In the aftermath of Baylor’s 21-13 win over winless Rice, two schools of thought emerged.
The Bears needed a tight, four-quarter battle before jumping into Big 12 play. They’re going to have to play a lot better to beat Iowa State in Saturday’s upcoming conference opener at McLane Stadium.
After opening the season with a 56-17 blowout of SFA followed by a 63-14 win over UTSA, the Bears hoped to play with the same all-around proficiency in their first road game Saturday at Rice Stadium.
But Baylor’s offense had trouble moving the ball and didn’t score in the second half after opening up a 21-3 halftime lead. The Bears’ defense was put to the test, and came through by limiting the Owls to one touchdown and two field goals while delivering some big stops on Rice’s final drive.
“We preached all week that we should expect a fight because Rice is hungry to win just like everybody else,” said Baylor linebacker Clay Johnston. “I’m kind of thankful we had a dogfight today because it’s fun to actually play four quarters, especially before conference starts. We just have to keep a good head on our shoulders. We can’t overlook opponents.”
Rhule had a hunch that the Bears might not play their best game against the Owls because practices in the week preceding the game weren’t as good as some weeks. The Owls were coming off two straight lopsided losses, including a 41-21 loss to Wake Forest and a 48-13 loss to Texas.
“It just wasn’t our best week,” Rhule said. “And it obviously wasn’t our best game. But also, to be quite honest with you, you’re going to have games like this and good teams find a way to battle through those games. I’ve had a lot of games like this where you just have to find a way to win.”
Now the Bears will find out if their nonconference schedule has prepared them for the rigors of the Big 12 beginning with Iowa State.
Picked third behind Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12 preseason poll, Iowa State is off to a 2-1 start, including a 29-26 overtime win over Northern Iowa in the season opener followed by lightning-delayed 18-17 loss to Iowa.
The Cyclones’ offense showed a lot more explosiveness in Saturday’s 72-20 thrashing of Louisiana-Monroe by rolling up a school-record 714 yards as quarterback Brock Purdy hit 21 of 27 passes for 435 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 75 yards and three scores.
Saturday’s game against the Bears will be the Cyclones’ first road game of the season after playing all three nonconference games in Ames. While Rhule wanted his players to be proud of their win over Rice, he let them know they’re going to have to step up their game in the Big 12.
“I told our guys don’t apologize for winning,” Rhule said. “But at the same time, understand that that’s not going to be good enough to win a lot of these games moving forward.”
Baylor’s defense had a lot of strong points to build off as the Owls gained just 64 yards rushing while averaging 1.8 yards per carry. Johnston collected 13 tackles with two for loss while defensive lineman James Lynch produced two sacks, and defensive end James Lockhart produced one sack, recovered a fumble and broke up a pass.
Rice scored its only touchdown on Tom Stewart’s 21-yard run in the fourth quarter, but the Baylor defense stopped the Owls for losses on three straight plays on their final drive, including Lynch’s 10-yard sack on third down.
“We played great up front,” Rhule said. “I thought our D-line was physical, I thought our run defense was physical. We gave up really no explosive plays in the air, just that one quarterback run. I thought our defense showed a lot of resolve, and I thought our team showed a lot of resolve at the end of the game. So I’m proud of those things.”
Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer finished with solid numbers as he hit 20 of 27 for 303 yards with a 50-yard touchdown to Chris Platt. The junior quarterback led the Bears with 12 carries for 58 yards and a score, a 25-yard run in the first half that ended with a dive into the end zone.
But the Bears had difficulty running against the Owls as they finished with 124 yards while averaging 3.5 yards per carry. The Owls sacked Brewer twice, and his fumble to open the third quarter set a bad tone for the second half.
“I think Charlie, anytime you’re 20 for 27 for 303 yards, that’s a pretty good game,” Rhule said. “And he didn’t have a lot of help around him up front. I don’t know if it was necessarily as much the protection as the running game. We’ve been having these explosive runs. He had to drop back and throw it a lot more.”
Penalties also hurt the Bears as they committed six for 60 yards while Rice had just one for five yards. A holding call wiped out John Lovett’s 38-yard run in the second quarter.
The Bears will try to correct the mistakes they made against Rice and play a more consistent game against Iowa State. They finished 3-0 in nonconference, but now they’ll begin to deal with the crux of their schedule as Big 12 play gets underway.
“A win’s a win, but it starts with me,” Brewer said. “I’ve got to do a better job of holding guys more accountable throughout the week. I’m going to start doing that more. We’ve just got to have a good week of practice this week, and I’ll make sure that we do.”