By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
Big offensive plays by both teams defined Baylor’s 34-20 loss to Duke on Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham, N.C.
Baylor head coach Matt Rhule said that although he’s disappointed in the result, he sees tremendous improvement from his team each week.
“I’m really disappointed for our kids,” Rhule said. “But I enjoyed seeming them get significantly better this week than they were last week and the week before.”
Baylor struggled again offensively, but when it struck, it struck quickly. Every offensive touchdown was 34 yards or longer, including two 70+ yard touchdown receptions by junior wide receiver Chris Platt.
Platt’s 79-yard touchdown in the third quarter made it a 24-20 Duke lead, but the Duke defense turned it up a notch from that point on, forcing sophomore quarterback Zach Smith into two turnovers that ultimately put the game away.
Baylor’s defense played aggressively all game, recording five sacks, including two from senior defensive end Brian Nance. Additionally, the Bears forced the Blue Devils into two turnovers after not forcing any in the first two games of the season.
Freshman defensive lineman Deonte Williams recovered a fumble by Duke senior running back Shaun Wilson at the 39-yard line just 18 seconds into the game to set the tone for the Baylor defense, but that didn’t stop Duke from making big plays.
Wilson broke loose for two separate 50+ yard touchdown runs, one in the first quarter and one in the third quarter. Duke freshman running back Brittain Brown had a 34-yard touchdown run of his own in the first half.
Wilson finished with 178 yards on 18 carries, a 9.8-yard per carry average and two touchdowns.
Despite big plays given up, the Bears defense defended the dynamic Duke sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones well. Jones, who had over 400 offensive yards last week in 41-17 win over Northwestern, managed just 193 yards through the air with one interception and no touchdowns.
Duke head coach David Cutcliffe credited Baylor’s defense for its unpredictability and different looks that made it difficult for Jones to find a rhythm.
“Their defensive staff, we saw hardly anything we had seen or prepared for from the first two games,” Cutcliffe said. “So Daniel [Jones], it was a difficult. He really was mentally tough and was able to hang in there. It wasn’t pretty always, it wasn’t perfect, but we were able to get it done.”
Sophomore linebacker Eric Ogor and junior defensive tackle Ira Lewis provided pressure on Jones most of the afternoon, combining for four sacks while sophomore linebacker Clay Johnston recorded a game-high 13 tackles along with one sack and three tackles for loss.
The Baylor offense struggled as Smith failed to connect with receivers downfield and the run game led by true freshmen Dru Dixon and John Lovett couldn’t gain momentum. Lovett and Dixon combined for 49 yards on 18 carries.
Rhule said the inability to run the ball with any consistency is leading to difficult third down plays and has to bimprovefor the Bears to have a chance to win.
“The issue offensively is up front,” Rhule said. “We can’t run the football right now. When you can’t run the football, you can’t control the game. That leads to unmanageable third downs.”
Smith, in his first start of the season, connected on just 12 of 34 passes for 263 yards. He managed three touchdowns in the air, but threw three interceptions and lost a fumble.
Many of Baylor’s shortcomings can be attributed to penalties, especially early in the game. The Bears had 11 penalties for 100 yards, with eight of them coming in the first half.
The Bears return home to face No. 2-ranked Oklahoma at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium.