Heartbeat of the Heartland: A Complete Rebuild at Baylor

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With No. 3 Oklahoma coming to town Saturday, Baylor is headed to its 10th consecutive regular-season loss.

Prediction? Yes. Fact? Probably.

This is a program that from 2013 to 2015 went 32-7 and won two Big 12 Conference titles. As the world knows, the Miracle On The Brazos has become a nightmare thanks to a sexual assault scandal that cost Art Briles his job and, perhaps, his coaching career. Like Icarus, the Baylor program melted when it got too close to the bright lights that illuminate the apex of college football.

Baylor had 14 consecutive losing seasons before going 7-6 in 2010 (Briles’ third season) and have had seven consecutive winning seasons, a streak that is most certain to end this season. If you want to call karma on the Baptist institution, its athletic department and football team, any grand jury would no bill you.

Yes, it’s easy to pile on the Bears. It might be years before Baylor gets back to winning and just as long or longer before there is forgiveness for the transgressions of others.

Until then, first-year coach Matt Rhule plans to do the best he can. The former Temple coach’s smartest move was agreeing to a seven-year contract to move from Philly to Waco. That’s the home of “Fixer Upper” and Rhule is building on a vacant lot.

The on-the-field reality is that Baylor has gone from 60 to zero in little more than a year. Once known for its state-of-the-art offense that was always among the nation’s leaders. But the talent and depth has been decimated by a lost 2016 recruiting class and defections following Briles’ dismissal. The Bears are last in the Big 12 in scoring and total offense.

“The issue offensively is up front,” Rhule told the Waco Tribune-Herald. “We can’t run the football right now. When you can’t run the football, you can’t control the game. There’s nothing efficient and that really starts up front with our ability to run the football and protect the quarterback.”

This year’s roster has 31 newcomers and 15 freshmen are on the depth chart. None of this year’s players were involved in any of the horrific wrong doing but that doesn’t mean that they’re not carrying the stigma of playing for a team that has a stain not easily washed away.
“This is a group of kids who have for the last 12-to-18 months, when they look at their Twitter timeline or they go on the road, they hear nothing but the bad,” Rhule told Yahoo! Sports. “So I think you see a group of kids, when things go wrong, they have a weight on their shoulder.

“These kids need a coach. No matter how hard the situation, they need someone who is here for them, who is consistent and who believes in them. And I believed that was supposed to be me.”

Oklahoma, seeking its third consecutive Big 12 title, is third in total offense, fourth in scoring offense, first in scoring defense and second in total defense in conference statistics. The Bears lost their opener by three, Game Two by seven and last Saturday at Duke by 14. It could be the worst yet against OU.

“They have a chance to go out and face the No. 3 team in the country and see where you stack up with them,” Rhule said. “We have no pressure on us. So go play and have fun and fly around and just get better this week than we were this past week. Hopefully, we can go play well against OU and get a little bit better and get a little more efficient on offense. That’s why they came to Baylor, to play against the best.

“I just err on the side of not making excuses. When you are leading the country in first-time starters you are going to have first-time starter mistakes.”

Stillwater Showdown

The first of what should be a number of must-see matchups will occur Saturday when No. 16 TCU visits No. 6 Oklahoma State. The Frogs are winless (0-4) in Stillwater but they’ve displayed a stingy defense and a powerful offense in winning their first three games.

The Cowboys have toyed with their first three foes and the scores have been so lopsided that the numbers posted thus far by quarterback Mason Rudolph (11 touchdowns, 1,135 yards passing), running back Justice Hill (250 yards rushing) and wide receiver James Washington (28.2 yards per catch, 13 receptions, three touchdowns) have yet to include action in the fourth quarter.

TCU senior quarterback Kenny Hill is completing 75 percent of his passes with two interceptions and eight touchdowns. The Frogs are averaging 230 yards rushing per game, tied for first in the Big 12. However, senior running back Kyle Hicks missed the second half of Saturday’s victory over SMU and is doubtful for Oklahoma State.

