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Baylor Kicks Off The Matt Rhule Era With A Clang

Baylor kicked off the season with an embarrassing loss to an online school.

Getty Images - Cooper Neill

It’s probably safe to assume that Baylor’s week one face off with Liberty was not a game very many people had circled on their calendar as being a desirable football game to watch. Despite the lack of hype (I refused to acknowledge that this game was even scheduled for several months), Baylor kicked off the Matt Rhule era with a loss to a mainly-online school with a football program led by Kansas legend (no) Turner Gill still in the process of moving up from the FCS level. Reminder: earlier this year, head coach Matt Rhule claimed that he’d return Baylor to where they “belong” in the Big 12. That might take a couple of years.

This match-up yielded four hours of what could loosely be described as football. Baylor entered the game as a 34 point favorite, and despite massive attrition from the Art Briles scandal hitting the Bears over the last few years, there was no real reason to expect Baylor to struggle against a FCS school that won six games in both 2015 and 2016, and lost a large chunk of their starters from last season.

With former Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon given the nod over incumbent starter Zach Smith (took over for Seth Russell last year after an injury), no one really knew what to expect out of the Bears, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Matt Rhule ran a multiple set look at Temple, and in the first game of his tenure in Waco, Baylor deployed a similar system, lining Solomon up in both the shotgun and under center. While the offensive wasn’t great, it was the Baylor defense (Rhule’s strong-suit at Temple) that hurt the Bears the most.

Led by sophomore quarterback Stephen Calvert, Liberty picked up yards on Baylor’s hapless defense at will, as the Flames ran 103 total plays (compared to Baylor’s 64), 60 of which were passes, on their way to 585 yards and 48 points, just enough to knock off a program that nearly made the playoffs three seasons ago. Calvert completed 44 passes, 23 of which went to sophomore receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden (13 for 192 yards and 2 TDs) or junior Damian King (10 for 66), while running back Carrington Mosley picked up 122 yards on 28 carries.

Baylor’s offense was decent, but for the most part, underwhelming, despite putting up 45 points. The Bears picked up 532 yards, thanks in large part to a balanced attack, led by Solomon, and freshman running back John Lovett, who took over for an injured JaMycal Hasty. Solomon completed fewer than half of his 29 attempts, for 278 yards and three scores, though an early second half pick-six may have swayed the game. Solomon was solid in the running game as well, picking up 97 yards on just six carries, thanks in large part to a massive 44 yard run early in the fourth quarter. Lovett added 89 yards and two scores on 14 carries.

If Baylor did anything well in this game, it was their surprisingly explosive offense. Solomon’s three touchdowns came on 45, 20 and 75 yard passes, and he completed passes of 49 and 40 as well. Lovett had no real issue running the ball, and picked up 34 yards on the way to a score that cut Liberty’s lead to three with five minutes left in the game.

For how explosive Baylor was, Liberty was able to match the production, though the Flames did it with a more methodical, time-consuming approach, that included ten straight third down conversions at one point, and 31 total first downs. Ultimately, Liberty was able to harness efficiency and chaos to upset Baylor, and no play is more evident of that chaos that Liberty’s early fourth quarter touchdown that extended their lead to ten, when a play broke down, leading to a Calvert touchdown run, in which Baylor looked completely lost.

After a late fourth quarter stop, the Bears had a chance to win the game, somehow, as they took over at their own 22, down by three, with 32 seconds left in the game. Two incompletions, a twenty yard Solomon run, and another incompletion later, Baylor had six seconds to cover 58 yards to avoid the upset. The last chance Hail Mary from Zach Smith was intercepted by Brandon Tillmon, and just like that, the Bears fell to 0-1 on the year, and Turner Gill picked up his first Big 12 win at Liberty, matching his total at Kansas.

Team Stats

1st Downs 31 22
3rd Down Eff 15-24 4-12
4th Down Eff 2-2 2-2
Total Yards 585 532
Passing 447 278
Comp-Att 44-60 14-30
Yards Per Pass 7.4 9.3
Interceptions 0 2
Rushing 138 254
Rush Att 43 34
Yards Per Rush 3.2 7.5
Fumbles Lost 0 0
Penalties 8-95 7-61
Possession 38:16 21:44
LIB – S. Calvert 44/60 447 7.4 3 0
BAY – A. Solomon 14/29 278 9.6 3 1 86.7
LIB – C. Mosley 28 122 4.4 0 36
BAY – A. Solomon 6 97 16.2 0 44
LIB – A. Gandy-Golden 13 192 14.8 2 40
BAY – C. Platt 3 102 34.0 2 75


Despite the high score, this was not a traditional Baylor football game like we’re used to seeing. The Bears ran the ball fairly well, and while the loss of Hasty hurts a lot, John Lovett looked really good, behind a questionable offensive line.

Speaking of a questionable offensive line, Baylor needs to do a better job of protecting Anu Solomon. He didn’t take any sacks, but it seemed like he was on the ground all day, and looked like he threw before he was ready a number of times. Solomon isn’t tiny, but keeping him healthy is paramount if Baylor wants to win any games this year.

Chris Platt looks legit. The former three-star junior receiver only had three catches, but two went for touchdowns, including a massive 75 yarder to give Baylor the lead midway through the third quarter. Baylor needs to get him more involved in the future, because his speed is a serious asset.

Baylor’s defense wasn’t just bad, they were downright awful at times during this game. Liberty was able to get pretty much whatever they wanted in the passing game, and absolutely dominated the possession time because of it. Baylor couldn’t stop a thing on third downs all game, and ultimately, their defensive futility cost them this game. The secondary needs some serious upgrading to do any damage, and the defensive line was widely useless in generating any pressure. If there are any bright spots, it’d be true freshman cornerback Harrison Hand, who picked up 11 tackles and broke up two passes.

This isn’t the year for Baylor, obviously. The Bears explosiveness on offense might lead them to play spoiler to a top Big 12 team at some point this year, but this might be a three win team, which is to be expected with everything the program has been through the last three years. This should be considered a year zero fr Matt Rhule’s rebuild in Waco.


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