ARLINGTON, TX — With Big 12 Media Days in the books, it's safe to say football is back in the State of Texas.
Matt Rhule and the Baylor Bears were eager to talk about the upcoming season and how they hope to continue to build on the successes of last season.
After finishing with only one win in 2017 and then going 7-6 with a Texas Bowl victory in 2018 , Rhule recognizes it will take discipline and consistency across the program for that record to continue improve.
"You can go from one win to seven wins by just kind of eliminating the bad stuff, the bad decisions on the football field, the egregious errors, all those things," Rhule said. "We have to become consistent. We were a team that got blown out against Oklahoma and came back and beat Kansas State. We got blown out at West Virginia and then they were able to beat Oklahoma State. We were reactionary and great teams are consistent every single time."
Rhule believes that consistency starts on the line, both offensive and defensive. Last season, the Bears started Connor Galvin at tackle the final five games of the season. At the time, Galvin was a 279-pound true freshman. Now, he's 300 pounds of in-game experience.
"For us to be a team that's in contention and relevant in November, we're going to have to play much better than we have on the offensive and defensive lines, and I think we're ready for that and our guys understand that's the next step. We have a great quarterback, but he can't be running for his life all the time," Rhule added.
In 2018, Rhule and his staff focused on toxic differential -- the difference between big plays for and against in combination with the difference between takeaways and giveaways.
Well, while that might have been the focus, the execution was lacking when it came to protecting their quarterback and pass rushing.
"We finished last in the conference in allowed sacks two years in a row and part of that is because we have been behind," Rhule added. "We haven't been ready up front to play at the level that we want to play at, and I think we're at the point where we have seven to eight guys that we think can play for us at a high level. That to me is the number, you want three tackles, three guards and two centers, and if you have eight guys then you have a chance to be whole."
Those high expectations are for the defensive line, too. Rhule said he wants his defense to have 40 sacks come the end of the 2019-2020 season.
"We have never been in control of a game. Even last year the games that we won it came down to the final minutes, there was never a time when I was relaxing on the sidelines. It was all the way down to the end. We have to get control of the games. We have to get a lead. We have to stop the run and make teams one-dimensional so we can turn it up," Rhule said.
Turn it up to the point of being a bowl team year after year.
There is a lot of comparison between Rhule's time at Temple and now at Baylor. In Rhule's first season as head coach at Temple, the Owls went 2-10. In his second year, they improved to 6-6, but did not make a bowl. But, in his third year, the Owls reached new heights, finishing with 10 wins.
Rhule is on track to follow suit at Baylor, except he's already got a bowl win under his belt with the Bears.
"I look at my team and judge them depending on how hard they're working. This is the hardest, most industrious groups I've been around. They work. I know the teams that are here. They're working, too. So I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful that we can take those steps. I'm putting that on myself, like, I expect myself to do the job that I'm hired to do and that's to get us to be a bowl team every year and have us be a team in November that's fighting to play in the championship game. We weren't that last year and that's the next step," Rhule added.
Charlie Brewer is key to taking that next step. Rhule admits to putting Brewer in tough situations last season when he rotated him with Jalan McClendon, but said he's pleased with how Brewer handled the situation and chose to focus on what he would do when he had his chance to lead the Bears' offense.
"Once that light bulb went off for him I thought he was a really good quarterback and at the end of the year when we were able to run the ball and protect him I thought he was an excellent quarterback," Rhule said. "I think Charlie is a natural quarterback. The game comes easy to him. He's accurate. He loves to play, loves to compete. What I'm excited about is his commitment to learning the game at a higher level, understanding the run checks, the pass checks, the protections, making himself a pro quarterback as a junior and I've seen great work from him and that to me tells me he's ready to go be a great player this year."
The Bears will hold training camp in early August and begin prepping for Stephen F. Austin, their season opener on August 31st.