“You’re going to have to score some points against Oklahoma State to be able to win the ballgame,” coach Gary Patterson said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. “We know that.”

Targeting Two Rules

First came instant replay reviews and recently targeting rules. Both have ongoing flaws. Replays that appear obvious to viewers at home aren’t seen the same way in the replay booth. The targeting rule claims to be about player safety but there’s also the underlying fact that the NCAA wants a rule book defense to cite when CTE lawsuits are inevitably filed.

Oklahoma freshman receiver CeeDee Lamb was ejected from Saturday’s Tulane game for throwing a block on a punt return. Per the rules, the play was video reviewed (the Big 12 this year has a centralized replay system at its home office). Three different angles showed that Lamb’s block was borderline in terms of targeting.

However, the replay review upheld the on-field ruling. In this case, the officials on the field – who have to make split-second decisions – did not get the help they needed from the replay review.

“We were told that they agreed with the call, that CeeDee hit the guy in the head,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said Monday. “When I watched it, I honestly had a hard time seeing that. I’ve watched it a bunch.”

Kudos for the first-year coach to not only standing up for his player but for having the gravitas to question how college football’s officiating is off-target when it comes to targeting.

“It should be clear evidence that it absolutely, 100 percent happened because of how severe the penalty is,” Riley said. “If the penalty was just a 15-yarder and not an ejection, I could get it. But in my opinion, the fact that it also brings along an ejection, let’s make sure that he 100 percent hit him in the head. I don’t think either one of us can sit here and say 100 percent either way.
“That’s the problem I have with it. If we’re going to kick a guy out, that replay ought to absolutely beyond any doubt confirm it. I think that’s where maybe there’s a little bit of maybe an area we need to look at.”

Notable numbers

• The Big 12 has five of the top 15 in NCAA quarterback efficiency – Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (2), Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek (4), Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph (5), West Virginia’s Will Grier (12) and TCU’s Kenny Hill (15). No other conference has more than two quarterbacks in the top 15.

&149; The last time Oklahoma lost a game was 367 days ago. The last time it lost a Big 12 Conference game was 710 days ago.
&149; Oklahoma is one of five schools that hasn’t allowed a passing touchdown this season. The other four: Michigan State, Penn State, Houston, Miami (Fla.).
&149; Kansas has lost 42 consecutive road games. The Jayhawks’ last road victory was 2,927 days ago (at UTEP on Sept. 12, 2009).
&149; Kansas State probably needs to diversify its offense … or get its back up quarterbacks ready. Senior Jesse Ertz is carrying a heavy load. In the 14-7 loss at Vanderbilt, he had 24 carries and threw 28 passes. That’s 52 touches in 63 snaps.
&149; Texas Tech will try to start 3-0 for the fifth time in the last seven seasons when it closes non-conference play at Houston. The Red Raiders lead the nation in total offense and is fourth in scoring offense. The Cougars are seventh in scoring defense.

Audibles

Iowa State quarterback Jacob Park after Cyclones coach Matt Campbell was critical of the Cyclones not playing a full game (in his assessment) during a 41-14 victory at Akron:
“We ain’t happy with just winning. That’s Campbell’s point to everybody – you have to play perfect. You have to want to be perfect, (and) if you don’t, you get beat – especially Iowa State, (where) nothing’s given to you. That why I love this place, you have to earn everything.”

Texas freshman quarterback Sam Erlinger on the Longhorns’ double overtime loss at USC:
“You go through life and you go through a lot of hardships, and there’s only so much that can really take down your soul and take down your emotions. So I don’t think there was any moment that was too big or anything like that. We’re so excited. All the things in this game that we messed up are fixable.”

Pitt cornerback Avonte Maddox after the Panthers were chewed up by Oklahoma State, 59-21:
“They came with the tempo, which we expected. They came with the deep ball shots, which we expected. They executed and we didn’t. That’s an explosive team – explosive quarterback, explosive receivers, explosive (running) back.”