Bears remain undefeated after close victory over Rice

Baylor wide receiver Chris Platt (14) outruns Rice safety Naeem Smith (3) for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, in Houston. Associated Press

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

Baylor football scraped by with a 21-13 victory over Rice University Saturday night in Houston. The Bears finished their nonconference schedule 3-0 after a tough game against the Owls.

Baylor dominated the first half, scoring all three of their touchdowns before halftime, but fell flat in the second half. The Bears’ defense carried the load throughout the night as the Owls had possession of the ball for 32:15, a 5:45 edge over the Bears. Head coach Matt Rhule said that the role the defense played was essential for the win.

“You know first half we had 362 yards of offense 30-something plays, we’re about ready to set records, and we had as bad a second half as you can ever have […] What I don’t want lost is what a great, great effort I thought we had from our defense, put into a lot of bad positions, and you know just kept going out there and answering the bell,” Rhule said.

Senior linebacker Clay Johnston was all over Rice’s offense with a total 13 tackles, seven of them solo, for his 8th career double-digit game. Senior safety Chris Miller, sophomore linebacker Terrel Bernard and senior defensive tackle Bravvion Roy each followed Johnston with five tackles each.

Senior defensive tackle James Lockhart recorded his first sack of the season, fourth of his career, as well as his first career fumble recovery. Lockhart tied his career high in tackles with four, two for loss and two QB hurries. Junior defensive tackle James Lynch recorded two sacks for 15 yards as well.

Baylor began the game with an 11-play drive for 55 yards, coming up empty handed on a missed field goal, but the Bears were quick to shut down Rice’s first drive which lasted 3:02. Baylor then proceeded to go on an 86-yard, nine-play drive to get on the board, the Bears’ longest play since last year’s Texas Bowl.

Junior quarterback Charlie Brewer connected with senior wide receiver Denzel Mims with a 35-yard pass in the sixth play of the drive for a first-and-10 at the Rice 23-yard line. Senior running back JaMycal Hasty followed with two rushing plays to reach the Rice 6-yard line before sophomore wide receiver Josh Fleeks rushed into the end zone for his third career touchdown. Redshirt freshman John Mayers kicked in the extra point to put Baylor up 7-0 with 3:12 left in the first quarter.

The Owls next drive was broken up on a forced fumble by Roy which was recovered by Lockhart.

Rice broke Baylor’s lead in the second quarter with a 28-yard field goal kicked by Owls kicker Will Harrison but the Bears gave themselves a small cushion with two more TDs. Brewer completed a 50-yard pass to sixth-year wide receiver Chris Platt, his longest pass reception since a 79-yard TD against Duke in 2017 and Brewer’s 9th completion of 50 or more yards.

With 15 seconds left in the half, Brewer rushed 25 yards to put Baylor ahead 21-3 once Mayers completed the extra point. The play could have easily ended as an out-of-bounds at the 15-yard line if Mims hadn’t blocked the defender, allowing Brewer to change course and dive into the end zone.

The Bears were unable to score in the second half as the Owls cut into their lead, making it a one-score game. Brewer was sacked for a loss of 6 yards and fumbled the ball to give way to a 14 play, 55-yard drive resulting in a field goal by the Owls. A personal foul against Bernard brought Rice’s line of scrimmage up to the Baylor 21-yard line for a first down which was followed by a 21-yard rushing TD by Harvard transfer QB Tom Stewart.

The Bears were unable to capitalize on their next drive, but the defense was determined to hold back the Owls as Lockhart and Lynch each sacked Stewart on second-and-12 and third-and-13 to regain the ball at the end of the fourth quarter.

Baylor took their final drive 8 yards in until they were able to make a first down at the 47, after which Brewer took a knee for the final play of the game.

The Bears totaled 427 yards, 124 rushing and 303 passing/receiving but also had six penalties for a loss of 60 yards which was what Rhule felt most disappointed about.

“I really believe this with all my heart: we needed that game. We needed that experience and it’s the same, just so we all said, that was the same game as Vanderbilt just the other side of the ball,” Rhule said. “When it was offense that the defense couldn’t stop, and the offense was going up and down scoring we’re all like ‘What a great game.’ When it was the defense that was out there making big stops, holding them to field goals, it feels sloppy. You know if I’m disappointed with one thing it’s just the holding, you know the penalties. They really hurt us. So, a lot of things to correct but better to correct it after you won.”

Baylor will return home to open up conference play against Iowa State at 2:30 p.m. on Sept. 28 at McLane Stadium.