The Big 12 isn’t exactly a conference known for physicality. Teams often post video game numbers, with Baylor football being chief among them.
For that reason, critics saw hiring Matt Rhule as a curious decision. Suddenly, a program synonymous with explosive offense attempts to transform into a hard-nosed defensive powerhouse. It’s a jarring change.
Before games start, there’s only so much coaches can do to instill a new mindset into the team. However, the coaching staff has been clear – they want the program to be much more physical. The work already started in practice this spring.
“They’ve been very physical,” linebacker Jalen Pitre said. “We’ve worn pads every day – no shorts, long pants. We hit every day. It wasn’t what I thought it would be, but we’re starting to get used to it. It’s some good practices out there.”
Obviously, there’s a difference between running practices in Philadelphia at Temple and in the baking Texas heat. Temperatures routinely approach 100 degrees in Waco, even in the spring. However, the players are still handling things.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” Pitre said.
The hard-nosed mindset doesn’t just apply to the defense. Rhule is also emphasizing being physical on the offensive side of the ball. That’s includes in running routes, on the lines and while making blocks both on the inside and outside. Rhule’s offense even includes a fullback.
“[There’s] more emphasis on physicality,” veteran wide receiver Chris Platt said. “We have more full contact and drills that help us get used to it.”
Baylor’s offensive system under Art Briles previously relied on speed and spacing to create one-on-one opportunities. While the athletes ensure that will remain true to an extent, Rhule’s offense at Temple slowed the clock and tried to manhandle opponents. They managed to do this despite not necessarily having elite recruits.
Every football team tries to play with physicality to an extent, but few coaches in the conference emphasize it the way Rhule does. The exception might be Bill Snyder at Kansas State – the Wildcats have made 18 bowls in the last 21 years with Snyder at the helm. There are signs it could be a winning strategy.
“We just have to get used to [physicality], it’s more mental than physical,” Rhule told media in March. “They just have to make a decision every day to compete at a high level and go against each other.”