Bears ‘come together’ to secure bowl eligibility

Baylor head football coach Matt Rhule shares an emotional moment with senior quarterback Jalan McClendon following the Bears’ 35-24 win over Texas Tech Saturday in Arlington. After going 1-11 in Rhule’s first year at Baylor, the Bears improved to 6-6 to land a bowl game. Scan the picture using the Lariat Alive app for highlights from the win. Jason Pedreros | Multimedia Journalist

By Adam Gibson | Sports Writer

Baylor football is headed to a bowl game following their 35-24 win against the Texas Tech Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Bears failed to gain bowl eligibility last season with their 1-11 record in head coach Matt Rhule’s first year.

The progress of coming from a one win season to bowl eligibility is one Rhule has been speaking about since last season and is part of the process of rebuilding the football team. With the win in their final game of the season, Rhule said it shows just the type of attitude the team has.

“I think it speaks to the character and who those guys are,” Rhule said. “No one really knows what it’s like when you win one game or two games … When you win one game, you preach the message all day about patience and progress and faith.”

In the matchup with Texas Tech, the Bears led in most categories and were able to get both the ground game and passing game working together, something that Baylor fans haven’t seen too much of this season. Sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer had a season-high three passing touchdowns in the win, completing 73.3 percent of his passes for 308 yards. Brewer also found his way into the end zone with his legs for another touchdown. Brewer said he noticed just about everything clicking for the Bears not just on the offense, but on the defensive side of the ball as well.

“I thought that we played not a complete game, obviously, but I think pretty close to it,” Brewer said. “I thought we ran the ball extremely well. I thought the offensive line played tremendous. I thought the defense really did really well.”

The defense had one of its better games this season, forcing two interceptions, two sacks and two tackles for loss in the victory. Both of the interceptions came in the fourth quarter to keep the Red Raiders from being able to cut into the Baylor lead. Most of the game seemed to click for the Bears and that is something the senior class was hoping for after a tumultuous four years for the program. Senior offensive lineman Blake Blackmar said this particular game was a meaningful victory to him and gives him the chance to leave the program with another chance at a bowl victory.

“Of all of the games I’ve been a part of, this is probably the most special,” Blackmar said. “You think of all of the things we’ve been through and everything that could have happened and would have happened, and you’ve got to shut all of that out. The most important thing is what we’re going to do next to go out there and run the ball and pretty much play a complete game.”

When it comes to what this means for the entire team, Rhule said being bowl eligible is good for the team because of the experience it gives the younger players or redshirted players who haven’t played as much this season. Now they get another few weeks to practice and play in one final game. Rhule also said making a bowl justifies the rebuilding process that he undertook when he accepted the Baylor job. That process is coming to fruition even after just two seasons of him coaching at Baylor.

“I’ve asked them to do some hard things, and they’ve done them. And they sometimes probably wanted to ask why they’ve done them,” Rhule said. “We went from one win to a bowl. The freshmen will know a bowl is what you’re supposed to expect. They’ll see this as the bare minimum.”

Sophomore running back John Lovett had a season high 125 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown against Texas Tech and said even just from what he has seen in the two years he’s been here, there has already been much improvement.

“This win means a lot, because I’ve been through a lot with these same guys since last year. And we came a long way and we’re here,” Lovett said.

When Rhule came into the program, it was clear there would be tough times ahead and the players would have to deal with the media, opposing fans and reading on social media about everything surrounding the team. Winning only one game last season did not help and Rhule said he and the players had to listen to negative comments, but it’s about action and what the next move is going to be.

“All you hear is negativity, and it is natural,” Rhule said. “Even as the head coach, you start to question, is that work? Is that really work? Either you break, fracture, or come together.”