Story by Adam Gibson | Sports Writer, Video by Noah Torr | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor football suffered its first loss of the season Saturday, falling 40-27 to the Duke Blue Devils at McLane Stadium.
The Bears got off to a strong start when freshman receiver Josh Fleeks returned the opening kickoff 41 yards to set up sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer and the offense. After an eight-play, 26-yard drive, junior kicker Connor Martin missed a field goal attempt wide left.
Head coach Matt Rhule said Fleeks is a danger to opposing teams because of the talent he has when the ball is in his hands.
“We’ve been watching Fleeks, and he’s probably one of our top offensive threats,” Rhule said. “There is a lot to learn on offense in terms of plays and all that. So I was hoping to go a little different way and we’d be able to use him a little bit more … We’re going to put him back on the line on kickoffs.”
Duke controlled the first half of the game led by junior quarterback Quentin Harris who had eight completions out of 21 passing attempts for 142 yards and two touchdowns. He was the second leading rusher with 38 yards on six attempts behind sophomore running back Deon Jackson who had 46 yards and one touchdown on six attempts.
The Baylor defense struggled to contain Harris and the run game in the first half. Rhule said that, while Duke is one team that should be respected because of its level of play, Baylor made too many mistakes that cost them the victory.
“Just a lot of credit to their quarterback,” Rhule said. “I thought he made the plays that he needed to make at crucial times, and we did not make the plays that we needed to make to win that football game. Saddening to me to look at the stat sheet and see we had more yards than they did … You know, we were just unable to do it tonight.”
Baylor came out of the locker room ready to play as its defense held Duke to its first three-and-out of the game. Brewer and the offense took advantage of the punt from the Blue Devils and marched down the field for an eight-play, 75-yard drive which ended with a three-yard quarterback sneak up the middle from Brewer to get the Bears’ first touchdown of the day. After a mishandled snap on the extra point, the Bears trailed the Blue Devils 23-6.
Sophomore defensive tackle James Lynch said, at halftime, the focus was turned to playing like the team they knew they were. He said many mistakes were made that don’t reflect how the team can actually play.
“The halftime was pretty simple, it was just be us,” Lynch said. “We went out and showed somebody or showed everybody who we really weren’t. The coaches came in calm and just told us that they’re really not better than us, we’re just beating ourselves. So we’ve got to come out in the second half and be us and play like Baylor should play.”
The Bears found their second touchdown when a blocked punt by freshman safety Christian Morgan was picked up by junior running back JaMycal Hasty who returned the block 33 yards for the score. It was the first time a blocked punt had been returned for a touchdown by the Bears since 2004.
The teams finished with almost identical stats with Duke notching 399 total yards compared to Baylor’s 400. Each team had 74 total plays and the same average of gain per play with 5.4 yards. One stat that differed is penalties with Duke having zero and Baylor with six, costing them 62 yards.
Brewer attempted 26 passes, completing 14 for 175 yards and rushed 41 yards for two touchdowns in the loss. He attributed part of the loss to the costly penalties which set back the Bears instead of helping them move down the field.
“Penalties, turnovers, really just shot ourselves in the foot. Got in third-and-long it felt like almost every possession,” Brewer said. “It’s hard to win when you do that.”
Another struggle for Baylor, like last week, was the rushing game. Other than the quarterbacks, the Bears gained only 56 of the 155 total yards on 14 attempts. Rhule said the coaching staff is working on finding an offensive line that is in sync and can work better to block for the running game to catch its stride, which hasn’t happened the past couple games.
“We did two things you can’t do today- return the ball and couldn’t run the football. But we’ll get better,” Rhule said. “Those guys will get better. We’re still kind of shuffling guys in and out on the O-line. They’ll improve and get better. I think you’ll see a much more improved offensive line next week.”
With its first loss of the season, Baylor is facing its first week since last season where it is going to have to move on and prepare for the next game to come out with a win. Rhule said, while the game on Saturday afternoon didn’t go the way he had hoped, the team is better than how it played and will learn from the many mistakes it had.
“So we’re disappointed, extremely disappointed,” Rhule said. “We have a lot of young men in that room that put a lot into this … We showed some moxie in the second half, but we should have had a much closer game earlier. You know, hopefully we can other learn from that and realize we’re not in a position yet where we can just go out there and beat ourselves.”
The Bears will look to bounce back from the loss at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium as they take on the (2-1) Kansas Jayhawks.