The Baylor Bears are set to travel to Durham, North Carolina to take on the Duke Blue Devils this Saturday. This will be the Bear’s first out of conference game against a power five opponent since 2009, but they are probably wishing that streak would continue. After a horrendous start to the season, Matt Rhule and the Bears are desperately looking for anything to avoid taking Kansas’ spot as the laughing-stock of the Big 12.
To make matters worse, or better depending on who you ask, Baylor will debut a new starting quarterback as Anu Solomon has been in concussion protocol this week. The Bears will be starting Zach Smith. While they wish it was under better circumstance, some fans are welcoming the change. Solomon’s play has been shaky at best.
Smith started the last four games of the 2016 season, throwing for 13 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Rhule hopes that this can be the spark Baylor needs to get off the ground.
“Zach will go and we’ll rally around him and see what he can do for us,” coach Rhule said this week.
This will be a tough test for Baylor. Duke comes into the game at 2-0 and is coming off a huge win over Northwestern. The Blue Devils are led by a dynamic quarterback by the name of Daniel Jones. Jones has come out of the gate firing this season and is becoming just as dangerous on the ground as he is through the air. The defense has also looked stout as they are only giving up 12 points per game early in the season.
DATE & TIME: SAT, SEP 16, 12:30 ET
LOCATION: Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, NC
FORECAST: Mostly Sunny, 80
TV: ACC Network
STREAM: Sling TV / WatchESPN
BETTING LINE: Duke -14
First, Baylor lost at home to a FCS team. Then they lost to a UT satellite school whose football program less than a decade old. It’s safe to say that all resemblance of the Art Briles era is now gone in Waco. And unfortunately that means they are back to being a Big 12 bottom feeder; for now. It is up to Matt Rhule to start digging them out of this hole.
With a depleted roster and transitioning to a new style of offense, not to mention dealing with all the off-the-issues, it was always going to be a tough road for coach Rhule.
Rhule has recruited relatively well for being unfamiliar with Texas recruiting. Rhule has also done a fine job helping clean up the current scandalous culture at Baylor. With that said, Football is king in Texas and Rhule cannot afford having his team embarrassed every weekend. Although it is only year one, Baylor fans and boosters were given a taste of winning, so you wonder just how long it will be before they start demanding production on the field.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Win the Ground Game – The Bears need to establish a ground game to ease Zach Smith into game action. Look for John Lovett to continue to take most of the carries in the midst of JaMycal Hasty’s knee injury. It is important for the bears to establish a balanced attack so the Blue Devil defense cannot key in on rattling Smith.
Get Chris Platt involved – Through two games it is fairly obvious that Platt is the most explosive player on the Bears offense. He needs to touch the ball at least 10 times to give Baylor a chance at scoring with Duke. Look for him to contribute not only at wide receiver but also out of the backfield.
Lay The Wood on Defense – The Bears will have their hands full trying to stop the dynamic backfield of Daniel Jones and Brittain Brown. To make matters worse, Baylor is expecting to be without their defensive leader KJ Smith for the second straight week. Look for Xavier Jones and Deonte Williams to step up in his absence. Baylor will need to contain the quarterback while preventing explosive plays. The Bears do not want to get in a shoot-out with Duke because it could get ugly.
At the beginning of the season this game was considered a toss-up. However, after two games, Duke has rightfully emerged as a heavy favorite. Baylor has been awful and Duke has looked better than most anticipated. This will be the Baylor’s first game away from home which will only make things more difficult for the Bears. Baylor will need to play clean football on both sides of the ball to keep things competitive. Zach Smith will also need to be a difference maker for the Bears to pull off the upset. The fact that Duke blew out Northwestern last week makes this game look nearly impossible for Baylor to win. If the Bears don’t come in with laser focus it could be a rout.