By Ben Everett | Sports Editor
Baylor football failed to put two productive halves together Saturday at McLane Stadium in the loss to Duke. In the first half, the Blue Devils outscored the Bears 23-0. In the second half, Baylor bounced back to win the half 27-17 despite losing the game.
Baylor head coach Matt Rhule said the team regrouped at halftime to win the second half, but letting bad play after bad play pile up in the first half was unacceptable.
“I think the guys at halftime, we grouped and came out and played,” Rhule said. “But what we can’t do is when things are going wrong, we can’t let it escalate, right? We can’t let it fall atop and let one thing build off another. So that was just really the disappointing part to me.”
The first half was indeed a string of misfortunes for Baylor. The Bears came out firing with sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer leading the offense all the way down to the Duke 27-yard line, but junior kicker Connor Martin missed his first field goal of the season as his 44-yard attempt sailed wide left.
After the Baylor defense stopped Duke on its opening drive, the Bears coughed the ball up just 51 seconds later when sophomore running back John Lovett fumbled on a pass from Brewer. The next drive for Baylor saw senior wide receiver Jalen Hurd drop two open passes as the Bears finished the first quarter in a 7-0 hole.
Martin’s second field goal attempt of the day was blocked at the beginning of the second quarter, and the Blue Devils’ offense came alive to take a 23-0 lead into the break. In the first half, the Bears were out-gained by the Blue Devils 262-148 in addition to fumbling twice and recording three penalties and two missed field goals.
Rhule said he expected his team to play hard in the second half despite the halftime deficit.
“I said, listen, guys, we’re not where we want to be right now in this game,” Rhule said. “This is not the score we wanted. But, you know what, I don’t care if we lose 80-0 or 24-0, we’re going to play. We’re going to turn the tape on Monday and find out who plays and who doesn’t. It’s in those moments that you find out who wants to do it or not.”
Baylor flipped the script in the second half, stopping Duke’s offense on the first drive and finally getting on the scoreboard with a Brewer three-yard rushing touchdown.
The Bears gained momentum when the special teams came through with a blocked punt return for a touchdown to make it a 23-13 game at the 6:39 mark of the third quarter.
Freshman wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, who scored his first career touchdown on Saturday, said the Bears had no choice but to come out of halftime and correct their first half mistakes.
“You know, we had a bad start,” Thornton said, “so we just had to come out and correct the mistakes and make big plays.”
Baylor scored two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the early deficit. The Bears finished the game with 400 total yards compared to Duke’s 399.
Sophomore defensive tackle James Lynch said the team proved its worth in the second half, but the team was frustrated with not being able to overcome the 23-0 halftime score.
“It is frustrating to feel like you kind of gave away a game when you come out in the first half and kind of just play like it’s not how we’re supposed to play,” Lynch said. “Come out in the second half and show what we can actually do, and come back from 23-0 to make it a game … So we’ve got to find a way to play a full game, and find a way to do that before we play Kansas.”
The Bears kick off Big 12 Conference play with a matchup against Kansas at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in McLane Stadium.