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Matt Rhule and the Importance of Taking Chances

Conservatism is not a governing philosophy in football

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Rhule does not adhere to fourth down conservatism. In an exceptionally close game, Rhule’s aggression helped Baylor defeat Iowa State—the Big 12’s preseason No. 3 team—and advanced to 4-0 on the year.

Before turning to Rhule’s aggression against Iowa State today, it’s useful to remember this isn’t what coaches normally do. Most like to punt and do things the way they’ve been done by coaches for decades. Going for it wasn’t even how Rhule used to coach against Iowa State.

In 2017, Baylor trailed Iowa State by seven points in the fourth quarter. On 4th and 7 at the Iowa State 38, Rhule elected to punt. The Cyclones scored and Baylor lost. After that game, Rhule said, “It’s a one score game. I thought we were going to be able to stop ‘em. And hey, we’re playing decent on defense...let’s try and pin ‘em and get the ball back.”

In 2019, Rhule abandoned that blend of conservatism. Instead, Rhule embraced Barry Goldwater’s version of conservatism, which proclaimed that “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Rhule was extreme in going for it on 4th down. In a scoreless game, Rhule kept his offense on the field on 4th and 5 with 2:01 left in the first half. The Bears got the first down and ended up with seven points. In a game Baylor won by two points, getting four more points—because keeping the offense on the field gave Denzel Mims another chance—proved vital:

In the second half, Rhule didn’t moderate either. On 4th and 1 at the Iowa State 40, Rhule didn’t punt. Some coaches would try and pin the ball and trust their defense would just keep shutting Iowa State down. But Rhule decided to keep his offense on the field—even though Baylor failed to gain a first down on 3rd and 2—and the Bears converted. A few plays later, Baylor added another touchdown:

The right decision doesn’t always lead to a touchdown. On 4th and 15 from the Iowa State 28, Rhule decided to go for it. Brewer faced immediate pressure, and Baylor turned it over on downs. But the Bears put themselves in a position to keep scoring. And even if Baylor had hit that field goal and the one earlier, they’d still have fewer points (six) than they gained from just getting one touchdown on those two drives (seven). The aggression led to more points for Baylor.

Rhule also kept the team’s faith when he needed the field goal to win. As Denzel Mims told ESPN 1660 after the game, ““Coach Rhule has put us in this situation before at was like, what’s next.” Or as Rhule opened in his press conference, ““Well, in the words of Maximus from ‘Gladiator,’ are you not entertained?”

Baylor fans should be entertained and ecstatic they have Rhule leading the program. The off-season hype might have been about Iowa State. But the season hype now belongs to Baylor and a coach not afraid to go for it.