Baylor has struggled this year, falling at home to both the Texas State Bobcats and the Utah Utes, but managed to get their first win of the season a week ago against the Long Island Sharks. They will once again be without quarterback Blake Shapen after an opening in the season opener sidelined him, leaving the job to Sawyer Robertson. So what will the Bears bring to the table on Saturday?
Burnt Orange Nation: We are just two years removed from Baylor winning the Big 12 Championship, but after a losing season a year ago the Bears have fallen to 1-2 to open Dave Aranda’s fourth season. What’s the mood like among the Baylor faithful heading into conference play?
Our Daily Bears: Less than ideal! If I had to sum it up, the vibe in general just feels off. There was a bit of a spark in the Utah game, especially in the first half, where the team felt closer to 21, but they couldn’t hold on. The other two games, a loss against Texas State and a less-than-inspiring win against LIU, have left many with the same bad taste they ended with last season. A win against the Longhorns would go a long way to remedying that mood, though.
BON: The Bears will be without Blake Shapen for another week after an injury in the opener against Texas State. Sawyer Robertson has stepped in, but struggled against Utah and wasn’t called upon much against LIU. What is the expectation for the offense with the Mississippi State transfer at the helm?
ODB: It will really depend on his health. He’s nursing an ankle injury, and that can prove difficult in our offense, given how much our passing game is based on play action and bootlegs. I think that limited what they called in the second half against Utah and the whole LIU game. I have questions about his accuracy on intermediate passing, which is where we’ve done our best passing work over the last couple of years, so not a lot of positives there. One benefit, he should be more comfortable in the system now, in his third game. So of he’s fully healthy, we might see him get the opportunity to go deeper into the playbook, which Baylor will need to do to compete against Texas.
BON: The Bears have leaned more on the running game in the interim, despite the injury to Dominic Richardson, who was held out against LIU. Is he expected to return and what is the expectation for the running game under Jeff Grimes?
ODB: Per Aranda, Richardson is “unlikely” to play. Don’t expect to see him out there. He’s been our bear runner this year, so that’s a tough blow. On the bright side, Richard Reese was a stellar freshman running back and was pre-season All-Big 12, so he’s no slouch. The offensive line has improved each week, it’s a group that had never played together, and Grimes’ wide zone scheme requires in-sync execution. Reps make that easier. We should be better as a whole in the run game going into Week Four, but not having Richardson is a huge loss, watch out for Dawson Pendergrass to get some carries as well — he passed the 100-yard mark against LIU last week.
BON: In the Bears’ first two games, Texas State moved the ball relatively easily, while Utah put together 14 points in the fourth quarter to pull off the comeback. What have Dave Aranda and new DC Matt Powledge done to address those struggles in the two weeks since?
ODB: The Utah game had a lot to do with exhaustion. The defense played a great game but the offense left them out to dry, committing three-and-outs and costly turnovers in the hottest game Baylor will play all year. The defense was gassed in that game. The secondary has improved over last year, but tackling has left a lot to be desired. This is also the first time Powledge is calling plays, so there was a definite learning curve there and probably affected the Texas State game. Baylor will need to focus on stopping the big plays to a guy like Worthy, and they cannot afford to let Ewers slip away if they get into the backfield. Those are my two biggest keys, don’t let the receivers get away and finish your tackle for loss opportunities.
BON: What is one storyline you’re watching in this game?
ODB: Who adjusts first? Aranda is a defensive tactician. Sark is maybe the best in the country at scripting a game, especially at the beginning. This game, depending on player performance, could become a chess match of epic proportions, as we’ve seen over the last couple of years. I enjoy seeing these two coaches try to outflank each other and seeing who can find a way to checkmate the other.
BON: What’s your prediction?
ODB: I can’t come on here and not rile you guys up, let’s get crazy. You get the SEC money, we get the win. Baylor 27-24 on a walk-off field goal.