HOUSTON (AP) — Baylor made an impressive turnaround this season, winning six games after managing just one win in 2017.
The Bears (6-6) will try to cap their successful year with one more victory Thursday when they meet Vanderbilt (6-6) in the Texas Bowl.
"It's really important that we go out and play our best game," Baylor coach Matt Rhule said. "It's really important that we go out and show that we know how to win versus an SEC team and I hope we make that jump. But I think the real progress has been made over the last month, and I'm real proud of the work the guys have put in."
The Commodores enter the game having won three of their last four and looking for their first bowl win since 2013. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason hopes that their strong finish to the regular season will carry over into Thursday night's game.
"I think the way you end one chapter is the way you start another, so we were able to garner some momentum toward the end of the season," Mason said. "That was exactly what we needed to get a 13th game. And now in this 13th game, we try to maximize every practice, opportunity, every meeting and everything that's been in front of these guys, I think these guys have really attacked it."
Mason raved about the job Rhule has done since taking over at Baylor before the 2017 season one year after the firing of longtime coach Art Briles because of allegations of sexual assault by football players.
"I'm really impressed with Matt Rhule," Mason said. "I know coach Rhule and I know what he walked into. I know what he encountered, and what he's been able to do in a short amount of time is worked toward pushing that program back to relevance, and that's no easy task."
Some things to know about the Texas Bowl.
Vanderbilt running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn is healthy after sustaining an arm injury in the team's last game and will be ready to go on Thursday. Vaughn, the SEC newcomer of the year, has a career-high 1,001 yards rushing with 13 rushing touchdowns and two TD catches after sitting out last year following a transfer from Illinois.
"He's a tremendous back," Rhule said. "They run a lot of outside zone where they get you running and then they do a tremendous job of cutting the ball up. It presents a challenge for us because ... not many teams in the Big 12 lineup and run that play and not many people run it like they do."
The Bears will be without leading receiver Jalen Hurd after he had knee surgery after being injured in the team's regular-season finale against Texas Tech. Hurd had 946 yards receiving with four touchdowns this season.
"Jalen is an outstanding, outstanding player," Rhule said. "He's going to get drafted and go play in the NFL, so it's hard to replace that."
But Rhule is confident that players like Denzel Mims, Josh Fleeks and Tyquan Thornton will step up to help make up for his loss against Vanderbilt. Mims leads that group with 699 yards receiving and eight touchdowns, Fleeks has 92 yards receiving and a touchdown and Thornton has 282 yards receiving with three scores.
Vanderbilt senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur had 23 touchdown passes this season to give him a school-record 63 in his career. As he wraps up his college career on Thursday, two other Vanderbilt records are within reach. He needs just 119 yards passing to move ahead of Jay Cutler (8,697) for most career yards passing in school history and he's 335 yards shy of passing Kurt Page (3,178) for most yards passing in a season.
WE FINALLY MEET AGAIN
Thursday will be the third meeting between these teams but the first since 1954. The Bears are 2-0 against Vanderbilt. They had a 25-19 win in 1954 in Nashville after beating the Commodores 47-6 in Waco a year earlier.
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