Baylor Football

Back in the saddle, Zach Smith always considered himself the starter

September 12, 2017

After a great performance in the Cactus Bowl against Boise State, there was little question in the mind of Baylor fans everywhere that Zach Smith would be the starting quarterback for Matt Rhule's 2017 squad. His prototypical size and arm strength, plus the camaraderie with his returning teammates, made it an obvious and easy decision.

That eventually proved to be true, it just took a little longer to get there than expected after graduate transfer Anu Solomon won the starting job out of fall camp and held the position through the first two games of the season.

It wasn't until an 0-2 start with Solomon leading the way, however, that Rhule officially gave the ball to Smith.

Todd Nickle
Zach Smith was named the starting QB on Monday.

After being thrown into the proverbial fire as a true freshman, Smith, with only two passes under his belt so far the 2017 season, will be thrown into a similar fire again as he leads the Bears into Durham, North Carolina for the toughest regular season non-conference game the Bears have played since Robert Griffin III led the team to a 50-48 victory over TCU in 2011 at home.

It will be the first non-conference road trip to a face a Power 5 opponent for the program since traveling to Wake Forest in 2009, a game the Bears won 24-21.

But, in a way, Smith always knew the day would come this season. He prepared that way at least.

"I’ve always kind of seen myself — you know, even when we were competing and stuff — I’ve always kind of seen myself as the starter," Smith said. "When he announced Anu, I always thought of myself as a starter and a leader on this team. So, I prepared like I was going to start each week because you never know when you’re going to go in."

"If you’re not you’re kind of cheating yourself because you’re not going to prepare as hard. Just got to keep pushing yourself and preparing every week like you’re going to be the guy."

Solomon, who took a large number of shots down the field, narrowly missed throws on multiple occasions that would have changed the entire outlook of Baylor's first two games. While the offensive line will need to provide time for any quarterback, the outlook of the offense ran in the first 120 minutes of the season arguably fits Smith's skill set better.

After admitting that he held offensive coordinator Jeff Nixon back a bit in his playcalling during his press conference on Tuesday, Rhule said he also expects the offense to adapt to Smith's strengths when he hits the field Saturday.

"No one has thrown the ball over 40 yards more than we have the first two games," Rhule said. "We’ve taken a ton of shots, and we’re doing it because we’re open. We’re running by people, so we just need to make a couple more plays. I think with Zach we’re going to play a little more to his strengths this week. Hopefully, we can be a little bit more on the same page as an offense."

But if the offensive line can't hold up and the running game can't buy Smith time to find his deep ball, it would be his decision making and strong arm that could have the ability to drive the ball down the field and flip the switch for the running game and line. With that in place, the deep ball should naturally fall into place. That's a lot of moving pieces, however.

I think I grew up a lot last year in those four games so I’m looking forward going out and really executing.
- QB, Zach Smith

According to Smith, he believes his success in the Cactus Bowl was great for his experience entering the game on Saturday, an outing against Boise State where he proved to be a game manager with short and intermediate throws with the occasional deep ball. Smith completed over 70 percent of his passes for 375 yards with only two passes completed over 40 yards.

"I’ve really got to step up and got to go out there and play my play," Smith said. "Don’t try to do too much. Get the ball to my playmakers. Be decisive."

And who knows, he might just add a little bit on the ground as well.

"He’s fighting, he’s scratching, he’s clawing to get his chance," Rhule said. "I think he’s healthy. I’ve never really seen Zach move around because he came off that injury in bowl game in the spring.  He limped around the whole spring.

"I think he can give us something in the run game."

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Back in the saddle, Zach Smith always considered himself the starter

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