Sometimes you need the other guys.
No, not that B-minus 2010 comedy cop flick starring Will Ferrell and Mark Walberg. We’re talking football, and how unscripted cameos by little-used rookies or new starters can electrify a game and, consequently, a sideline.
Sometimes you need the regular guys.
To get it done on Saturdays in the fall, there are moments where you need your every-week playmakers, the guys you’ve come to rely upon, to go and make a play. Again. Just like they did the week before.
In Baylor’s case on Saturday, it needed both. It needed the regulars and the rookies. It needed the full-timers and the interns.
For the Bears to survive at home against Kansas State, they needed Denzel Mims to do Denzel Mims-type things and they needed James Lynch to be James Lynch — a burgeoning all-Big 12 defender. But they also needed guys like freshman safety Christian Morgan and freshman running back Craig “Sqwirl” Williams to pop out from behind the yard markers and introduce themselves: “Hellloooo, here we are! We’re ready, Coach!”
In the postgame blur, coaches often christen an outcome as “a team win,” but this one was team-ier than most. If you examined the game ball, you’d find a lot of different guys’ fingerprints on it – and, in the case of kicker Connor Martin, footprints.
“I want a team that wants to go out and play well, and beat the other team” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said. “(Kansas State) is a hard team to beat, because they don’t beat themselves and they’re physical and they fight back. And I thought we had a team that instead of being upset that we were down at the end, wanted to go keep playing and find a way to go win the game.”
Baylor’s 37-34 triumph at McLane Stadium on Saturday wasn’t a work of art. Unless maybe that art resembled dogs playing poker or something.
But it was a testament to the Bears’ improved depth. Last year, when injuries mounted, young players were pushed into service far before they were really ready. And it showed on the field. They made freshman mistakes that often led to team losses.
This season, the newbies have been introduced to the mix more gradually, more organically. They’re still getting their chances, but the timing makes more sense.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the NCAA adopted a new rule prior to this season, which allows a player to see action in as many as four games without burning his redshirt season. That’s why a player like Williams – who, no lie, gained his “Sqwirl” nickname from a steel cage match with a squirrel when he was five years old – could get a chance against the Wildcats. In the past, Rhule never would have burned a player’s entire year of eligibility so that he could come into a game and make two carries. Now, the coach can use his freshman more liberally – and it makes a difference. Williams’ 21-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter proved to be one of the biggest plays of the game.
“Number one, it’s a great rule and number two, I just think it speaks a lot to the character of those guys that they were willing to go out there and play and fight,” Rhule said. “But I think the credit goes to our older guys.”
Ah, yes. The graybeards. Rhule wants his older players to lead by both word and action. And he feels like his veterans are doing just that.
Case in point: Last week against Oklahoma, Mims turned in what should have been a personally-satisfying day, making 11 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. But Rhule said that the receiver felt like he left too many plays on the field in Norman, and it lit his fire in practice this week.
So, what happens against K-State? Mims makes one of the best catches you’ll witness all season – a juggling touchdown in the corner of the end zone that revealed the receiver’s phenomenal concentration.
Baylor also needed a fair amount of gumption to pull out the win over the Wildcats. The Bears did a lot wrong. Martin endured arguably his most uneven game as a collegian, missing three field goals and playing pinball with the goalposts on a couple of other kicks. The defense continued to take poor angles on pursuit and to miss some tackles.
But the Bears hung in there, and they persevered. Rhule stuck with Martin, and the kicker made the game-winner.
Rhule said he appreciated the proactive vibe on the sideline from the players in the fourth quarter. The way he described it was this: “Don’t let (K-State) go lose it, let’s go try to win it.”
“It was that demeanor on the sideline that I really, really appreciated,” Rhule said. “Even when there was one second left, it’s like, a couple of weeks ago our guys were (moaning) like, ‘Ooooohh,’ but it was just like, ‘Keep playing, keep playing, keep playing.’ We did it. We hustled and found a way to hit the quarterback on the last play of the game.”
Coaches say “we” a lot. This was one of those days where it carried real weight.
To get this win, the Bears’ “we” wasn’t a wee number at all.