By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer
Coming up on their fifth matchup since 1928, Baylor aims to remain undefeated against Stephen F. Austin in their season-opener this Saturday.
Last facing SFA in 2011, the Bears were led by Robert Griffin III and totaled a 48-0 victory in just three quarters before the game ended due to weather. Baylor averaged 50 points in the matchup and have held the Lumberjacks to consecutive shutouts.
With an eventful past leading up to the game, head coach Matt Rhule expects the Lumberjacks to attack the Bears’ points of weakness.
“What we know is the things that have given us trouble last year, we know we’re going to see them,” Rhule said. “It’s as much watching the things that Vanderbilt did to hurt our defense, what other teams did to hurt our defense. It’s about watching what blitzes hurt our offense and watching what they do and watching their personnel.”
Rhule described his concern in having a young defensive line, noting that the team will play true freshmen T.J. Franklin and Gabe Hall.
“There’s some bumps in the road when you play young guys,” Rhule said. “But, they are tremendously talented and have worked really hard. So we’ll play them, and see what happens and coach them up and try and get them better week in and week out.”
Senior defensive end James Lockhart, named most improved player of the spring, emphasized his confidence in the defensive unit going into a new season and his young counterparts.
“I feel like personally I’ve developed more and more confidence in the way we run this defense,” Lockhart said. “Gabe is a guy who if you look at him you’re like ‘this guy is my age, a 20 year old kid’, but he’s 18. That was very shocking to me. For a big guy he’s very explosive, does not move like a typical nose or defensive tackle. He moves like an in. He’s very, very limber. T.J. Franklin is a guy who just, especially in spring ball, turned some heads; a hard worker, tough, competitive, very competitive.”
SFA comes into the game with a new coaching staff led by head coach Colby Carthel who previously spent six seasons at A&M Commerce and led the team to six-consecutive postseasons, cinched the 2017 NCAA Division II Football National Championship and held an overall .766 (59-18) win percentage.
Understanding the success Carthel had with the Lions, Lockhart has his eye on the potential run game that can threaten the Bears’ defense.
“They’re a big outside zone team as far as running the ball goes,” Lockhart said. “Obviously they have new coaches from A&M Commerce. So, me personally, I’ve been studying some of the things they did there and trying to get an idea and feel for the game and what they do.”
Offensively, confidence is soaring with the veteran group. Rhule explained that the offensive line is “15 to 16 men deep,” and veteran junior quarterback Charlie Brewer “knows exactly what to do.” The only challenge now is waiting for game day.
“I’m at the point now that I just want to see the guys play for their sake,” Rhule said. “We’ll go out and play as hard as we can and I know on Sunday we’ll go and wake up and I’ll find a thousand problems but I want to see them play, have them play and have some fun.”
The Bears kick off the season at home at 6 p.m. this Saturday at McLane Stadium. You can also catch the matchup on Baylor’s first-ever broadcast on Big 12 Now and ESPN+.