HOUSTON – Playing on the road for the first time this season, Baylor was wildly erratic as it mixed stretches of brilliance with momentum killing moments.
After amassing 326 first-half yards and scoring three touchdowns, Baylor’s offense came up empty throughout the second half against winless Rice.
The Bears’ defense did enough to hold off the Owls, 21-13, to stay unbeaten Saturday night with their third straight win before a small but enthusiastic crowd of 20,198 at Rice Stadium.
But it was hardly the tour de force performance Baylor hoped for heading into the Big 12 opener against Iowa State next Saturday at McLane Stadium.
“I said to my guys don’t ever apologize for a win,” said Baylor coach Matt Rhule. “In 2017, we would have been jumping for joy after this win. But there are going to be games like this where you just have to battle. In a lot of ways, Rice deserved to win.”
While Baylor’s offense picked up just 101 yards and four first downs in the second half, Rice finished with 147 second-half yards and scored 10 of their 13 points. But Baylor’s defense came through in some crucial moments, especially late in the game.
The Bears finished with three sacks, including two by defensive lineman James Lynch and one by defensive end James Lockhart. Rice (0-4) played much better than it did in last week’s 48-13 loss to Texas.
“We played great up front defensively,” Rhule said. “Our D-line was physical and we didn’t allow any explosive pass plays. One of the most dangerous teams is one that’s coming off a big loss, and I thought our defense played well.”
After Rice cut Baylor’s lead to 21-13 with quarterback Tom Stewart’s 21-yard touchdown run around right end with 8:42 left in the game, the Owls had one more shot to score another touchdown after getting the ball at their own 25 with 5:47 remaining.
The Owls picked up a first down before Baylor’s defense delivered three straight big plays.
Chris Miller nailed Aston Walter for a two-yard loss, Lockhart pounded Stewart for a one-yard loss, and Lockhart and James Lynch combined to sack Stewart for a 10-yard loss to force a punt that gave the Bears the ball with 3:02 remaining.
Baylor picked up a first down when quarterback Charlie Brewer hit Denzel Mims with a 13-yard pass for a first down at the 47 and then ran out the clock.
“We were told all week that we should expect a fight,” said Baylor linebacker Clay Johnston, who finished with 13 tackles with two for loss. “But we’re kind of thankful for it. I’m glad we had a game where the ones (starters) could play in the fourth quarter. I see 100 percent value in this.”
Brewer put up strong numbers as he hit 20 of 27 passes for 303 yards and touchdown while rushing for 58 yards and a score. The Bears needed Brewer’s rushing yardage because they finished with just 124 yards on the ground.
But Baylor lost its momentum when Brewer fumbled at the start of the third quarter.
“Our defense won the game, so credit to them,” Brewer said. “They played outstanding. We’ve just got to help them out. It starts with me, and I’ll get everything corrected and I’ll make sure we have a good week of practice moving forward.”
The Bears had little trouble moving the ball against the Rice defense in the first half as they opened up a 21-3 lead.
The pivotal point came in the final two minutes of the second quarter after Rice’s Anthony Ekpe recovered Baylor running back John Lovett’s fumble at the Bears’ 25.
The Owls couldn’t move against Baylor’s defense and Chris Barnes missed a 44-yard field goal with 44 seconds left. It took the Bears just 29 seconds to score their third touchdown.
The Bears quickly went to work as Brewer hit Mims for 19 yards and then went to Chris Platt for 14. After missing a pass, Brewer spotted Tyquan Thornton over the middle for 16 yards to the 25.
Brewer did the rest as he ran to his right and then cut back to his left before diving into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown with 15 seconds left in the first half.
The Bears began moving the ball from the opening kickoff by driving 55 yards to the 20. But John Mayers missed a 37-yard field goal.
On their second drive, the Bears were more efficient by moving 86 yards on nine plays. Mims had the key play as he made an outstretched catch of Brewer’s pass along the right sideline for 35 yards to Rice’s 23.
JaMycal Hasty rolled around the right side for 21 yards before wide receiver Josh Fleeks broke around the left side for a 6-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 7-0 lead with 3:12 left in the first quarter.
The Owls got on the board on the opening drive of the second quarter as Matt Harrison drilled a 28-yard field goal after a 55-yard drive bogged down at the 10.
But Brewer found a wide open Platt across the middle for a 50-yard touchdown to extend Baylor’s lead to 14-3 with 5:02 left in the second quarter.
The Bears seemed to pick up where they left off to start the third quarter as Brewer hit Thornton streaking down the right sideline for 44 yards to Rice’s 33.
But Brewer lost the ball before going into his passing motion and Antonio Montero recovered the fumble at Rice’s 31.
The Owls moved to Baylor’s 6, but the Bears’ defense forced three straight Wiley Green missed passes. Rice came away with Harrison’s 24-yard field goal that trimmed Baylor’s lead to 21-6 with 3:50 left in the third quarter.
After the Bears failed to move on their next drive, Rice’s offense kicked it into gear again as Green hit a 27-yard pass to Brad Rozner to Baylor’s 35.
Rice converted fourth-and-three when Green hit Jordan Myers for five yards to the 23. After picking up another first down at the 13, Baylor’s defense stiffened again.
Green missed two passes and picked up no yardage on a run. On fourth-and -10, Green hit Jack Bradley for eight yards to the 5, but he was two yards short of the first down as the Bears regained possession with 11:37 left in the fourth quarter.
Once again, the Bears couldn’t move and Issac Power’s short punt gave the Owls great field position at Baylor’s 46. This time, the Owls cashed in.
After Rice picked up a first down at the 36, Baylor linebacker Terrel Bernard was called for roughing Stewart for a 15-yard penalty.
Stewart then streaked around the right side for a 21-yard touchdown run to cut Baylor’s lead to 21-13 with 8:42 remaining in the game.