At this point, it’s pretty clear that Matt Rhule’s teams have been around the block a few times.
Last season, Baylor blocked seven punts or kicks, which tied Auburn and Toledo for tops in the nation. Rhule’s teams at Baylor and Temple have blocked 30 kicks since he ascended to a head coaching spot in 2013. And last Saturday in a 56-17 season-opening win over Stephen F. Austin, the Bears blocked both a punt and a field goal attempt. They were one of just two teams in the country, along with Penn State, to make two blocks in Week 1.
So, what gives, exactly? Why are Rhule’s teams so attuned to the art of rejection? Is it some advanced technique they’re employing, or does it come down to sheer hustle?
“It’s certainly not scheme,” Rhule said. “We just sent three guys on the punt. The field goals, we just have one field goal block (scheme). We have another one we do if we need it, but we have one field goal block. It really comes down to players.”
Obviously, technique and film study matters, but Rhule believes that effort means even more. By and large, he was pleased with how the Bears buzzed around and made plays against the Lumberjacks, even when the score became increasingly lopsided.
One guy who showed up ready to play was Blake Lynch. The senior linebacker, who was awarded a single-digit jersey before the season by virtue of a vote from his teammates, helped the BU defense force a three-and-out on SFA’s first possession of the game. Then he stayed on the field for special teams, and quickly made a beeline to SFA’s Max Quick, getting a piece of the ball to force a 13-yard punt that yielded a nice field-position victory.
“I think it’s cultural, it becomes part of the organization where guys, we go to those (special teams practice) periods, and guys take them really seriously,” Rhule said. “Blake Lynch, here’s a senior playing on special teams, and he’s running in there to go block the kick because he knows how important it is.”
By the second half, the Bears had the game tucked away. Yet they didn’t start loafing on special teams. With 5:24 left in the third quarter, freshman Gabe Hall flung a meaty paw into the air and swatted away Storm Ruiz’s 37-yard field goal attempt. The score was 49-10, Baylor, at the time.
Baylor’s coaches are in love with Hall, a 6-foot-5 defensive tackle out of Waller, Texas. He made so many plays throughout training camp that Rhule said leading up to the SFA game that he’d be a lock to get some playing time.
That field goal block is evidence why.
“All that matters is our effort. Anytime you start to have success in something it starts to take hold and take root,” Rhule said. “What was cool about the field goal block, I think it was Gabe Hall. He’s a true freshman, that’s all he knows: ‘Hey, take five steps and rise.’ And he should have had the second one.”
Not a bad first step for Baylor’s special teams unit. The Bears proved that even following the graduation of defensive end Greg Roberts (two career blocks) and the transfer of defensive end B.J. Thompson (three blocks last year, including two against TCU), they still should be capable of throwing quite the block party. In addition to Lynch and Hall, other current Baylor players with at least one career block to their credit include Bravvion Roy, James Lynch and Christian Morgan.
Perhaps Baylor should come up with something like the “Block Belt,” in its own twist on Miami’s “Turnover Chain.” (Actually, that’s unlikely, as the old-school Rhule mentioned that he’s not a “Turnover Chain guy” and had to be talked into helmet stickers for Baylor players this year.)
At any rate, the Bears plan to continue to pursue blocks with unrelenting aggressiveness.
“That’s just something we believe in,” Rhule said. “Hopefully we can continue to get those. It’s something that we really believe in, and we think it can really change a game.”