The spread nearly reached four touchdowns ahead of Baylor’s Big 12 home opener against Oklahoma. But the Bears, despite an incredibly disappointing 0-3 start to the season, which has included losses to Liberty and UTSA, proved they have no intentions of mailing this season in. In fact, this team fought as hard on Saturday as they have all season long.
“So as I told our team, I’m proud of our team, but it doesn’t mean I’m not angry about the game. I want to make it very clear. We didn’t play above our capabilities. We have not played to our capabilities yet,” head coach Matt Rhule said. “We’re going to continue to get better, continue to get better. Obviously there are some things on defense, especially in terms of stopping the run that were disappointing and have to get corrected, and we’ll continue to work on those.”
There’s no question that Rhule has every right to be proud of this team that is working through some difficult times. The Bears have won just one game since mid-October of last season. This game, with the top 5 ranked Oklahoma Sooners coming to town, was a test of character as much as ability. Would the Bears fold off the bat or show some fight and grit?
Not only did the Bears show grit, they did it after Oklahoma came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, scoring 21 points on their first 12 plays. Baylor battled back to take a 31-28 lead in the third quarter and even gave itself a chance late in the fourth quarter when an onside kick was recovered by Taylor Young down by eight points.
Quarterback Zach Smith continues to prove Rhule right in making the switch from Anu Solomon. Smith was forced into 50 throws as the running game couldn’t get going, racking up just 60 yards on 35 carries. But Smith handled it well, connecting on a couple of 70+ yard touchdown passes, and most importantly, not turning the ball over.
He’s only a true sophomore, but Smith has become a natural leader for this team that has been in desperate need of one. The Bears seem to be responding to their new quarterback more than they did to Solomon.
“Yeah, obviously we’re disappointed to lose,” Smith said. “I think we had some really great things in that game. O-line stepped up, defense stepped up. You know, receivers really, really stepped pup. Backs played good. So, yeah, we’re sad that we lost. We’re happy to see some new things, but we’re hungry. We’re hungry to go out and move on and play K-State next week.”
The offensive line did hold its own against a stout front seven for the Sooners that kept J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes in check two weeks ago. Offensive guard Mo Porter went down early and redshirt junior Josh Malin came in got the job done, even getting a shoutout from his quarterback in the postgame, saying, “Josh Malin came in and played a great game. He played a great game. O-line for the most part had an outstanding game. So can’t give enough praise to them. Without them, I couldn’t be able to sit back and deliver the ball.”
One of those players who Smith spent plenty of time delivering the ball to was wide receiver Denzel Mims, who had a breakout game with 11 catches for a career high 192 yards and three touchdowns. There’s a nice irony to this as Mims was one of a handful of recruits from the class of 2016 that was decimated by the firing of former head coach Art Briles.
Plus, Mims disappointed in 2016, playing in 11 games and making just four catches. He’s drastically raised his game this season, with a total of 18 catches for over 400 yards with six touchdowns.
The Bears continue to get healthier each week on both sides of the ball, along with seeing the young players get more mature and receive more reps.
Rhule put it best after the loss, saying, “As much as I’d like to have beaten Liberty, and UTSA and all those people, I was driving through downtown Waco yesterday and they had the memorial, and it has the quote, “from adversity comes truth,” never has a statement been more apropos in my life.”
There’s been no shortage of adversity in Waco in recent days, weeks and months, but truer words have never been spoken. And as the dust continues to settle, this Baylor football program is going to come out stronger, better and tougher because of it. The signs are already starting to show.