Sept. 09, 2017
By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
If that didn't look like the same Baylor secondary that gave up 447 yards the week before in a loss to Liberty, there's a reason why. It wasn't.
Davion Hall and Henry Black started at safety, Jameson Houston rotated at cornerback, and Rajah Preciado and freshman Timarcus Davis were both used in nickel packages, helping the Bears hold UTSA to 155 yards passing and 375 total yards in Saturday's 17-10 loss to the Roadrunners.
"I think Tooty (Hall) brought a physical presence," coach Matt Rhule said of the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Hall, who returned from back and calf injuries to make his 12th career start and record four solo tackles. "Davion was physical in the run game. And we went from giving up whatever that was last week (447 yards passing) to 155, which is a good number. We still had other opportunities, third-down conversions where we could have made a play on a ball and didn't. I think they got better. They'll continue to get better."
Hall, who missed the 48-45 season-opening loss to Liberty, said it "meant a lot being able to be back out there with the team."
"It's frustrating not being able to be out there with your brothers, with all the work we've put in," he said. "But now, I'm back. We've just got to keep growing and moving forward, look at the game film and see what we need to correct."
Even now, he's not 100 percent healthy, but "I'm good enough."
"I've played banged-up since I've been here," he said, "so it's not a big deal."
The defense as a whole made strides, holding UTSA (1-0) to 5.8 yards per play and 7-of-16 on third downs after giving up 585 yards and 15-of-24 on third downs last week in the loss to Liberty. In the second half, the Roadrunners were 0-for-6 on third down.
"I thought we got better in the second half," Rhule said. "I thought our guys got stronger as the game went on. You could see the light going on for a couple of guys. Clay Johnston is a guy who stood out to me."
Johnston, Baylor's sophomore middle linebacker, had a career-high 10 tackles with nine solos and one stop behind the line. The defense also had a pair of first-time starters up front in freshman end B.J. Thompson and redshirt freshman Deonte Williams, plus true freshman Jalen Pitre making his second start at outside linebacker.
"I saw a lot of good things, but I saw a lot of poor things," Johnston said. "We still have to get better at communicating. . . . In the end, it's really on us. When we give up big plays, one guy is probably playing a different coverage or playing a whole different defense than everyone else. So, we have to be on the same page, because we do better in that area when we're all together as one unit."
Johnston got up pumping his fist when he dropped UTSA running back Jalen Rhodes for a one-yard gain on a fourth-and-six from the Bears' 23.
"When we get off the field on third down, we've got to get emotional and get hyped, because every player feeds off that," he said. "I was hyped (on the fourth-down stop), because we got off the field. That's considered a turnover on our defense, stopping the offense on fourth down. Yeah, I was pumped."
"I don't want to give up on Tooty and Taylor and all these great seniors we have out here fighting," Rhule said. "We're going to keep fighting for the older guys. We're going to keep fighting for the seniors. But, we are going to learn from these tough, tough, heartbreaking losses - and these are heartbreaking losses. I think we all know that."
The Bears (0-2) took the lead midway through the second quarter when Anu Solomon hooked up with Denzel Mims for a 20-yard touchdown pass after deep snapper Ross Matiscik recovered a fumble by UTSA punt returner Matt Guidry.
Converting on five third-down plays, UTSA drove 75 yards in 16 plays and ate up more than eight minutes off the clock for the tying score. Dalton Sturm hit Josh Stewart on a crossing route on third-and-goal from the 7 to cap it off.
"Honestly, that was a bummer," Johnston said of the Roadrunners' time-consuming and game-tying drive. "We've just got to go make a play and get off the field. We've got to keep our heads up and focus."
UTSA added a quick-strike touchdown at the start of the third quarter to take its first lead and made it 17-7 early in the fourth on Victor Falcon's 38-yard field goal.
Baylor had chances in the second half, but Solomon was sacked on a fourth-and-two from the Roadrunners' 19 and the Bears had to settle for a 20-yard field goal by Connor Martin after getting down to the 3.
The defense did its job, forcing UTSA to go three-and-out and getting the ball back with 2:08 to play. But, Solomon threw four straight incompletions on the final series, finishing 10-of-26 for 121 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
"Obviously, like anything else, we have a lot of work to do," Rhule said. "We have to become a good football team. Before you can think about winning, you have to play winning football. . . . I thought we played with a lot more passion and energy on defense. I thought the defense got a lot better as the game went on. Some guys stepped up and made some plays. And just offensively, we were not able to make any of the plays we needed to make to have a chance to win the game."
Baylor faces Duke (2-0) at 11:30 a.m. CDT next Saturday, Sept. 16, in Durham, N.C. The Blue Devils rolled to a 41-17 win over Northwestern on Saturday after opening with a 60-7 blowout of North Carolina Central.