Baylor-Duke preview: Why the Bears' Week 3 matchup is the most important game of the year

By Mary Scott McNabb

Baylor football has already doubled its win total from the 2017 season, but there’s still plenty of work left to do. Perhaps no test is more important than this upcoming Saturday.

After going 1-11 last season, Baylor coach Matt Rhule said the program expects to reach a bowl game in 2018. That means the program has to find an additional five wins somewhere on the schedule from last season. Two weeks in, the Bears are up two wins in the win column.

Kansas is likely another win on the schedule. There could be another one or two wins in Big 12 play. But to really have a shot at reaching bowl eligibility, Baylor has to find a way to go through the early schedule 4-0.

Last season, that proved difficult. The Bears went 0-3 to start the year. Once they got into conference play, the roster improved, but the results didn’t. What should have been a slightly underwhelming season turned into a 1-win disaster because of the struggles in the nonconference slate.

Baylor has been much more focused and ready in 2018. Both wins against an FCS opponent and Conference-USA team were by double-digits. However, this is the roster’s first real test. The Bears get it at home against a criminally underrated Duke program.

If Baylor wins convincingly, the drive for six wins looks very promising. If it’s a tight game, that’s at least some level of optimism. If the Bears lose by a significant margin at home to a Duke team playing without star quarterback Daniel Jones, then the season suddenly starts to look much more daunting.

Here’s everything you need to know about the critical matchup in Waco on Saturday.

Baylor vs. Duke details

Time: 2:30 p.m.

Date: Sept. 15, 2018

Location: McLane Stadium in Waco

What channel is Baylor vs. Duke on?

Baylor vs. Duke will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports 1. It can also be streamed live on Fox Sports Go.

How can I buy tickets to Baylor vs. Duke?

Click here to buy tickets to the Baylor vs. Duke game in Waco.

Baylor vs. Duke preview

Second chance

When Baylor and Duke scheduled this game, it seemed to be a mismatch. Last season, that proved to be true, but not in the way anyone thought. The Bears were fresh in the middle of a rebuild under head coach Matt Rhule, and it showed on the field in a 34-20 win.

However, the Baylor team that took the field Week 3 of the 2017 season isn’t the same one that ended the year. We don’t know much about the 2018 Baylor squad as yet, but the Bears showed some encouraging signs against UTSA and Abilene Christian.

On the other end, Duke is much improved too. The Blue Devils have convincing wins against Army and Northwestern through two weeks. Their defensive front is among the best in the ACC, and will be able to cause issues against Baylor’s young offensive line. The Bears also gave up touchdown runs of 65, 45 and 34 against Duke last season. Secondary tackling must be better.

New quarterbacks

A season ago, Duke quarterback Daniel Jones threw for 184 yards and helped orchestrate a 430-yard performance against the Bears’ defense. Through two games in 2018, Jones was completing 74.4 percent of his passes and averaging just shy of 10 yards per attempt.

Unfortunately, Jones is out for an extended period with a shoulder injury, so Quentin Harris – who boasts 15 career pass attempts – will start.

On the other end, the quarterback battle is still open in Waco. Sophomore Charlie Brewer showed why most thought he could be an All-Big 12 pick with 328 yards and three touchdowns against UTSA. Senior grad transfer Jalan McClendon had a down week against the Roadrunners, but posted 173 yards and two touchdowns in just 13 pass attempts against ACU.

Rhule will rotate both quarterbacks against Duke to start, but the platoon has to outplay the inexperienced Harris.

Winning the trenches

Duke boasts one of the best front sevens that Baylor will see this season. The Blue Devils line – led by disruptive sophomore defensive end Victor Dimukeje – held Northwestern to just seven points in Evanston a week ago.

Baylor’s offensive line is healthy, save for left tackle Josh Malin. JUCO transfer Johncarlo Valentin should provide a major boost wherever he’s slotted. The Bears mustered just 57 rushing yards on 2.1 yards per carry last season. That has to be better against the solid Duke defense.

On the other end, Duke has allowed 14 tackles for loss through two games. That presents an opportunity for a still developing Baylor front four. Getting Tyrone Hunt back to complement breakout lineman James Lynch will help bring things along.

Baylor allowed 246 rushing yards to Duke last season. That simply won’t do this season, especially considering the Blue Devils’ inexperience in the passing game. This battle will eventually decide the game.

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