HOUSTON (AP) — Before Baylor faced Vanderbilt in the Texas Bowl on Thursday night, coach Matt Rhule asked his players to think about where they were a year ago after the team finished 1-11.
After taking a moment to reflect on that, the Bears returned their focus to 2018 and finished an impressive turnaround with a huge performance from quarterback Charlie Brewer in a 45-38 win. Brewer threw for 384 yards and two touchdowns, the second a tiebreaking 52-yarder in the fourth quarter, and ran for 109 yards and another score.
Brewer, who was selected MVP, connected with Marques Jones for the 52-yard stroke that that made it 45-38 with less than two minutes left. The Bears then stopped Vanderbilt on fourth-and-5 to secure the win.
Brewer’s other touchdown pass was a 75-yarder earlier in the fourth quarter, and he scored on a 1-yard run in the third.
The Bears finished 7-6 a year after losing all but one game in Rhule’s first season.
“They’ve just continued to evolve every week into a good team and battled through adversity,” he said. “They did it by working hard and working together.”
Brewer compared his first two seasons at Baylor.
“It feels a lot better to be in this position than in the position we were in last year,” he said.
Vanderbilt (6-7) was led by Kyle Shurmur, who threw for 286 yards and a touchdown, and Ke’Shawn Vaughn , who ran for two touchdowns and set a Texas Bowl record with 243 yards rushing — which ranks second in school history. Shurmur moved past Jay Cutler (8,697) for most career yards passing in school history with 8,865.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason raved about Brewer and was disappointed his team couldn’t contain him.
“The dual threat at the quarterback position was huge tonight,” Mason said. “He ran as well as their running backs did. The reality was, he was the difference in this ballgame. He was able to keep drives alive with his legs and that was tough for us.”
Baylor led by three with about 10 1/2 minutes left when a pass intended for Denzel Mims bounced off him as he fell in the end zone and was intercepted by Randall Haynie, who grabbed the ball and stood on tiptoes before falling backward out of the end zone.
Two plays later, Vaughn ran 66 yards to get Vanderbilt to the 1, and Khari Blasingame ran it in on the next play to put the Commodores up 35-31. The Bears regained the lead when Trestan Ebner scored on a 75-yard catch and run on the first play of the next drive.
Vanderbilt tied it on a 33-yard field goal with 3 1/2 minutes remaining.
Ebner’s 34-yard touchdown run gave Baylor a 24-21 lead early in the third quarter. The Bears padded the lead when Brewer scrambled for a 1-yard score with about five minutes left in the third.
Vanderbilt had a chance to cut the lead to three after that, but Jared Pinkney fumbled after a 32-yard reception and the Bears recovered it at their own 2. But Baylor couldn’t move the ball and had to punt.
Shurmur threw a 52-yard pass to Amir Abdur-Rahman to get the Commodores to the 2-yard line, and Blasingame scored on the next play to get to 31-28 near the end of the third quarter.
The Commodores took a 7-0 lead when Shurmur connected with Blasingame on a short pass and dashed down the field for a career-long 65-yard touchdown reception on the third play of the game.
The Bears settled for a 23-yard field goal on their first drive before taking a 10-7 lead when John Lovett ran 12 yards for a touchdown with about two minutes left in the first quarter.
Vanderbilt went back on top 14-10 when Vaughn ran 68 yards for a touchdown late in the first.
JaMycal Hasty gave Baylor a 17-14 lead when he scored on an 18-yard run early in the second quarter.
But Vaughn’s second long run came not long after that to make it 21-17. Vaughn broke a couple of tackles and then outran the rest of the defense for a 69-yard score. Jameson Houston dove at his feet near the 20-yard line, but barely clipped one of his legs and Vaughn didn’t break his stride on the way to the end zone.
Both teams showed power on offense but will need to improve on defense, especially in giving up big plays, if they hope to take another step next season.
Rhule interrupted Vaughn in the middle of an interview after the game to shake the running back’s hand and congratulate him on his big game.
“I just want to tell you, that was as impressive as anything I’ve ever seen,” Rhule told Vaughn. “That was really impressive. You’re impressive on tape, too, but seeing you live — that was impressive.”
Vaughn was moved by the kind words.
“I’ve never had a coach from another team come and talk to me about my performance so it means a lot that I got his attention, too,” he said.
Vaughn, a junior, said he hasn’t decided yet if he’ll declare for the NFL draft.
Baylor: After the turnaround this season, the Bears should be improved next year with Brewer returning.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores will have to find a replacement for Shurmur, their starter for the last three years, after his record-setting career ended Thursday night.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/tag/Collegefootball and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25