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Liberty shocks Baylor, spoiling opening of Matt Rhule era

Liberty quarterback Stephen Calvert throws downfield against Baylor in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Waco, Texas. (Jerry Larson/Waco Tribune Herald, via AP)

The first game of the Matt Rhule era did not go well for Baylor.

The Bears welcomed Liberty, still a year away from its first season as an FBS program, to McLane Stadium on Saturday night and allowed a whopping 585 yards of offense in a 48-45 loss. Most of Liberty’s damage was done through the air. Sophomore quarterback Stephen Calvert had an awesome performance, putting up 447 yards and three touchdowns without throwing an interception. Antonio Gandy-Golden, another sophomore, was his favorite target. He hauled in 13 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns.

Both of Gandy-Golden’s touchdowns gave Liberty the lead. Baylor briefly led 7-6 early in the second quarter, but Gandy-Golden was in the end zone just over two minutes later. And after Baylor, which started Arizona grad transfer Anu Solomon at quarterback, took a 31-27 lead in the third on a 75-yard connection between Solomon and Chris Platt, Liberty responded when Calvert hit Gandy-Golden for a 13-yard score just before the third quarter closed.

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Liberty wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden, left, scores past Baylor safety Jourdan Blake, right, in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017, in Waco, Texas. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald, via AP)

The lead grew to 41-31 when Calvert scored on an eight-yard run, but Baylor kept things close. Freshman running back John Lovett had a promising debut, gaining 89 yards and scoring twice on 14 carries. Both of his touchdowns came in the fourth quarter to cut the Liberty lead to three points, but whenever the BU defense had a chance to get the ball back in the hands of its offense, Calvert continually picked the Bears’ secondary apart.

Baylor did get a final shot to tie the game up when Liberty punted with under a minute to go. A Solomon scramble got the Bears close to midfield, but a Zack Smith (who was brought in for his stronger arm) Hail Mary was intercepted, sealing the upset for Liberty.

The win marks the sixth over an FBS opponent in Liberty history. The last came over Georgia State in 2015. The Flames are coached by ex-Kansas coach Turner Gill. The last time Gill beat a Big 12 team was Nov. 6, 2010 against Colorado when he was still with the Jayhawks.

Liberty has been a member of the Big South since 2002 and has won a share of seven conference championships, including two outright. The school hired Gill as head coach in 2012 after Gill’s stints at Buffalo and Kansas. The Flames will make the jump to the FBS level in 2018 before beginning play as a full-time, bowl eligible FBS independent program in 2019.

Coincidentally, Liberty hired ex-Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw to lead its transition to FBS.

McCaw stepped down from Baylor amid the school’s sexual assault scandal that led to the firing of coach Art Briles. The Bears played the 2016 with Jim Grobe as its acting head coach before hiring Rhule away from Temple.

Baylor has the chance to get its first win under Rhule when it hosts UTSA next Saturday.

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Maryland throttles Texas 51-41 in Tom Herman’s first game
Michigan LB escapes targeting penalty after hit that fits definition of targeting

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!