By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Matt Rhule heard from legendary coach Joe Paterno time and time again how you can chalk up a loss for every freshman you play. Not that Baylor's first-year head coach thinks that way.
But, in a way, you do have to take the good with the bad.
Making just his second start, freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer set school records for completions and attempts, hitting 43-of-63 passes for 415 yards and three touchdowns. But, he also had three of Baylor's four turnovers in Saturday's 38-24 loss to the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the Texas Farm Bureau Insurance Shootout at AT&T Stadium.
"I'm disappointed, obviously, in the result, but like anything else, there's positives and negatives and we'll continue to try to build off all those things," said Rhule, whose team fell to 1-9 overall and 1-6 in the Big 12. "You can't beat yourself the way we did today in terms of penalties and red zone offense and have a chance to win."
The Bears scored on just one of four red-zone opportunities in the first half, with Brewer fumbling once inside the 10 and throwing a pick in the end zone at the end of the half. But ultimately, the difference in the game was Keke Coutee's 92-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff and Douglas Coleman's 31-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter when he stripped it cleanly from receiver Tony Nicholson.
Baylor's defense held the normally explosive Red Raiders (5-5, 2-5) to just 337 yards and 24 points, while Brewer engineered an offense that cranked out 31 first downs, converted on 11-of-19 third downs and rolled up 523 yards.
"As I told the guys in the locker room - not in a positive way, but in a reality way - our offense scored just as many points as their offense did," Rhule said. "By us beating ourselves, we gave them a chance to leave here victorious."
Tech was able to snap a four-game losing skid and stayed alive for a potential bowl berth, but nothing came easy for the Red Raiders on either side of the ball.
"We found a way to win, and we've got to learn from that," Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "We've had moments where we can play with anybody, we just have to be more consistent."
It's probably not accurate to say that nothing came easy for Tech. Coutee took the opening kickoff at his own 8-yard line, found a seam on the left side with blockers out in front and avoided diving kicker Connor Martin near midfield on the way to the Red Raiders' first score on the opening kickoff since a game against New Mexico back in 1973.
Just 14 seconds into the game, the Bears found themselves down 7-0.
"When things started going bad, we didn't quit," said sophomore receiver Pooh Stricklin, who caught eight passes for 99 yards and his first touchdown of the season. "When they scored, right off the bat with the kickoff return, I saw people dropping their heads, like, `Oh no, here we go again.' But, they came out ready to go. That's what I like."
Converting twice on third down, the Bears answered with a 12-play, 75-yard drive and tied it up on Brewer's four-yard TD pass to fellow freshman Gavin Holmes.
"The offense just kind of got together and said, `let's go score,''' said Brewer, who was 6-of-8 for 43 yards on the opening series. "We just need to find a better way to finish drives."
Baylor's kick coverage woes continued when 6-2, 260-pound defensive lineman Quentin Yontz returned a high pooch kick 22 yards to the 47. Seven plays later, running back Tre King punched it in from the 1 to put Tech back on top, 14-7.
"They just kind of came out and hit us where we're vulnerable," Rhule said. "We went into the week talking about how our kickoff coverage had to improve. It had not improved, and it bit us twice today."
With a chance to tie it again, Brewer connected with Denzel Mims for 35 yards and had the Bears camped at the doorstep with a third-and-2 from the 9-yard line. But, the freshman quarterback lost the handle when he pulled the ball from running back JaMycal Hasty on a zone read option, with Dakota Allen recovering the fumble at the 11.
That was just one of the Bears' three wasted red-zone chances in the first half.
"I thought we moved the ball pretty well. Those four turnovers just really killed us," Brewer said.
Tech QB Nic Shimonek threw to receiver Dylan Cantrell on four straight plays in an impressive 16-play, 89-yard drive that took 6 ½ minutes off the clock. And then, facing third-and-goal from the 5, Shimonek hooked up with T.J. Vasher for the touchdown that pushed the lead to 21-7.
Getting some help from Tech with a pair of costly penalties, Baylor rode Hasty for the bulk of the yards on an 11-play, 78-yard drive. But then, on two plays within breathing distance of the goal line, freshman John Lovett was stopped short by defensive tackle Mychaelon Thomas and Hasty got similar treatment from Broderick Washington.
"Twice a blocked guy got unblocked and made the tackle," Rhule said. "I thought about (kicking a field goal), but at the end of the day you're not going to win these games if you can't get a yard. . . . There's a certain way we want to play. And if you can't get a yard, you can't get a yard."
The Bears had another scoring opportunity late in the half, driving from their own 28 down to the Tech 18. But, a chop-block penalty wiped out a 14-yard pass to Blake Lynch, and then Brewer heaved one into the end zone that was picked off by Vaughnte Dorsey.
"The fumbles are one thing," Rhule said, "but the pick in the end zone was something I got after him about a little bit. You don't get to decide, `Hey, I'm just going to throw this up and see what happens.' You throw the ball out of bounds, you play the next play, you kick the field goal and it's 21-10. That's how we play football."
Instead, it was 21-7 at the break, and it looked like the Red Raiders would extend the lead on their opening drive of the third quarter. Shimonek kept his hot streak going, hitting six straight passes in an 11-play, 78-yard drive.
"I felt the tackle push down on me, but I found the ball carrier and just made a play," said Williams, who made his first start of the season and second of his career.
When Brewer had another fumbled exchange, this time with Lovett, Tech got the ball back at the 35 and capitalized with a 39-yard field goal by Clayton Hatfield that stretched the lead to 24-7.
"For all the great things our young players are doing, today was a day where a couple of our young guys made some errors that we just have to continue to coach through," Rhule said.
Going right back to work, Brewer found Lynch for 40 and then scrambled around and hooked up with Stricklin on a six-yard TD pass to make it 24-14 late in the third quarter.
Stricklin had dropped a sure touchdown just two plays earlier, but said, "Once you mess up on a play, you have to clear it in order to make a play the next play."
After a failed onside kick, and a 15-yard penalty for kick catcher interference, it took Tech just two plays to answer. Shimonek hooked up with Cameron Batson for a 30-yard touchdown down the right sideline, a play that was reviewed and upheld to see if Batson had stepped out of bounds.
Baylor got it back to a two-score game on a 35-yard field goal by Martin with 7:57 left and had a chance to really make things interesting. But, Coleman stripped the ball from receiver Tony Nicholson and returned it 31 yards for the icing touchdown.
The Bears did find the end zone again with just 1:33 left when Brewer threw a three-yard TD pass to Denzel Mims, who had another monster game with 152 yards on a career-high 12 catches. He also became Rhule's first 1,000-yard receiver in five years as a head coach with 1,001 yards and eight TDs on 55 receptions.
"It's a blessing," Mims said. "Coach Rhule pushes me each and every day to be the best I can be. To be the first receiver to get 1,000 yards for him means a lot, because he pushed me to get this 1,000 yards. I'm glad he believed in me."
Baylor returns home to face 24th-ranked Iowa State (6-4, 4-3) next Saturday at McLane Stadium (kickoff time to be announced) before closing out the season with a matchup against No. 8 TCU on Nov. 24 in Fort Worth.