Baylor head coach Matt Rhule made it clear before the Bears’ Green and Gold game on Saturday that a bowl game is the goal for 2018. He did so as he presented an award to one of his players, safety Verkedric Vaughns.
“He will lead our defense this fall as we go to a bowl game together,” Rhule said.
The second-year Bears coach didn’t back off that comment after the game, which Team SicEm won, 14-13.
“I didn’t come here to not go to bowl games,” Rhule said. “That’s the expectation. If we don’t do it, so be it. But I expect us to do it.
“It’s time that we as a program, and I can’t speak for everyone else, but in my daily walk with these players it’s time for us to start looking ahead and stop looking backwards. You don’t work as hard as we work and not expect to have results. I did it because I felt like being positive in front of our fans and they deserve that.”
So, let’s recap our three position groups to watch, as outlined by our Derek Duke before the game.
Charlie Brewer started the game for Team SicEm and threw the game’s first touchdown pass, a short pass to Marques Jones that turned into a 64-yard touchdown play. That score stood for most of the game, but Brewer’s performance — statistically speaking — wasn’t that great, as he threw 2-for-7 for 75 yards and the score. Now, in terms of pocket presence and reading defenses, Brewer looked ahead of the other quarterbacks and ahead of where he was when I saw him against TCU in the 2017 finale. Rhule also said after the game that because Baylor’s secondary is improving, Brewer’s throwing windows are tightening. That could end up being good for Brewer’s progress as a quarterback in 2018. As of now, he looks to be the leader in the clubhouse for the starting job, but he didn’t separate himself too much from his closest pursuers, Gerry Bohannon (3-5, 35 yards) and Preston Heard (7-10, 63 yards, TD). Rhule said he was happy with the progress of all three of his quarterbacks and Heard led the most consistent drive of the game for Team BU, a long drive in the final five minutes that led to the game-tying touchdown pass to R.J. Sneed as time expired.
Baylor’s first-team offensive line looked like this on Saturday — Jake Fruhmorgen, Xavier Newman, Sam Tecklenburg, Jason Moore and Pat Lawrence. They performed well blocking for the run game, but their pass protection still needs some improvement. Two linemen Duke previewed — Blake Blackmar and Josh Malin — weren’t with the first-team or second-team and were part of a large group of players that have sat out the spring for various reasons (Rhule said the number of players he held out was around 15-20). The good news is Rhule said that all of the players held out Saturday are on track to be back in the fall, so Blackmar and Malin should be counted on to be a part of the starting lineup come early September. So, Baylor, as Duke pointed out, should have one of the league’s most experienced groups in the Big 12 and should have depth that has gotten additional reps this spring. After giving up 38 sacks last season, the pass protection is still a work in progress. For what it’s worth, Rhule said this is the position group, overall, that made the most strides in the spring. He appears highly encouraged by the depth and their overall play.
Greg Roberts, the senior defensive end, had a huge game. He was in a sack that helped end the game in overtime, and if contact had been allowed he would have had two more during the 20 minutes or so of game action. He looked absolutely ready to roll for 2018. Xavier Jones played at one of the end positions and Rhule said after the game that Jones willed himself onto the field this spring after an early injury. That led Rhule to give Jones the team’s Spirit Award. Bravvion Roy had a sack from the inside position, while Tyrone Hunt had a nice game. If you’re looking at pass rush, this group brought consistent pressure. If you’re looking at the run game, overall both defenses gave up about 47 net yards on 21 carries, which comes to a little more than 2 yards per carry. Duke pointed out in the preview that the Bears gave up 4.9 yards per rush last year. The fact that the unit overall gave up less than 2.5 yards per carry is encouraging. This front four is rounding into something worth watching.
Duke pointed out that Hurd’s transfer to Baylor before the 2017 season (he sat out the season and is eligible in 2018) could be a huge boost to this offense. Well, we didn’t see that boost on Saturday. Hurd’s name wasn’t called. Rhule said afterward that it wasn’t that important for Hurd to get a ton of reps this spring. Hurd was part of that group of 15-20 players that didn’t play. But Rhule has pointed out on different occasions that Hurd has had a fine spring. As Duke pointed out, Hurd stands to be a big part of this offense, whether he played Saturday or not.
Early enrollee Tyquan Thorton is worth keeping an eye on. He’s from the Florida football factory that is Booker T. Washington High School in Miami and the 6-foot-3, 170-pounder had an impact on catching two late passes and using his overall length and speed to create separation. He’s one of the guys that benefited from the dearth of receivers available this spring due to either injury or just managing reps.
I mentioned Sneed earlier. He two catches — one for each team because of the depth issues at wide receiver — and his touchdown catch as time expired was a beauty, as he reached up to get Heard’s rainbow of a pass and brought it down with a defender draped on his back. He missed most of last season with an injury. He looks ready to roll and to challenge for playing time this fall.
Timarcus Davis, a sophomore, is one of those corners that has made progress this spring. Davis had a great pass-breakup late in the game on the sideline on the drive that led to Sneed’s score.
As mentioned, Rhule handed out awards before the game, which was delayed for an hour due to weather.
Here’s the full list:
Academic award: Marques Jones
FCA award: Cody George
Community Service Award: Micheal Johnson
254 Award (non-scholarship player): Christian Beard
Spirit Award: Xavier Jones
Most improved offense: Jamie Jacobs
Most improved defense: Verkedric Vaughns
Finally, Baylor’s gameday staff was on it musically speaking during the near hour-long rain and lightning delay. Most of the songs had a “rain” theme, including: Prince’s “Purple Rain,” The Eurythmics’ “Here Comes the Rain,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain,” James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain,” Toto’s “Rains Down in Africa,” and Live’s “Lightning Crashes.” They wrapped up the hour with Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” as the rain delay ended.