Baylor, coach Matt Rhule struggling now but building for future with young roster

One season ago, Baylor beat Oklahoma State 35-24, the Bears’ straight win against the Cowboys. This season, the Baylor roster looks much, much different — and younger.

Just nine of Baylor’s 23 listed starters for that Sept. 24, 2016, game will be on the field for the Bears in Stillwater, Okla., this Saturday. That doesn’t count Ish Zamora or Shock Linwood, who technically came off the bench against the Cowboys and have since departed.

The Bears’ top three most targeted receivers from last season’s win against Oklahoma State will not play. KD Cannon and Zamora are in the NFL. Chris Platt suffered a torn ACL against Oklahoma on Sept. 23. The following Saturday, punter Drew Gallitz suffered a torn ACL, as well. Kicker Chris Callahan? He’s gone, too. The reliance on youth for this team heading into Week 7 is undeniable.

But it’s not a surprise for first-year coach Matt Rhule.

“Everything is the first time in a lot of ways,” said Rhule, whose team is yet to win a game. “When they go on the road to Kansas State and then atmosphere is electrifying, that’s the first time. So we’ll do it this week, but it’s the second time. You just don’t have that wisdom.”

Rhule also played quite a few freshmen at Temple during his first few years. He was never shy about playing underclassmen who bought into his system, a practice which has held true at Baylor.

At this point, 17 Class of 2017 recruits burned their redshirts. Eleven of 22 players on the two-deep for Baylor are freshmen. Only rush end Deonte Williams is a redshirt. Eight freshmen have started at least one game. Cornerback Harrison Hand, Williams, and strongside linebacker Jalen Pitre have started four.

“You can see the light go on in a couple more kids’ eyes each and every week,” Rhule said. “As I see the light go on for Denzel Mims and Jordan Williams, I say to myself, ‘Just keep getting more and more kids to have the switch go off.’ And that’s the hard part about playing freshmen, but that’s what we did at Temple.”

Learning from experience

Rhule has experience bringing along a roster like this. In 2013, Rhule took a roster that had won 30 games in four years prior to his arrival and went just 2-10 in his first season. Many fans were unhappy and thought hiring Rhule was a mistake.

“Those kids [at Temple] that lost on a Hail Mary to Fordham and lost on a fourth-and-12 to Rutgers ended up beating everybody, pretty much, because they had learned from tough losses,” Rhule said.

One year later, the players were older, more experienced. The Owls went 6-6. A year later, the team won 10 games and played in both the AAC title game and a bowl game. In 2016, Rhule won Temple’s first conference championship — in any conference — since 1967. It was only the second conference title in the history of the school.

“I have watched [Rhule] from a distance,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “He obviously has done very well for himself and had a history of winning. He’s obviously a very capable coach, or the administration down there wouldn’t have brought him in.”

Baylor has a dogfight just to get to two wins this season. However, the program is following a similar progression. However, the results have to come.

The post Baylor, coach Matt Rhule struggling now but building for future with young roster appeared first on Diehards.

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