By Adam Gibson | Sports Writer
With the new redshirt rule in place for college football, that allows players to play in four games in a season and still redshirt, younger players have more opportunities to play without wasting a year of eligibility. Baylor head coach Matt Rhule has utilized this to the benefit of the team, giving younger players valuable experience on the field and a chance to prove themselves to the coaching staff.
In the Kansas State game, due to running backs sophomore John Lovett and junior JaMycal Hasty being out for most of the game, the majority of the rushing load was put onto sophomore running back Trestan Ebner, who rushed 17 times for 100 yards, his career best at Baylor. To lighten the load for Ebner, Rhule sent in freshman running back Craig “Sqwirl” Williams for his first appearance in a collegiate game and said he knew Williams was waiting for a chance to prove himself and did just that when Ebner needed a break.
“We turned to Sqwirl, and it’s great when you see young guys step up and just be ready for their opportunity,” Rhule said. “I was just proud of Sqwirl. He went out there and used one of his game as a redshirt for two plays. Just happy for him and happy for a lot of guys, a lot of the guys that hung in there and made plays today and fought.”
Since Rhule used Williams for the game, he now has three games left this season of eligibility before burning the redshirt. On his first carry, Williams rushed for 14 yards when the Bears needed eight yards to get the first down to keep the drive going. In the fourth quarter, Rhule brought him back in where he broke out to the outside, running down the sideline before juking a defender at the five-yard line to score and give Baylor back the lead late in the game. In the loss to Texas, several freshman defenders showed how good they could be on the field against a Top-10 team on the road. Freshman safety J.T. Woods was tied for the fifth most tackles in the game with four. Freshman safety Christian Morgan recorded his season-high five tackles against the Longhorns in his fifth game this season. Morgan also blocked a punt against Duke that was recovered by Hasty for a touchdown. Sophomore corner back Raleigh Texada made his first collegiate interception in the Texas game to go with three tackles.
All the contributions from these young defensive players helped the defense shut out the Longhorns in the second half and only allowed Texas 23 points in the game. Rhule said the young guys showed up and helped improve the defensive performance.
“If you look at our defense, it was this one little cluster of time and space. Making the pick, making the play on the ball in the end zone,” Rhule said. “A lot of our young [defensive backs] took a step today. We’ll take another step here moving forward … But we’re getting better. We’re getting tougher. We’re starting to figure it out. I told them, I said, ‘That’s the good news. Wait till we figure it all the way out. Not many teams are going to be excited to play us because we play kind of a physical brand.’”
Coming in for his first season, Morgan as well as the other freshman knew what they were committing to, having watched the team go 1-11 last season and have plenty of struggles. After an already more successful season and showing flashes of just how much talent the team has, Morgan said with the help of older players, the team has now shown how much it has changed and the progress it has made.
“Last year is really not who we are,” Morgan said. “We’re a completely different team. We play different, we act different, we carry ourselves different. Even with me coming in and the new year, I can immediately see a difference in the team and how the seniors carry us now. It’s just who we are, just a different team.”
The success of young players has led to more success for the entire team and almost led to a victory over a Top-10 team on the road. The young Bears have their next chance to make an impact on the game in their matchup with the No. 13 Mountaineers at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 25 in Morgantown, W. Va.