By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
First-year Baylor head coach Matt Rhule desperately wanted to send his seniors out with a victory in their final game at McLane Stadium. Instead, the visiting Iowa State Cyclones (7-4, 5-3) scored on two big pass plays from redshirt freshman quarterback Zeb Noland in his first start and came up with two red-zone turnovers in a 23-13 victory Saturday afternoon before a crowd of 40,653.
"I told them how much they've meant to this program and how much they've meant to me personally," said Rhule, whose team fell to 1-10 overall and 1-7 in the Big 12 with its eighth straight loss at home. "Just in this first year, in this tough time, in this tough transition, in this tough year, they're the guys who have kind of locked arm in arm with us and went to battle. I hated the seniors who played didn't have a chance to walk off the field victorious."
Two of the seniors weren't even able to finish the game, with starting middle linebacker Taylor Young going out with a quad injury early in the first quarter and then starting left tackle Mo Porter being helped off the field at the end of the first half.
Rhule said Young's injury was "pretty serious" and has already ruled him out for Friday's season finale at No. 11 TCU.
"That was certainly a big blow to our defense, and just personally a big blow," Rhule said of Young, the fifth-year senior who came into the game as the Bears' leading tackler. "I've spoken about how I feel about him. And not to see him finish out playing that game was disappointing just because of everything he's meant to the program."
For the second straight week, the difference in the game was turnovers. After committing four turnovers in last week's 38-24 loss to Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium, the Bears had two critical fourth-quarter turnovers against a Cyclones team that didn't turn it over once.
Trailing 20-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, Baylor had a first-and-goal at the Iowa State 2-yard line. But, cornerback Brian Peavy forced and recovered a fumble by freshman running back John Lovett.
"After that fumble, I pulled him over and said, `Hey, forget about it, brother. You're going to be a really good back. Just put it away and don't them take it from you,''' Rhule said of Lovett, who also had a fumbled exchange with freshman quarterback Charlie Brewer last week. "He's got the character that he's not going to let that break him. He's going to let that make him even tougher and tougher and tougher."
After Iowa State tacked on a 45-yard field goal by Garrett Owens to make it a two-possession game, Brewer engineered a drive from his own 28 down to the Cyclones' 25 with five minutes left in the game. But on another first-down play, safety Reggie Wilkerson picked off a Brewer pass intended for Pooh Stricklin at the 7 and returned it 31 yards. And the Bears never saw the ball again.
"I just got impatient," said Brewer, who was 26-of-36 for 198 yards and one touchdown in his third straight start. "That's kind of their MO on defense is to make you throw it in front and try to run to the ball and not let you throw it down the field. And I was trying to (throw it down the field)."
Brewer said the red-zone turnovers are "just being careless with the football. We need to find a way to eliminate that and score touchdowns."
The Bears started out on a good note, scoring on their opening drive for just the second time this year (Duke). JaMycal Hasty looked like he housed it on the second play when he broke down the right sidelines for an apparent 63-yard touchdown, but the replay official ruled that he had stepped out at the 22.
On fourth-and-1 from the 13, Brewer faked the inside handoff, rolled to his right and connected with tight end Ishmail Wainright for the touchdown and an early 7-0 lead.
"That's a play we've been having all year," said Wainright, who's now two-for-two on scoring touchdowns on catches. "We did it perfectly, so there's nothing more to ask."
Nolan, the Cyclones' third different starting quarterback this season, answered that score with a 36-yard TD pass to Allen Lazard and then gave the Cyclones their first lead of the game late in the half when he found Hakeem Butler for a 67-yard touchdown.
Baylor got field goals of 27 and a career-best 47 from Connor Martin, but the Bears' red-zone turnovers proved too much to overcome.
"At the end of the day, it came down to the turnover battle," Rhule said. "I thought we hung in there and battled and just weren't able to take the ball away and weren't able to protect the football."
The Bears close out Rhule's debut season with a matchup against 11th-ranked TCU (9-2, 6-2) at 11 a.m. Friday in Fort Worth.