WACO, Texas — Matt Rhule said he didn’t see any finger-pointing or yelling after his coaching debut for Baylor ended with the Bears losing to a lower-division opponent for just the second time ever.
The son of a minister and football coach already knew there was plenty of work to do following a sexual assault scandal that rocked the nation’s largest Baptist university near the height of its Big 12 success.
Stephen Calvert threw for 447 yards and three touchdowns and Liberty opened its final FCS season with a stunning 48-45 win over the Bears on Saturday night.
“You didn’t see any guys in the locker room saying, ‘Hey defense you did this. Hey offense you did this,'” Rhule said. “You saw a bunch of guys that said, ‘Hey this is what happened. Let’s move forward.’ Hoping every guy in this room says, ‘Hey what could I have done differently.’ If we all have that approach, we’ll be fine.”
The Bears lost their seventh straight regular-season game since starting 6-0 last season, while a 19-game regular-season winning streak against nonconference opponents ended.
Rhule was hired after a year with interim coach Jim Grobe following the scandal that led to the firing of two-time Big 12-winning coach Art Briles. The Bears lost an opener for the first time since Briles’ first game in 2008.
Baylor’s only other loss to a lower-division team was 18-17 to Division I-AA Lamar in the 1981 opener, when the Bears were coming off one of two Southwest Conference championships under Grant Teaff, the school’s winningest coach.
“This was not what we wanted tonight,” said Rhule, hired after consecutive 10-win seasons during a four-year stint at Temple. “It does not mean I’m not proud of them. I put this on me. I put this on the coaches. It’s our job to get it fixed.”
The matchup of private Christian schools was a big win for Liberty and athletic director Ian McCaw, who resigned the same job at Baylor last year after a scathing report over the school’s handling of sexual assault cases involving football players.
It was also a boost for coach Turner Gill, who flamed out in the Big 12 after just two losing seasons at Kansas.
“He’s here at Liberty University, so we’re all in it together,” Gill said of McCaw. “We work well together, and he’s a tremendous leader. I appreciate him, and we’re going to continue to work and have many more.”
Calvert, the sophomore quarterback guiding the Flames at the start of a two-year transition to FBS, also ran for a score while helping Liberty to its first win over a Big 12 school and fifth against an FBS opponent. Calvert was 44 of 60 without an interception.
Antonio Gandy-Golden had career highs of 13 catches and 192 yards receiving with two touchdowns, including a 13-yarder that put Liberty ahead for good at 34-31 late in the third quarter.
The teams traded touchdowns twice in the fourth quarter, starting with Calvert’s 8-yard run on a broken play for a 10-point lead. The Bears twice got within three points on touchdown runs from John Lovett, who had 89 yards after starting running back JaMycal Hasty left in the first half with a lower-extremity injury.
The Flames ran out all but 32 seconds of the final five minutes. Anu Solomon’s desperation pass as the clock expired was intercepted around the 10-yard line by Calvert, in the game to defend the Hail Mary.
Liberty: A huge boost as the Flames start the process of transitioning to FBS, and Gill left no doubt that he thought it would help recruiting. “Liberty’s brand name just went out pretty strong across the country, not just for football, but for the whole school,” he said.
Baylor: Clearly Rhule understands it’s not getting any easier after taking the job with just one recruit as a result of the fallout from the assault scandal. The Bears’ first three Big 12 games are against teams currently ranked, two of them in the top 10.
Like Rhule, Solomon was making his Baylor debut as a graduate transfer from Arizona. And he was solid, throwing for 278 yards and three touchdowns and leading the Bears with 97 yards rushing on six carries (16.2 average). His lone interception was a miscommunication with a receiver, and Chris Turner returned it 32 yards to break a 17-17 tie three plays into the second half.
Carrington Mosley helped keep the Liberty offense moving with 122 yards rushing on 28 carries. Baylor’s Chris Platt had 102 yards receiving and two touchdowns, including a 75-yarder that gave the Bears their last lead at 31-27 in the third quarter.
Liberty: The Flames begin pursuit of an FCS playoff berth in their final season of eligibility at home against Morehead State next Saturday.
Baylor: The Bears face an opponent for the first time for the second straight week in a visit from UTSA next Saturday.