By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
Baylor football faces its first road test of the season as they take on Duke at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Durham, N.C.
The Bears (0-2) look to avoid falling to the Blue Devils (2-0) and to 0-3 for the first time since 1999.
One of the main reasons for the Bears’ slow start is their lack of experience. Baylor’s 18 first-time starters are the most among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Head coach Matt Rhule said the amount of freshmen playing shouldn’t be used as an excuse for early season struggles.
“We’ve got freshmen who aren’t just starting as true freshmen. But they’re starting at a position they’ve never played before,” Rhule said. “And those aren’t excuses, those are great stories to me.”
Starting senior tight end Jordan Feuerbacher broke his hand in the season-opening 48-45 loss to Liberty but could return this week.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said this Baylor team might be young, but they are athletic and he expects them to start clicking.
“Their football team is playing a lot of young players, a lot of athletic players and they are going to come together because they’re doing every little thing right,” Cutcliffe told the Burlington-Times News. “I believe Baylor, of the teams we have played so far, will be the fastest and most talented team.”
Sophomore quarterback Zach Smith will be making his first start of the season after senior quarterback Anu Solomon was ruled out for concussion-like symptoms and a wrist injury he suffered in the 17-10 loss to UTSA.
Smith started four games in the 2016 season and racked up 1,526 yards and 13 touchdowns, but posted a 1-3 record in those games.
Cutcliffe said he sees Smith bringing a downfield threat to Baylor’s offense.
“I went back yesterday and looked at Zach Smith in the games he’s started,” Cutcliffe told the Burlington-Times News. “He has a big arm and they have a lot of people consistently open. He is a guy who is accurate, a pro-style type quarterback.”
The Blue Devils opened the season with two home wins, defeating North Carolina Central 60-7 and Northwestern 41-17.
Sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones has thrown for 518 yards and four touchdowns in the 2017 season and became the second Duke quarterback to record 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in the same game, with 305 and 108 respectively against Northwestern.
On defense, Duke is led by cornerbacks sophomore Mark Gilbert and senior Byron Fields Jr., who have a combined three interceptions in the first two games.
Rhule said the Blue Devils continue to get better and could be a sleeper in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season.
“They went 4-8 last year, but you watch and they just keep getting better and better and better,” Rhule said. “They’re obviously one of the best teams in the ACC now, and they look like a top 25 team, and it’ll be a tremendous opportunity for us to go on the road and play a great team like that.”
The game will serve as the homecoming game for Duke, who is 42-50-1 all-time in homecoming games and 1-0 all-time against the Bears.
The trip to Durham will be Baylor’s first non-conference road game against a power-five opponent since Wake Forest in 2009.
The Bears return home to face No. 2-ranked Oklahoma at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 23.