. If we’ve got to simplify, if we’ve got to do more, we’re trying to figure that out right now, but we’ve got to find a way to run the football. We can’t sit back there and throw it every play.”
Duke’s defense has been the biggest reason for a 2-0 start that includes a 34-14 season-opening win over Army followed by last week’s 21-7 win over Northwestern. The Blue Devils have been particularly strong against the run as they’ve allowed 133.5 yards rushing per game and 3.4 yards per carry.
Even more pressure will likely be on the Blue Devils’ defense to perform at a high level since starting quarterback Daniel Jones is out indefinitely after breaking his clavicle against Northwestern. He hit 16 of 22 passes for 192 yards and three touchdowns before he went out with his injury late in the third quarter.
Jones was replaced by junior quarterback Quintin Harris, who hit both of his pass attempts for 12 yards and ran five times for 14 yards. Last year, Harris played behind Jones and hit seven of 10 passes for 73 yards and a touchdown in 10 games.
“He’s a dual-threat guy, he can run it, he can throw it,” Rhule said. “He’s been their short-yardage, goal-line quarterback. It introduces a whole other element to us now – Daniel could run, they ran him a ton in the red zone last year, ran him against us last year – but we’re going to have to handle the quarterback run game.”
Besides losing Jones, the Blue Devils also lost all-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert who suffered a season-ending hip injury against Northwestern.
Rhule will continue to alternate quarterbacks Charlie Brewer and Jalan McClendon, who have both enjoyed big moments in Baylor’s wins over Abilene Christian and UTSA.
Playing his first game for the Bears after transferring from North Carolina State, McClendon delivered an electric debut performance in Baylor’s 55-27 win over Abilene Christian as he hit 10 of 13 passes for 173 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Against UTSA, Brewer sparked Baylor’s offense by hitting 23 of 34 passes for 328 yards and three touchdowns. After the two quarterbacks alternated in the first half, Brewer played throughout the second half due in large part to his ability to escape UTSA’s pass rush.
“I think the competition has helped both quarterbacks,” Rhule said. “They’re both having to push without pressing. I think you could see a little different look in Charlie’s eyes this week. I think both players are playing at a high level, both players are trying to get better, both players bring something a little different. Charlie is a little bit more moving around in the pocket, Jalan gets the ball down the field a little bit farther.”
After allowing 466 yards against Abilene Christian, the Baylor defense held UTSA to 255 yards. The Roadrunners finished with 98 yards rushing while quarterback Cordale Grundy hit 18 of 33 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown.
Baylor sacked Grundy four times after notching just one sack against Abilene Christian. Cornerback Derrek Thomas got a first-quarter interception against UTSA, but the Bears haven’t recovered a fumble in the first two games.
Rhule wants his defensive players to keep working on mastering their assignments and being in the right place.
“Our defense is based on precision and we just must do our job,” Rhule said. “We are in that time in space where we are just missing our spots. We can’t play like that. Good teams will get us. Last year Oklahoma went up 20 on us and we were just guessing too much. We have to do our job and if they out-physical us we just have to keep playing.”
BEAR FACTS — The kickoff for the Sept. 22 Baylor-Kansas Big 12 opener is set for 2:30 p.m. at McLane Stadium and will be televised on FS1…Baylor coach Matt Rhule will present a $1,000 check for shoes for the homeless donated by the Baylor football team at Mission Waco’s Champions for Christian Service breakfast on Thursday morning at the Waco Convention Center.