Baylor fans, you don’t need me to offer you a dose of perspective. The past year-and-a-half delivered that in spades.
That perspective should have only solidified over the past week, as millions of Texans were ravaged by Hurricane Harvey.
As you know, it’s just a game. One game, in fact, in a season with at least 12 of them. It doesn’t rate in the same universe of importance as what Matt Rhule has already done to try to change the culture at Baylor. That 48-45 score doesn’t carry the same significance as the 900 hours of community service that the Bears have logged since Rhule’s arrival last December.
But, I get it. This is the sports section. So, let’s talk about the game, shall we? Allow me to remind you of a truth you already knew.
Rhule’s Bears are a work in progress. Big-time. Remember when offensive line coach George DeLeone compared that unit’s development to I-35 construction? Yeah, well, the analogy applies to the whole team.
The road work is going to stretch on a while, and there will be bumps along the way.
A few takeaways — side note, Baylor would have benefited from a takeaway or two — from my perch: Anu Solomon’s performance was choppier than the Brazos on a windy day. His moments of brilliance were interrupted by fits of brain lock. Ironically, the offensive line — beset by retirements and graduations — fared OK. Baylor’s receivers write an adventure tale every time the ball goes aloft.
Defensively, the Bears have miles to travel. The secondary has been so riddled with injuries that Rhule was probably tempted to ask Michael McFarland, the 1990s BU defensive back honored as the “Baylor Legend” of the game, if he had any eligibility remaining. Liberty quarterback Stephen Calvert launched a career-high 60 passes, and frequently found BU’s defensive backs offering a rather comfortable cushion of space. The Bears were so desperate that they resorted to using receiver Blake Lynch as a regular DB.
Yes, it’s a loss to an FCS opponent. That shouldn’t happen. Baylor’s sports information staff had to flip all the way back to 1981 to find the only other such defeat, when the Bears dropped an 18-17 contest to Division I-AA Lamar in the season opener. (Incidentally, the biggest upset that Kevin Steele pulled was not ever losing to an FCS team.)
“Obviously, I feel bad for our fans and everybody who came, that we didn’t play to the level we would have liked to have played,” Rhule said.
Before the season, I projected a victory range of 5-8 for Rhule’s first season in Waco. If you judge just on Saturday, the lower end seems more likely.
But here’s where Baylor fans must have patience. Joey Galloway’s crazy pick notwithstanding, did you really expect the Bears to go out and make the College Football Playoff this year?
Depth will be a major issue for the Bears all season. They can’t afford a boatload of injuries, and yet you could place an injured Baylor DB on every sailgating vessel in the lagoon. The running back lineup took another hit with the loss of JaMycal Hasty. The offensive line wears green for a reason — because they’ve had to rely on a field full of rookies.
If you’re a Baylor fan, you’re liable to be bummed after a loss to Liberty. That’s fair. But keep in mind a couple of things: the Flames are probably better than anyone expected, just like the Bears might be a little worse. Liberty may be an FCS team today, but they’re joining the big boys next year. And I don’t care if the cushion in the secondary was as fat as a dorm room bean bag, Liberty’s Calvert made a slew of Sunday-quality passes.
Still, the Bears should win this game. You know that. I know that. The coaches and players know it, too.
“I didn’t want to lose to Liberty, obviously,” Rhule said. “None of the kids wanted to lose to Liberty. But what are you going to do now? You have to learn from it, and move forward.
“Now, when Coach is on the field and he’s saying, ‘Hey, get to this spot,’ then get to the spot. And that will hopefully be the lesson we can all learn from this.”
A lesson learned, or perhaps just reinforced. The Bears aren’t getting to that spot overnight.