Baylor celebrates first home victory in the Matt Rhule era

When a rebuilding program is desperate for a win, sometimes the quality of the opponent doesn’t really matter.

Baylor beat Abilene Christian, 55-27, Saturday night in front of 45,330 mostly delighted fans at McLane Stadium. It represented the first time coach Matt Rhule, who took the Bears job in December, 2016, won in Waco.

After a victory, even if the opponent was an FCS school, the glittery gold fireworks pumped out over the stadium appeared brighter. The fight songs were catchier, the pop of every play was that much louder. Rhule even had the luxury of sticking in a walk-on quarterback, the son of one of his assistants, near the end of the game.

The Bears hadn’t scored so many points or eclipsed more than 600 yards in two seasons. A year ago, the last time Baylor played an FCS team, they lost 48-45.

Rhule was most impressed with how his team responded in the fourth quarter. The Bears didn’t allow a point in the final 15 minutes and Baylor’s offense added to the margin with a John Lovett touchdown.

“To me they showed resiliency, moxie and all the things we’re looking for,” Rhule said. “We have a lot to correct, but I think we showed a lot of flashes.”

Baylor had its way with ACU using a two-quarterback system, with Rhule rotating Charlie Brewer and Jalan McClendon every two series while the game was competitive.

Technically, Brewer, the former star at Lake Travis High School, was the starter. Rhule said at the beginning of last week that he’d wait until the night before the game to name a starter. Yet he still didn’t reveal his choice until Brewer trotted out onto the field.

But it was McClendon who posted the better numbers. When the 2017 season ended, Brewer was the only scholarship quarterback on the roster. Now, Rhule might have a quarterback quandary.

Rhule said in his post-game press conference that Brewer suffered a back injury in the second half and wasn’t allowed to return to the game. Late Saturday, Rhule said he didn’t know the severity of Brewer’s injury.

“I’d rather have more quarterbacks than not,” Rhule said. “If you’re not 100 percent, it’s great to know there’s another quarterback behind you.”

McClendon transferred to Baylor this summer. At a minimum, he’d been counted on to provide some experienced depth. The former four-star prospect signed with North Carolina State in 2015 over offers from Miami and Florida State. But he never won the starting job and decided to graduate early and find a new program.

McClendon led four drives in the first half. All of them ended in touchdowns. He was nearly perfect, completing eight of nine passes for 163 yards with two touchdowns.

Brewer also quarterbacked four drives in the first half, but the results weren’t as dramatic. His Bears scored 10 points, but also punted twice. He was six of 11 for 76 yards.

For the game, McClendon completed 10 of his 13 passes for 173 yards with touchdowns to Jalen Hurd and Marques Jones.

Brewer was eight of 15 for 138 yards. His best completion was a 55-yarder to Denzel Mims.

The Bears running attack also responded well, particularly in the second half. JaMychal Hasty rushed for 102 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns. Hasty also caught four passes for 67 yards. John Lovett ran 12 times for 115 yards and three scores.

ACU was able to keep the game to within two touchdowns midway through the second quarter thanks to some tough running by tailback Billy McCrary, a former star at Rouse High School. McCrary, who transferred to ACU from California in the offseason, rushed for 141 yards on six carries. His 75-yard touchdown in the second quarter cut Baylor’s lead to 31-17.

Baylor’s offense rolled to 606 yards — 295 on the ground, 311 via the air. The last time the Bears surpassed 600 was Nov. 25, 2016. The last time Baylor reached 55 points was the 2016 season opener.

Rhule told his team to enjoy the win for the next 24 hours. By Monday, it’ll be time to prep for Texas-San Antonio. The competition gets tougher, but so will the expectations.

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