The 2018 Academy Sports & Outdoors Texas Bowl features two programs that made a late surge in order to qualify themselves for a 13th game.
The Vanderbilt Commodores (6-6) enter this game after getting to .500 for just the second time in Derek Mason’s five years as head coach.
After coming within five points of beating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish earlier this season, the Commodores only won two games and needed to win their final couple of regular season contests in order to become bowl eligible.
For the Baylor Bears (6-6), 2018 has been marked with signs of progress under second year head coach Matt Rhule. The Bears got their sixth win in the very last week of the season after enduring a two game losing streak. They battled Texas Tech for the opportunity to play in a bowl game, and managed to beat the Red Raiders 35-24.
Each squad is hoping to finish off their season with a winning record and provide their fan bases with a source of optimism for the future.
Baylor will be without top wide receiver Jalen Hurd, who will be out for this game because of a knee surgery he underwent after the Bears’ last game.
Rhule’s squad still has plenty of weapons, though, especially at receiver. Chris Platt and Denzel Mims have both been standouts on the outside, and freshman Josh Fleeks has come on this season with big plays.
Baylor should be alright as long as they have true sophomore Charlie Brewer, who’s thrown for 2,635 while alternating as the team’s starter in 2018.
Brewer can throw the ball downfield, but also make things happen with his legs when plays break down. Baylor will rely on him to lead a passing attack that put up 282.2 yards per game in 2018.
Expect some carries to go to running backs like John Lovett and Trestan Ebner, who are capable of picking up big yardage if they can get open running lanes.
Defensively, the Bears have struggled to defend the run all year, giving up 174.8 yards a game, which is next to last in the Big 12. The secondary is really the strength of this Bears team, with players like sophomore cornerback Raleigh Texada having stepped up all year.
They’ll come up against a Vanderbilt offense that’s been above average for most of the season. Throwing the ball for the Commodores has been senior Kyle Shurmur, who could surpass 3,000 yards passing in this game. Shurmur’s an upperclassmen who knows how to manage the offense and get the ball the Commodores’ playmakers.
Another key cog in the Vanderbilt offense has been junior Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who’s averaging 7.0 yards per carry and has run the ball for 1,001 yards in 2018. He’s the workhorse, but there are backs behind him who are also capable.
As well as the Commodores can run the ball on offense, their rush defense leaves something to be desired. On average, they give up almost 190 yards on the ground per contest.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Get Brewer On The Move – One of Baylor’s biggest weapons in this game will be Charlie Brewer’s legs, and the degree to which those can be a factor. As much as possible, the Bears should try and get him on the move to compliment the run and pass game.
Win One-On-One Matchups – Baylor’s wide receivers have had their share of opportunities in man-t0-man coverage this season, but they’ve been inconsistent in their ability to make those plays. Whether or not the Bears can win this contest will likely come down to the degree to which they take advantage of those opportunities.
Win First Down – On defense, Baylor will be most concerned with containing Ke’Shawn Vaughn out of the backfield. Doing so will require them to keep the Commodores from having significant success on first down in order to limit their playcall options on second and third down.
There are a lot of advantages that Vanderbilt has in this one, specifically regarding their ability to run the football. That’s where I think the loss of Jalen Hurd will hurt the Bears the most, in whether or not they can move the ball steadily against the Commodores.
Baylor has plenty of talent on the outside, and this should be a fairly fun game to watch, but in the end I think the Commodores will be able to outscore the Bears. Give me Vanderbilt by three.