By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
Will No. 12 Baylor football’s 29-23 triple overtime victory over TCU Saturday in Fort Worth become the new 61-58?
Head coach Matt Rhule is not really sure of that, but he does know that it will be a memorable win for his team. He finally understands what the rivalry between the Bears and the Horned Frogs means.
“We knew that game would be a grind. We know how hard it is to win on the road…Maybe I didn’t necessarily understand the rivalry, the Baylor-TCU rivalry, until I sat there with the student section behind me and got a full understanding of what it truly means,” Rhule said. “I thought our guys in a very hostile environment handled it well. And I say that with the greatest respect. That’s what college football is supposed to be.”
In just the second overtime game of Rhule’s career, the first being Baylor’s homecoming win over Texas Tech just a few weeks ago, the Bears buckled down against a stifling TCU defense to remain one of just five undefeated teams in the country.
Both teams struggled on offense through regulation, with neither reaching the end zone. Baylor’s defensive core remained elite with sophomore linebacker Terrel Bernard and senior linebackers Blake Lynch and Jordan Williams combining for 41 tackles, six of them for a loss of 23 yards.
With 19 tackles (13 in the first quarter alone), a sack and an interception, Bernard was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week for the second time this season. Rhule said Bernard and the rest of the defensive unit have stepped up their game since losing senior Clay Johnston to injury after the Tech game.
“Everyone is kind of doing their job and allowing people to really flourish,” Rhule said. “There’s no doubt that people knew that Terrel — that when it was his turn to play— was going to play at a high level…He’s just as mature a young player as we’ve ever had.”
Bernard wasn’t the only Bear to receive another weekly honor. Redshirt freshman kicker John Mayers was named Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week for the third time this season. With less than a minute left in regulation, Mayers came through for his team once again to tie things up 9-9 and send the match to overtime. The 51-yard field goal was the longest by a BU player since Aaron Jones hit one for the same distance against Iowa State in 2013.
The freshman said he was sure that he was going to make it because his team was relying on him.
“I hit probably one of the best balls of my life, and I needed to,” Mayers said, “because that was the longest field goal I’ve ever hit in a game. I was confident I could do it if I hit my best ball, and I did. I was just happy to make the kick and help the team take it into overtime,” Mayers said.
The defense and special teams kept Baylor in the game, but the offense finally began to click when it came down to crunch time. Rhule said he was proud that his team was able to get back on the field and do what they needed in overtime.
“It speaks a lot to our team, the fact that guys who hadn’t made a lot of plays all game because of the great coverage from TCU — Denzel [Mims] made three of the best catches I think you’ll see somebody make,” Rhule said.
Senior wide receiver Denzel Mims was responsible for two of Baylor’s three touchdowns in overtime despite being limited to three receptions for 21 yards in the first 60 minutes of the game. The Bears’ final touchdown took just two plays as junior quarterback Charlie Brewer hit sixth-year wide receiver Chris Platt with a 21-yard pass to set up the touchdown for Mims.
Then junior cornerback Grayland Arnold picked off Horned Frogs QB Max Duggan on fourth down for his second interception of the day to seal the win.
Now, Baylor has to let go of Saturday’s win and focus on what might be its biggest challenge to date: facing Oklahoma at home with ESPN’s College GameDay in town and the top spot in the Big 12 on the line.
The Bears may be undefeated, but the Sooners are still an elite team. Even though Iowa State made a comeback Saturday, Oklahoma managed to make one more play and win 42-41 in Norman, Okla.
Rhule knows that to give Baylor a chance to win against Lincoln Riley and his explosive offense, the Bears have to hold on early.
“Part of it is weathering the storm, just our defense…trying to start faster on defense knowing that we are more of a fourth quarter team, so you have to try to push this game to the fourth quarter,” Rhule said. “We know if we can do that, then we are comfortable being in that part of the game.”
Baylor battles Oklahoma to remain on top of the conference at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium.