Baylor Stephen F. Austin

Baylor head coach Matt Rhule expects a hard-hitting game against Saturday’s opponent, UTSA. While he had a lot of praise for the lines on both sides of the ball, he also so areas that need improvement.

Nonconference games are often wild and unpredictable, largely because coaches don’t know each other’s teams with the same depth and insight as conference opponents.

But UTSA is an exception for Baylor.

Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at McLane Stadium will mark the third straight year that coach Matt Rhule’s Baylor squad will face Frank Wilson’s Roadrunners.

The game completes a three-year series between the two schools that began with UTSA’s 17-10 upset of the Bears at McLane Stadium in 2017.

Last year, Baylor bounced back with a 37-20 win at San Antonio’s Alamodome that featured a superb performance by Charlie Brewer, who threw for 328 yards and three touchdowns.

“Frank Wilson is a tremendous coach and his teams play with a great edge,” Rhule said. “They play the game the right way. They’re physical, they’re hard-nosed, and they’re tough. Both games the last two years, obviously, have come down to the very end of the game. So we’re preparing ourselves for a four-quarter battle versus an outstanding opponent.”

The Bears opened the season last Saturday with a 56-17 blowout of SFA, the only Football Championship Subdivision team on their schedule.

The Roadrunners knocked off San Antonio rival Incarnate Word, 35-7, behind a dazzling performance by quarterback Frank Harris. The dual-threat sophomore from Schertz Clemens High School hit 28 of 36 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns while leading UTSA with 123 yards rushing on 15 carries.

Harris’ talents are a good fit for quarterbacks coach Jeff Kastl, who took over offensive coordinator duties this year. With Harris out with an injury, the offense often struggled during last year’s 3-9 season as the Roadrunners averaged 14.1 points per game.

“They had a great win over Incarnate Word and Frank Harris jumped off the screen,” Rhule said. “Having the chance to see the TV copy and now watching the game film, he’s a special, special player. Our guys that are from that area after the game were already talking about him before they’d even seen him play. They knew him from high school and have a lot of respect for what he put on tape both as a passer and as a runner.”

Defensively, the Roadrunners play physical football with an emphasis on stopping the run. Incarnate Word managed just 28 rushing yards on 20 carries and finished with 209 yards total offense.

“They are hard to move the football against,” Rhule said. “They give you tough looks and they’re just really good up front. They have big, physical players that play really, really hard. You watch defenses right now across the country, not everyone plays hard. They play hard. That brings a lot of challenges to us.”

There was a lot for Rhule to like in Baylor’s lopsided win over the Lumberjacks as the offense amassed 518 yards and the defense allowed just 277 yards.

Brewer hit 21 of 31 passes for 199 yards and three touchdowns, and showed maturation from last season in the way he handled different situations during the game.

“I think his ability now to really play like a pro, see what’s happening and get us in the right play versus those pressures to me is the big difference,” Rhule said.

Though Baylor’s offensive line didn’t allow a sack, Rhule would still like to see better protection for Brewer after watching him get knocked to the ground a few times.

“I didn’t like our pass protection,” Rhule said. “Our quarterback got hit too many times, even though we took no sacks.”

While Baylor collected three sacks against SFA, Rhule expects better quarterback containment after watching Trae Self scramble to buy time and get off passes.

“I didn’t like our rush lanes at times,” Rhule said. “The quarterback was able to get outside, and that’s certainly going to be an issue with Frank Harris this week who’s a dynamic runner. We have to improve in that regard.”

Rhule said he was pleased with the performances of redshirt freshman right guard Prince Pines and junior college transfer right tackle Blake Bedier in their first starts for the offensive line.

“I think both those guys early were a little bit jittery and then they settled down,” Rhule said. “They are both really good players. Prince is a big, big man at 340 pounds and he had a big matchup because he was blocking a guy bigger than him. We won some and lost some, and he got better as the game went on. I think he will enter this week with more confidence. We were able to get Casey Phillips in at right tackle and to me, he is like a co-star and he is good enough to start for us.”

Both Pines and Bedier earned starting positions with strong performances during preseason camp, taking spots that junior guard Xavier Newman and senior tackle Johncarlo Valentin were expected to play.

Rhule said Newman and Valentin could redshirt this year since they still have that option available. Under the NCAA rule that went effect last year, players can participate in up to four games and still keep their redshirt.

“Xavier is available to play if we need him,” Rhule said. “We are trying to see if we can hold him and use him for four games. He was such a willing player to come in and play as a freshman and sophomore, but his best days are ahead of him. Casey (Phillips) has had such an ascension, we felt like maybe we could save (Valentin) for four games as well.”

Rhule said his players can earn helmet stickers this year for a variety of accomplishments.

“We told our guys that we’re going to start a new tradition and give them some stickers for their individual achievements,” Rhule said. “We did it for guys who had a 3.0 (GPA) during the spring or summer, personal best. We did it for guys who made all the practices of the preseason. We put a graduate cap for the 14 guys who’ve graduated. On the right-hand side, if we run for 200 yards, we’ll give them a helmet sticker. No sacks (on offense), if you get a sack, if you get a turnover.”

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