Rising from the dust of a one-win season in 2017, it’s hard for college football observers not to notice the program third-year coach Matt Rhule is building.
Jumping off to a 5-0 start this season, the Bears moved into the Top 25 last Sunday for the first time since 2016 at No. 22 in the Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the coaches poll.
But the Baylor players have hardly noticed. Running back John Lovett said Wednesday that he didn’t even know the Bears are ranked. If the Bears are living in a vacuum, it’s OK with Rhule because he only wants his players to focus on what’s immediately in front of them.
The only thing that matters to the Bears is playing proficiently enough to beat Texas Tech at 3 p.m. in a homecoming game Saturday at McLane Stadium.
“It’s nice to have people tell you, ‘Good job’ and all that, but what really matters is what we put on tape,” said Baylor defensive lineman James Lynch. “And what we put on tape has to be good enough. If it’s not good enough, then we’re going to have problems and we’ll lose to somebody like Texas Tech or anybody in this conference. So we’re going to make sure we do what we’re supposed to do. It doesn’t matter what number we are, it’s just a number.”
This will be Texas Tech’s first trip to McLane Stadium and first game in Waco since 2007 after the series against the Bears was played in the Metroplex at either AT&T Stadium in Arlington or the Cotton Bowl in Dallas for the last 10 years.
“I look forward to playing every game at McLane,” said Baylor sophomore receiver RJ Sneed. “You know I only played at AT&T one year. It was a cool experience, but I guess it’s kind of cool to bring it home and away. So next year we can go up to Lubbock.”
Baylor’s defense has been the stingiest in the Big 12 and is ranked 15th nationally by allowing 15.4 points per game. In both a Big 12-opening 23-21win over Iowa State two weeks ago at McLane Stadium and an impressive 31-12 road win at Kansas State last weekend, the Bears were sparked by tremendous and often dominating defensive play.
Throughout his final years at Spring High School, Bravvion Roy loved watching Baylor All-Ame…
The Bears virtually lived in Kansas State’s backfield as they collected a season-high six sacks and 15 tackles for loss. Leading their effort was nosetackle Bravvion Roy with 3½ tackles for loss and defensive end James Lynch with three sacks and four tackles for loss as he earned the Chuck Bednarik Award for national defensive player of the week.
Lynch also forced a fumble that was recovered by safety JT Woods while safety Grayland Arnold intercepted a pass. The joy the Baylor defense is playing with is palpable.
“We have a lot of confidence, but I think the main thing is we’re having fun,” Lynch said. “We’re having fun just playing together. Like if our offense turns the ball over, it’s not a bad thing. It’s another chance for us to show the world what we can do.”
The Bears will face a major challenge in trying to contain Texas Tech quarterback Jett Duffey, who earned Big 12 offensive player of the week after passing for 424 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-35 win over then-No. 21 Oklahoma State last weekend in Lubbock.
It was a big bounce back win for the Red Raiders (3-2, 1-1) after opening Big 12 play with a 55-16 blowout loss to No. 6 Oklahoma.
“You just have to make sure you rush the right way and make sure you keep him in the pocket because we can’t let him run around and make plays and make extended plays,” Lynch said. “That’s when our defense might break down. So we have to make sure we’re on our P’s and Q’s and make sure we do what our defense is supposed to do.”
The Bears will be without safety Chris Miller for the first half after he was disqualified for targeting in the fourth quarter against Kansas State. But Rhule likes the depth he has at safety.
“JT (Woods) started the last game with Grayland being a little dinged-up,” Rhule said. “Grayland’s 100 percent now, and I’m really proud of him last week for playing. Christian Morgan’s back, which is huge for us and (Jairon) McVea played last week. So we have five guys who are going to play and then Chris will be ready in the second half, and I know he’ll be ready to go.”
Believe it or not, there is more than a four-yard difference between 3rd-and-3 and 3rd-and-7.
Rhule is excited to have quarterback Charlie Brewer back in the lineup after he went out with 11:05 remaining against Kansas State when he took a big hit on a pass rush by Trey Dishon.
But redshirt freshman quarterback Gerry Bohanon got some much needed experience in a tense situation as the Bears scored two late touchdowns to put the game away.
The Bears needed just two plays to score after Bohanon entered the game as he hit a 38-yard pass to Sneed to set up his 4-yard touchdown run on a quarterback keep around left end. Bohanon’s teammates were thrilled to see him deliver when the Bears needed it the most.
“I think you can see how much our team loves and appreciates Gerry and what he brings and the way he plays,” Rhule said. “There was a lot of celebration for him when he scored. So I think that tells us when the time comes, whether it’s either in a package or whatever we hit, we have to continue to take advantage of Gerry and what he can do.”
Though the Red Raiders allowed 509 yards against Oklahoma State, they made a lot of big plays as they forced three interceptions and two fumbles while collecting seven sacks. Linebacker Jordyn Brooks was named Big 12 defensive player of the week and national player of the week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation after collecting 19 tackles with three sacks and forcing a fumble.
Rhule and first-year Texas Tech coach Matt Wells are friends, and his wife Jen is a Baylor graduate. Wells took over at Texas Tech after six seasons at Utah State where he produced a 44-34 record.
“Matt is a really good friend of mine, a great guy,” Rhule said. “I got to know him at Utah State, and my wife and his wife are friends. It’s obviously great to have Coach Wells and Texas Tech come to McLane for the first time.”