The Bears looked rusty in an eight-point win over the winless Rice Owls on Saturday. While Matt Rhule’s squad was certainly in command of the game throughout, fans could not help but notice the Bears’ inability to put points on the board against a much lesser opponent.
Looking at the box score, nothing exactly jumps out as the issue. QB Charlie Brewer tossed a touchdown to go along with over 300 passing yards. The receiving core likewise had a good night, with Denzel Mims, Chris Platt, and Tyquan Thornton combining for roughly 250 yards receiving. The defense only gave up 13 total points.
Looking a little deeper though, we see some potentially troubling trends.
Charlie Brewer was the team’s leading rusher. While that may sound good, it’s not. For a team that has prided itself on its ability to run the ball, the designed ground game looked stagnant on Saturday. Sure Brewer was able to pick up some yards with his legs, but almost none of those were designed run plays, but rather pass plays that turned into scrambling.
Going into their matchup with Rice, the Bears were averaging almost 10 yards a carry, mostly due to the explosive running work of Tristan Ebner and John Lovett out of the backfield. Against the Owls, however, the tandem combined for a total of 19 yards, good for a measly 1.5 yards per carry.
This is a huge red flag for Baylor’s offense. If the Bears cannot move the ball on the ground, then teams will start to commit less and less pressure to defending against it, and more toward the Bears’ receiving corps. That means more double teams on Mims and Platt, and a tougher time driving the ball down the field
Another troubling sign was the Bears’ three fumbles, one from Brewer and two from John Lovett.
On a night where the team was having trouble pushing the ball down the field, the Bears absolutely needed to take care of the football, and they didn’t. Plain and simple. If Baylor is going to move forward this season with a balanced offense, they have to take care of the football and limit turnovers.
For John Lovett, whom Matt Rhule has called on more than any other running back this season, being secure with the ball is absolutely necessary. He will face even harder hitters as the season progresses into Big 12 play, and if the fumble issues persist, Rhule will have no option other than to bench him.
Against an outmatched Rice team, these issues may seem nitpicky, and they probably are. However, oftentimes these early season games serve as barometers for the rest of the season. Baylor fans have no reason to panic quite yet, as the undefeated team looks to take on a shaky Iowa St. at home next Saturday.