The biggest thing keeping Baylor head coach Matt Rhule up at night isn’t which quarterback starts under center, it’s the defense he’ll be going up against.
Fresh off a close loss to No. 22 West Virginia last Saturday, Baylor hosts Texas still looking for its first win of the season.
Starter Zach Smith played for three quarters in the loss to the Mountaineers before Charlie Brewer replaced him in the fourth and helped the Bears score 23 unanswered points and come within a 2-point conversion of sending the game to overtime.
“If we went out there today, I’d put Zach out there first and have Charlie ready,” Rhule said. “I just think, in these times, Zach’s done too much. The biggest thing is that this is such a hard defense to prepare for. You can’t be random with what you want to do.”
Smith finished last week’s loss with 261 passing yards on 16-of-27 passing through three quarters, while Brewer went 8-of-13 for 109 yards with a pair of touchdowns and rushed for 41 yards.
The offense has taken a step forward in how consistently productive it is. The last two game, against Oklahoma State and West Virginia, that Baylor has more than 100 yards in both the passing and rushing attack.
When Brewer took the field in the fourth quarter last Saturday, his teammates responded. Rhule said he wants that kind of mindset throughout the entire game and not just the final quarter.
“Bad things are going to happen,” he said. “Good things are going to happen. We just need to go out there and expect good things and deal with bad things. That’s how you have to think to get through these games.”
The Longhorns’ defense has been improving every week, too. After giving up almost 500 yards in the season-opening loss to Maryland, Texas has shut down the explosive offenses of USC, Iowa State, and Oklahoma State.
Texas is fifth in the Big 12 in total defense, allowing 388.1 yards per game. The Longhorns have the No. 7 passing defense (267.3 ypg) and No. 3 rushing defense (120.9 ypg) and boast the top two players in passes defended and the leader in interceptions.
As usual, the battle might come down to the trenches. The Bears have seen good defensive lines when they faced Duke and Oklahoma, but Rhule said the Texas line and Poona Ford is as good as they’ve seen all year.
“We’ve faced a lot of really good D-lines, but when you watch these guys, you see their defensive talent everywhere,” he said. “They’ve got real skill. They’ve recruited really well for a while, even since I played the University of Texas in 1996 as a player.”
When the week started out, Baylor was prepping to face either Sam Ehlinger or Shane Buechele. It was reported Friday the Ehlinger won’t make the trip leaving Buechele and Jerrod Heard to be under center.
There isn’t another school that can currently compare to what Baylor is going through. A team still searching for its first win with a roster full of young players outside distractions that few, if any, helped create.
But nobody has lost hope.
“When you have games that you go through, and then you get down to the wire and you lose, you have one of two things,” Rhule said. “Either it empowers you and emboldens you and you get angry and come back and play great the next week, or you are frustrated and start to lose hope. Our kids haven’t really lost heart at all.
“Now we have to go be mentally tough on Saturday.”