By Jerry Hill
Baylor Bear Foundation
Just saying thanks to the Baylor seniors playing their final game at McLane Stadium isn’t enough, Matt Rhule says.
“The thing I can say is that so many of them had already graduated, and they could have gone somewhere else,” Rhule said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. “They could have restarted their careers, but they chose to finish them here. While you could say it hasn’t gone the way they wanted it to go, they are a part of rebuilding the program. I think it’s important to say that they didn’t create the situation, all they’re doing is fixing it. And for that, I’m grateful.”
Of the 18 seniors who will be honored during Saturday’s 1:30 p.m. game between the Bears (1-9, 1-6) and Iowa State Cyclones (6-4, 4-3), middle linebacker Taylor Young, rush end Brian Nance, safety Taion Sells, offensive tackle Mo Porter and tight end Jordan Feuerbacher will start their final games in the stadium where their careers started.
“What Taion and Taylor Young and Chance (Waz) and Brian Nance are building defensively right now might not seem like it’s showing up,” Rhule said. But, as he pointed out, the defense that gave up 707 yards to Texas Tech in 2014, 600 in 2015 and 666 last season held the Red Raiders to just 337 yards in Saturday’s 38-24 loss at AT&T Stadium.
“They cut the yardage in half from the year before. It’s not where it needs to be and it’s not where we want it to be, but that’s only happening because Taylor Young has practiced every single day this year. Brian Nance has practiced every single day this year. They haven’t stayed out when they’re banged up. They’re just tough and rugged.”
On the offensive side, Rhule said, Porter has played “the whole year banged up, Feuerbacher breaks his hand and comes back, Ish Wainright transitions from basketball and gets sick, but comes back. These are special stories, and just to go out and say that we’re thankful for our seniors isn’t enough.”
As a former linebacker himself, Rhule has been particularly impressed with the way that Young has slid over from weakside to middle linebacker and “gotten everyone on the same page.”
“He’s a quiet but strong voice in the locker room,” Rhule said of Young, who is making his 40th career start and ranks among the all-time leaders with 325 tackles, 15.5 sacks and 39.0 tackles for loss. “He talks to guys that are disenfranchised, he talks to guys that aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, and he tells them what they need to do. He’s even a guy that I meet with and look to for advice because I trust him.”
Since he had graduated last December and had one year of eligibility remaining, Young had not only considered leaving, “he was gone,” Rhule said. “He wouldn’t even come over and talk to us.”
“I’ve told the guys, there will be a special place in this building for the guys that chose to stay,” Rhule said. “It’s Taion, Tyler Jaynes, all those guys. They made the decision to stay here. And if they hadn’t done that, we would have really been in peril in terms of the scholarships and everything. They’re the ones who stood in the gap and allowed us to continue to rebuild. The impact of this senior class will never quite be understood.”
The other seniors honored Saturday are: Jayson Clements, Davion Hall, Iain Hunter, Quan Jones, Clint Kelly, Jarrod Koym, Andrew Morris, Blake Murphy, Daniel Russell, Wyatt Schrepfer, Tyrae Simmons, Ishmail Wainright and Chance Waz.
“If our young players don’t learn from our older players, then everything our older players are going through right now is for naught,” Rhule said. “If they’re suffering through all that, and our young players will learn from it, then everything our older players went through is to help the program move forward. . . . Learn these lessons now, so these guys’ sacrifices meant something, and I’m certain they will.”
Of course, this year’s team also has more than its share of young players contributing right now. In the Tech game, freshmen and sophomores accounted for 98.7 percent of the Bears’ total offense (516 of 523), with freshman QB Charlie Brewer leading the way.
Making just his second start, Brewer set school records for pass completions and attempts, hitting 43-of-63 for 415 yards and three touchdowns. But, he also committed three of the team’s four turnovers.
“I’m coaching Charlie right now like he’s a junior or senior. I’m not babying him,” Rhule said. “I think for Charlie to throw the ball that many times and be as accurate as he was, that’s impressive.”
When Brewer threw the ball away on a play in the second half – after throwing a pick in the end zone at the end of the first half – he “kind of looked at me on the sidelines and gave me a thumbs-up,” Rhule said. “So, he’s learning as he goes.”
A receivers group that was already thinning out lost another one Saturday, when freshman Gavin Holmes suffered a torn ACL. Holmes had really blossomed over the last few weeks, catching four passes for 66 yards and a touchdown in the road win at Kansas and adding three for 16 yards and one TD before getting hurt against Tech.
“Tough blow for him, but he’s a tough, tough man,” Rhule said.
After missing the Kansas game with a mid-foot sprain, sophomore receiver Pooh Stricklin caught eight passes for 99 yards and one touchdown when Holmes went down. But, Rhule said he’s not sure if he will be available this week.
“That’s one of the things, day of the game, he says to me, ‘I can go’ or ‘I can’t go,’’’ Rhule said. “But, to not have practiced all week and go out there on emergency duty and play the way he did, I think it’s a credit to him.”
Iowa State finished 3-9 last year, but bounced back to win six of its first eight this season, including beating Oklahoma and TCU. The Cyclones, already bowl-eligible, are coming off back-to-back close losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
“They’re tough, rugged, well-coached, and they don’t beat themselves,” Rhule said. “This will be a true measuring stick to see how tough we are. When it’s not gimmicky and it’s just man-on-man, we’ll see how we respond. It will be a challenge, but I know it’s one our guys are looking forward to. We have tremendous respect for them, and we’re hopeful to see if we can take another step this week at home, especially as we honor our seniors.”