Improved offense helps Bears reach bowl game

Baylor sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer rushes the ball against TCU on Nov. 17 at McLane Stadium. Brewer and the Bears’ offense improved drastically over the course of a year to help Baylor go from one win to six. The Bears face Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. Dec. 27 at the Texas Bowl in Houston. Jason Pedreros | Multimedia Journalist

By Noah Torr | Broadcast Reporter

The offensive side of the football is becoming extremely important, especially in the Big 12 Conference.

Look at Oklahoma. They’re the fourth-ranked team in the country and will be representing the Big 12 in the College Football Playoff. Their offense is one of the best in the country, averaging an NCAA-leading 50.3 points per game. Kyler Murray, the junior quarterback for Oklahoma, led the high powered Sooners to an 11-1 season, in which they scored below 45 points in only two games.

Offenses keep getting better and to keep up, you have to have a great quarterback and an excellent supporting cast.

After a disappointing 2017 campaign where the Bears went 1-11, head coach Matt Rhule was focused on where he needed to improve the offense, and it all started with the quarterback position. Rhule started the season with a competition between sophomore Charlie Brewer and graduate transfer Jalan McClendon. After three games, it seemed apparent who Rhule favored.

“He’s got that ‘it’ factor to him,” Rhule said before the season about Brewer. “[Last season] he was a true freshman laughing and telling me to calm down.”

The trust Rhule had in Brewer seemed to pay off. Brewer finished the season with 2,635 yards, 17 touchdowns, and a completion percentage of 57. He initially battled against McClendon for the starting quarterback position and it was clear he won the job when he started the game against the Kansas Jayhawks in October.

After the Kansas game, Rhule said the Brewer did everything he needed to in order to stay on the field for the Bears.

“He just scored,” Rhule said. “He moved the ball the first drive, and he moved the ball the second drive. I said, ‘Okay, let’s give him one more series, see if he scores.’ The ball was moving and that’s what we needed.”

Another key factor for Baylor this season was the wide receiving core. Leading the charge were junior Denzel Mims and senior Jalen Hurd.

Mims finished the season with 699 yards and eight touchdowns. While he didn’t seem to be the go-to guy every time for Baylor, he was the big body in the end zone they could target when they needed a critical touchdown. In the game against Oklahoma State, Mims caught the final touchdown of the game to put Baylor over the top and win the homecoming game 35-31.

Hurd seemed to be Brewer’s favorite short field target. He finished the season with 946 yards receiving and four touchdowns. He also dabbled in a little running back for the Bears and rushed for 209 yards and three touchdowns.

The mix of freshmen Josh Fleeks and Tyquan Thornton, senior Chris Platt, and junior Marques Jones filled in the rest of the corps and were mainly used as deep threats for Brewer and the high-powered Baylor offense.

Hurd and Platt are seniors, so the Bears will have to find replacements for them next season. Hurd is expected to be a high draft pick at wide receiver. Mims has not specified his plan of action.

Finally, junior JaMychal Hasty and sophomores John Lovett and Trestan Ebner rounded out the run game with a little help in short yardage situation from Hurd.

Statistically, the run game was inconsistent this season. Rhule rotated between all three running backs until the last two games of the season when he relied on Lovett and Ebner more because of a knee injury to Hasty.

Lovett was the leading rusher for the Bears with 546 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns. Hasty finished the season with 376 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns in 10 games. Ebner was utilized more as a passing option for Baylor and had 239 receiving yards paired with 323 yards from scrimmage but no touchdowns.

Ebner and Lovett are sophomores and will be returning next year and while Hasty is a junior and will have the chance to go professional.

Even though only one offensive player, Jalen Hurd, received Big 12 honors, Lovett said he’s still proud of his team.

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

The 2018 Baylor offense outscored the 2017 Baylor offense by 48 points. The Bears averaged almost a full four more points per game this year than they did last. Baylor will use that offense to try to finish the year 7-6 when they face Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. Dec. 27 in the Texas Bowl in Houston.