The Baylor Bears keep shocking the College Football world.
Following a 1-win season a year ago, Matt Rhule and the Baylor Bears bounced back in a serious way. The Bears capped off their historic turnaround season with a seven-point victory in the Texas Bowl over the Vanderbilt Commodores. Rhule adding 6 wins to last year’s total represents one of the quickest comebacks for any team in recent College Football memory and shows just why the Bears were so keen on luring him away from Temple University two years ago.
This season was a success in many ways for the Bears. However, what is growth without growing pains?
Today we’re going to issue the Bears their end of the year Report Card as we look back on the victories, as well as shortcomings, of the squad. In doing so, we may be able to catch a more complete view of what the Bears have in store for us next season.
So get out your red pens, because grades are in.
Charlie Brewer wowed the Bears with an impressive performance in his sophomore season. Finishing with 19 TDs and over 3000 yards, Brewer commanded the offense with maturity and poise, even against high end competition. While he struggled early in the season on big stages (West Virginia), he ultimately gave fans something to be hopeful for with his masterful final two performances, against Texas Tech (to achieve Bowl Eligibility) and Vanderbilt (The Texas Bowl). Brewer has learned to embrace the big stage, which is a good sign for the next two years having him under center.
Offensive Line: C
The O-Line for the Bears had a rather rough season. Despite having experience up front, the Line seemed overmatched at points, especially in pass protection. Racking up holding calls and allowing a Big 12 high 39 sacks frustrated many fans who yearned for the days of elite pass protection. Charlie Brewer, who took almost double the amount of sacks as Oklahoma’s Heisman Winning QB Kyler Murray, was often rushed in his throws – if he was even able to get them off. Hopefully some new players will step up in the pass protection to make the offense run smoother in 2019.
Running Backs: B
Baylor’s Running Backs enjoyed a quietly productive season on the ground. Averaging a respectable 4.4 yards per carry, the backfield committee employed by Rhule produced a balanced ground attack to compliment the passing game. JaMycal Hasty, John Lovett, and Tristan Ebner all averaged over 5 yards a carry, sprinkling a few explosive runs in the process. Look for similar consistency next season, as the trio are all set to return.
Wide Receivers: A
Many fans were interested to see how the touches would be distributed between the many talented receivers on Baylor’s roster. Brewer seemed to do a pretty good job of distributing the ball to an array of different players. Jalen Hurd and Denzel Mims, both WR1 talents, did an excellent job in their respective roles. Hurd showed his reliability, accruing 70 catches for 946 yards and four TDs. Mims, on the other hand, showed his big play ability, as well as his nose for the end zone, finishing the season with 8 TDs to his name. Even that number does not do Mims’ effect on the offense justice though (for a comprehensive analysis of Mims value, read THIS). With Hurd and Mims at the forefront of the passing attack, other players such as Chris Platt, Marques Jones, and Tyquan Thornton were able to shine in their own right. An excellent year for the passing game, in large part due to this receiving core.
Defensive Backs (Corners and Safeties): C
Baylor has never been known for its defensive backs, but then again, neither has anyone in the Big 12. Nevertheless, the primary goal for defensive backs is to cover receivers downfield, and the Bears did that pretty poorly. They finished 91st in opponent team passer rating, well into the bottom half of the country. They were even worse at forcing interceptions, ranking 113th out of all FBS teams. While applying pressure to the QB can help the DBs in both of these regards, their job remains the same – and they didn’t do it very well last season.
Front 7 (Linebackers and Defensive Line): C-
The Front 7 have two primary objectives: Get to the Quarterback to either disrupt or sack him, as well as close gaps for the opponent to run the ball through. The Bears were a little worse than average at both of those things. Finishing just 71st in the nation in sack percentage, they ranked in the bottom half of the country in getting to the QB. Furthermore, their run defense ranked even worse, coming in at 118th in the nation in opponents’ yards per rush attempt. Overall, the front seven need to get much better pressure on opposing QBs, as well as plug up the porous running lanes to stifle opposing run attacks.
Kicker Connor Martin compiled an interesting season for the Bears. While he was able to connect on some long field goals from time time (4-7 on FG attempts past 40 yards), he ultimately suffered from serious inconsistency. He was 7-9 on attempts from 30-39 yards, but only 4-7 on attempts from 20-29. He ranked 118th in the nation on overall FG conversion rate at 59%. Most odd of all, he actually kicked field goals 20% better away from McLane stadium. Hopefully Martin can sharpen his mechanics to become a more reliable kicking threat in his senior season.
Senior Punter Drew Galitz quietly turned in a fantastic year for the Bears in his senior season. Galitz ranked 42nd in the nation at 42.43 yards per punt, with 14 punts of over 50 yards and one of over 60(!). He pinned opponents inside of the 20-yard line 18 times in the season, forcing opposing QBs to drive over 80 yards to get in the end zone. He was, in effect, one of the Bears best defenders.
Matt Rhule is by no means perfect. Sometimes he looks outmatched as a play caller, such as in the Oklahoma and West Virginia games. Often times his clock management can give fans pause. However, the little things cannot distract from what Coach Rhule has done for the Baylor Football program. Rhule has brought a one-win team into a bowl winning team. He has drawn the praise of analysts and fans alike. Last season, he even drew NFL interest and had allegedly interviewed for the Head Coaching position with the Indianapolis Colts. This guy can coach, and the whole world knows it after his turnaround season in Waco. He’s doing more than just coaching too. Recruiting has surged in his first season at the helm, as Baylor pulled in the 36th ranked class this season. This feat comes on the heels of their one-win season, meaning that Rhule will have even more excitement and leverage going forward. Perhaps best of all, Rhule has brought a certain culture to Waco. Being intimately involved in each of his players’ lives has become a hallmark of his tenure for the Bears. He cares so deeply, which in turn prompts players to fight all the harder for him. Hard work, toughness, and unity contour Rhule’s coaching philosophy, and the results are only just beginning to be realized.