5 things to know about Vanderbilt's Texas Bowl opponent: Baylor
Vanderbilt will face Baylor in the Texas Bowl at 9 p.m. Eastern on Dec. 27 at NRG Stadium in Houston.
The Commodores (6-6) became bowl eligible for the sixth time in the past decade with a 38-13 victory over in-state rival Tennessee in the final week of the regular season. They will be looking for their fifth bowl win in program history and first since the 2013 BVAA Compass Bowl.
Let’s take a look at the Commodores’ upcoming opponent, Baylor.
1. How the Bears got here
Baylor (6-6) started the 2018 season 4-2 before losing four in a five-game stretch in October and November. The Bears had to beat Texas Tech in the final game of the regular season to reach bowl eligibility. Both teams had plenty to play for as the Red Raiders were also 5-6 when the in-state rivals clashed No. 24 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Baylor scored 14 third-quarter points to erase a 3-point halftime deficit and defeat Texas Tech 35-24.
Two other pivotal conference victories — Kansas State and Oklahoma State — were decided by four points or less. Baylor scored in the final 10 seconds of both contests to win.
Baylor coach Matt Rhule, in his second season after arriving from Temple, was named honorable mention Big 12 Coach of the Year. The Bears were one of the most improved teams in the country after winning just one game in 2017, Rhule’s first season.
2. Their best offensive player is QB Charlie Brewer
Quarterback Charlie Brewer has been the Bears’ best offensive player when healthy this season. He completed 73 percent of his passes for 308 yards and 3 touchdowns with an interception in the bowl-clinching win over Texas Tech.
He has thrown 8 interceptions and 17 touchdowns this season. Three of those turnovers came in one game — a 58-14 loss Oct. 25 at West Virginia. Brewer entered concussion protocol the following week after what was clearly the worst performance of his career.
The sophomore has thrown for at least 288 yards five times this season and at least 3 touchdowns three times. If the Bears have a healthy Brewer in the Texas Bowl as expected, Vanderbilt’s defense will have its hands full.
3. Their best defensive player is LB Clay Johnston
Baylor middle linebacker Clay Johnston had 95 tackles, fifth in the Big 12, in 11 games despite a sprained MCL which hampered him early this season. He had a very strong finish to the regular season, including a career-high 17 tackles in a critical 35-31 win over Oklahoma State on Nov. 3. He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors for his play.
Defensive tackle James Lynch is another very talented player in the middle of Baylor’s defense. He had 9 tackles for loss and 5½ sacks in 12 games. The sophomore was a second-team All-Big 12 selection and honorable mention defensive lineman of the year in the conference.
4. The Bears’ history with the SEC
Baylor’s all-time record against SEC opponents is 14-17-2. The Bears haven’t played an SEC team since 1995, a 31-20 regular-season loss to Mississippi State. They are 3-4 against the SEC in bowl games.
Vanderbilt has faced Baylor twice, in 1953 and 1954. The Bears won both games.
5. Remember this guy?
Brewer’s top target is wide receiver Jalen Hurd. That name should sound very familiar to Vanderbilt fans as Hurd attended Beech Senior High School — 22 miles from the Commodores’ campus — and spent three seasons as a running back at Tennessee.
He led the Vols in rushing with 899 yards as a freshman in 2014. He was fourth in the SEC in rushing yards per game (99.1) and total rushing yards (1,288) as a sophomore. Now a senior, Hurd faced Vanderbilt twice as a Vol, rushing for 120 yards on 19 carries against the Commodores in 2015 — the last time Vanderbilt lost to Tennessee.
Hurd transferred to Baylor because he wanted an opportunity to play wide receiver. The decision has paid off as he was named Big 12 offensive newcomer of the year. He has 946 receiving yards this season, ranking eighth in a conference loaded with talented wide receivers. He redshirted last season and the Texas Bowl will be his final game of eligibility.