By Adam Gibson | Sports Writer
Baylor football returns home this week looking to keep its perfect record as they take on the Duke Blue Devils at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium.
Last season, the Bears traveled to Durham, North Carolina where they lost to the Blue Devils 20-34 and were held scoreless in both the second and fourth quarter. Baylor head coach Matt Rhule said the game last year was a tough game against a strong opponent, but the Bears are ready for the challenge at home this year.
“[We] went there last year. It was a hard-fought game and they beat us soundly,” Rhule said. “And we’ve worked hard to get ourselves back in this position. We’ll look forward to playing them this Saturday, another challenge for our guys and another opportunity for us to be at home.”
One of the main aspects of the challenging Duke squad is the talent on its defense, and specifically, the defensive line. Last season, that defense held Baylor to just 57 rushing yards, picked off three passes and had four sacks. Last week, the Blue Devils held Northwestern to 99-yards rushing and had four sacks and two interceptions.
One noteworthy player Rhule pointed out is sophomore defensive end Victor Dimukeje. Dimukeje already has nine tackles, 1 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble through two games. Rhule said the Duke defense is not to be taken lightly and the offensive line for Baylor is going to have its work cut out for them.
“Most importantly, up front on the offensive line we have to play significantly better against an outstanding Duke defensive line,” Rhule said. “I know there are going to be lots of story lines in this game, but to me the biggest one is they have an All-American, all-everything defensive end in Victor Dimukeje, who was a freshman last year who was special … They are an outstanding defense, an outstanding red-zone defense, and we’ll have to play significantly better up front to have a chance against this pass rush that we’re going to see, and we saw that last year.”
In its past game, Duke lost starting junior quarterback Daniel Jones to a clavicle injury after being taken to the ground by the Northwestern defense. With Jones being out, the Bears now have to prepare for junior quarterback Quentin Harris, who threatens the team not only in the air, but on the ground as well.
Rhule and the Bears faced Harris in part of the game last season and saw just how talented of a quarterback he can be. The key, according to Rhule, will be controlling him and making sure they handle both sides of offensive game.
“He came in against us last year. He’s a dual-threat guy. He can run it. He can throw it. He’s been their short-yardage, goal-line quarterback in the run game,” Rhule said. “It introduces a whole other element to us now … but we’re going to have to handle the quarterback run game.”
Baylor junior safety Chris Miller recorded four tackles last weekend at UTSA and said while the defense may be facing a quarterback who poses multiple threats, they are prepared to face the offense led by Harris.
“I feel like they’ll change up their scheme a little bit, but coach Snow is getting us prepared for that and I feel like the defense as a whole [is] ready,” Miller said.
Unlike the first two opponents for Baylor, Duke is from a power-five conference, the ACC, which means the talent the Bears will face is a step up from the first two weeks. Rhule said both ACU and UTSA helped prepare the team for tougher opponents after showing where flaws were on the field for Baylor.
“I think having a power-five non-conference home game is awesome. It’s good for our program,” Rhule said. “We’ve played two good football teams that gave us a good game, put us in unique situations and gave us a lot of things to prepare for — have exposed our issues — and we’re working hard to fix those issues. I do think it’s good before we start conference play to have a power-five home game and see where we really truly are … I’m proud of our players. They’re learning as the games go, but this will be quite a test.”
After winning their first two games this season, senior defensive tackle Ira Lewis said there is a dramatic change in attitude for the players and they just need to have faith in what the coaches are telling them in order to improve.
“Obviously our guys have a lot more confidence now; we’re believing in each other more,” Lewis said. “We’ve got to keep believing in the system coach Rhule is teaching us: Process, process, process … For us, we’ve got to just keep moving forward.”
Following the outing against Duke, the Bears will start their Big 12 Conference schedule with a game against Kansas on Sept. 22 at McLane Stadium.