Lovett emerges as key for Baylor in Liberty loss

Freshman running back John Lovett jumps to block a kick from Liberty. Liesje Powers | Multimedia Editor

By Ben Everett | Sports Writer

Coming into the new football season, Baylor knew it would be without a 1,000-yard rusher in junior running back Terence Williams.

Williams is expected to be out until the start of Big 12 Conference play with a shoulder injury he sustained during a spring practice.

With Williams sidelined, the coaching staff turned to sophomore running back JaMychal Hasty to carry the load on the ground. Hasty rushed for 638 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman and looked poised to replicate that production as a sophomore.

During the first drive in Saturday’s 48-45 loss to Liberty, it looked as if the coaching staff was uncomfortable with the running game. The offense stalled out near midfield after seven plays, six of which involved senior quarterback Anu Solomon throwing the football.

The second offensive possession was no better. Hasty had two carries this time, but neither of them gained more than two yards as the Bears were backed up against their own goal line.

At this point, the Baylor defense had given up two field goals to Liberty and was in need of a spark on either side of the ball.

The next time the offense took the field, walk-on freshman running back John Lovett was in the backfield with Solomon, not Hasty. It took the Bears four plays to get a first down, but all four were rushes this time including two from Lovett.

With the run game established, sophomore receiver Denzel Mims broke away from the defense and Solomon found him for the 45-yard touchdown as the Bears took the lead 7-6.

With one more possession before the half, the Bears pounded the ball against the Liberty defense, running 11 rushing plays to just two passes in their final drive of the half resulting in a 39-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Connor Martin.

The running game took a blow at halftime when Hasty was ruled out for the rest of the game with a lower leg injury.

After the game, head coach Matt Rhule announced Hasty had an MCL sprain and will be out for a few more games.

“Probably four weeks or so,” Rhule said. “It was his knee, but not anything surgical. I think it was an MCL sprain they said. We’re gonna play with the three freshman.”

This trio of freshman running backs, Lovett, Dru Dixon and Trestan Ebner are all walk-ons and will have to carry the running game until Williams or Hasty comes back from injury.

In his Monday teleconference, Rhule confirmed Hasty had suffered a sprained knee and will be out at least four weeks.

Rhule said Lovett will be a special player in the future following his performance against the Flames, and despite Ebner and Dixon getting limited minutes, Rhule expects them to be able to contribute as well.

“He’s going to be special,” Rhule said. “Trestan Ebner and Dixon you saw on special teams a little bit. Those guys are going to be really good. The problem with freshmen is they want to play and they’re just biding their time. With JaMychal going down and Terence out a couple more weeks it was good to have those guys out there.”

Lovett truly made his presence known in the second half as the featured back of the Baylor offense.

The freshman tacked on two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including one from 34 yards out that cut the Liberty lead to 48-45 with five minute left in the game.

Lovett finished with 89 yards rushing on 14 attempts for an average of 6.4 yards per carry and those two second half touchdowns.

Lovett said despite the injuries to the backfield, the rest of the team feels confident in order to fill in the gaps.

“We all know what to do,” Lovett said. “We practice together every day so we’re one unit. One man down, next man up. That’s our brand.”

Lovett and the Bears hope to pick up their first win of the season against UTSA at 7 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium.