Football Drops Season Opener, 48-45


48
Liberty
45
Baylor

Sept. 02, 2017

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By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation

Having recruited John Lovett when he was at Temple University, Matt Rhule knew that the freshman running back from Burlington, N.J., could be special.

When starter JaMycal Hasty got hurt in the first half and couldn't go the rest of the game, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Lovett responded with 89 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries in Baylor's 48-45 season-opening loss to the Liberty Flames before a sellout crowd of 45,784 at McLane Stadium.

"He's really talented, but he's also really tough," Rhule said of Lovett. "JaMycal's a great back. Terence (Williams), I haven't really seen him, but we know he's a great back. But, Lovett is special. And I think (Trestan) Ebner and (Dru) Dixon are right there with him. So, while it didn't go the way we wanted it to, I think you see bright spots that make you feel good."

It certainly speaks to the future that Lovett was one of 10 true freshmen and 12 freshmen overall who saw action in Baylor's season-opening game. Ryan Miller started at center, Harrison Hand at corner, Jalen Pitre at linebacker and redshirt freshman Jairon McVea at free safety, with Dixon, Ebner, Terrel Bernard, BJ Thompson, DJ Artis, Xavier Newman and Deonte Williams also seeing action.

Hand had two pass breakups and a game-high 11 tackles, while Dixon had a 29-yard kickoff return to set up the Bears' last touchdown.

But, it was Lovett that stepped up the biggest.

"For a young guy to come out and do what he just did, it's truly amazing," said quarterback Solomon, a grad transfer from Arizona who passed for 278 yards and three touchdowns and finished with a team-high 97 yards rushing. "That guy's going to be a great player for us. We hope J-Myc comes back, but it's next man up."

That was Lovett's approach. When Hasty went down, he was the next man up.

"We all know what to do," he said. "We're one man down, next man up, that's our brand."

With Baylor facing double-digit deficits in the fourth quarter, Lovett twice pulled the Bears back within three. He stretched the ball over from the 3-yard line, capping a drive that included a pair of long runs by Solomon, then saw nothing but turf in front of him on a 34-yard TD with 5:00 showing on the clock.

"I've got to give credit to my big men up front," Lovett said. "I can't do it without them. So, that's them. . . . We definitely had a rhythm going, and we were definitely doing what we said we wanted to do."

Other than obviously the loss, this is exactly what the 18-year-old Lovett expected out of his collegiate debut.

"I don't get too excited about it, because I think it should happen," said Lovett, who became Baylor's first true freshman to rush for two touchdowns in his first game since quarterback Nick Florence against Kent State in 2009. "We practice for that to happen, that is what's going to happen, so I don't get too excited about it."

He did get excited, though, when the team voted him as one of eight players to receive a single-digit jersey during the fall camp. He's wearing the same jersey No. 7 that he's worn since his Pop Warner days in Warnerville, N.J.

"I was just surprised that the team noticed all the hard work I was putting in and everything I was doing for them. I love those guys," he said. "Where I'm from in New Jersey, that's the number to get right there. Everyone in New Jersey wants No. 7. I don't know why, I just like the number, too. I've had No. 7 since my Pop Warner days with the Warnerville Panthers."

The Matt Rhule era got off to a rough start with Baylor's second-ever loss to an FCS (former I-AA) team. But, he also sees plenty of positives out of the Bears' opener.

"I told them team, I'm proud of them, they've worked hard," he said. "This was not what we wanted tonight, but that does not mean I'm not proud of them, not proud of their effort. I put this on me, I put this on the coaches, it's our job to get it fixed. I thought you saw big-play potential from the offense. (Chris) Platt, (Denzel) Mims, I thought, made big plays. JaMycal went down, Lovett came in, and he looks like he's going to be special. Anu had a very solid game, both running and throwing the football.

"We have to get a lot better quickly, with a good UTSA team coming. Obviously, we feel bad for our fans and everyone that came, and we didn't play to the level we would have liked to have played to. . . . We'll go back to work, football-wise, on Monday and get ready for UTSA as we move this team forward."

Baylor's offense put up 532 yards, averaging 8.3 per play, but the defense allowed 447 yards passing and another 138 yards on the ground, with the Flames converting on 15-of-24 third downs.

"You didn't see any finger-pointing, didn't see any guys yelling, didn't see any guys in the locker room saying, `Hey, defense, you did this. Offense, you did this,''' Rhule said. "You saw a bunch of guys who said, `Hey, this is what happened, let's move forward.' I said to them, I put this on me. I'm hoping every guy in this room says, `Hey, what could I have done?' And if we have that approach, we'll be fine. They're so young, and as I said, we'll learn from this and the sky's the limit."

Baylor hosts UTSA (0-0) at 7 p.m. next Saturday, Sept. 9, in a game that will be broadcast by FSN.

 

 

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