SAN MARCOS — There was nothing flamboyant, showy or particularly theatrical about Baylor’s season-opening performance against Texas State.
And that’s just fine with second-year Baylor coach Dave Aranda.
Hoping to establish the run after a near nonexistent ground game in 2020, Trestan Ebner rushed for 120 yards and Abram Smith picked up 118 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns as the Bears methodically wore down Texas State for a 29-20 win Saturday night at Bobcat Stadium.
With the Bears finishing with 238 rushing yards, all the pressure wasn’t on fourth-year junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon in his first start. Bohanon looked efficient on play-action passes as he hit 15 of 24 for 148 yards.
"I am proud of our identity on offense, you can get a feel of what we’re trying to accomplish," Aranda said. "I thought Gerry Bohanon was calm, collected and poised. Gerry was great on the sidelines, whether it was (going) good or bad, in terms of encouraging people. Gerry’s got so much to grow as a quarterback. He’s really gifted as a leader."
Baylor’s defense made a difference as JT Woods, Jalen Pitre and Jairon McVea each intercepted passes while limiting the Bobcats to 235 yards total offense. Texas State quarterback Brady McBride hit 20 of 40 passes for 156 yards and a score, but the three interceptions were costly, especially Woods' interception for a touchdown early in the game.
"It’s always big when the defense scores," Pitre said. "We take pride in taking three (turnovers) every week, and when we can add six points to the scoreboard as well that’s a bonus that’s just going to help out the team. It was good to see JT go out there and get a pick six tonight."
But penalties were costly for the Bears as they were flagged 11 times for 99 yards.
"I’m excited for the win," Aranda said. "I felt like we really could have played a lot better. I’m disappointed in the penalties. As much as we’ve made an example of it, addressed it in practice, I need to do a much better job. I take that kind of personally. That’s an area I need to improve a lot."
Baylor’s offense got off to an impressive start when it picked up a pair of first downs on the opening drive. But after a 10-yard run, Smith fumbled at Texas State’s 20.
It didn’t take long for the Bears to make up for the mistake as Woods stepped in front of a McBride pass and returned it for a 20-yard touchdown near the left sideline for a quick 7-0 lead with 11:57 left in the first quarter.
The Bobcats responded with a 14-play, 72-yard drive. After picking up a first down at the 6, McBride misfired on two passes into the end zone as Texas State settled for Seth Keller’s 21-yard field goal with 6:02 left in the first quarter.
Focusing on the running game, the Bears drove 58 yards to the 17. But Zion Childress forced a Bohanon fumble that Baylor offensive lineman Grant Miller recovered at the 23. Baylor’s chance for a score failed when Isaiah Hankins pulled a 40-yard field goal attempt to the right.
Texas State came back with an 11-play, 77-yard drive that ended with McBride’s 12-yard pass over the middle to Marcell Barbee for a touchdown to take a 10-7 lead with 6:41 left in the second quarter.
"He (McBride) was good, he was very elusive," Pitre said. "He stretched the field out a lot and you got to stay on routes down the field. He was a bit of a problem, but I think our defensive line did a good job containing him, and also the deep end with blitzes and stuff like that."
The Bears responded with an equally impressive drive as they moved 75 yards on 13 plays.
Bohanon hit RJ Sneed with passes of 19 and nine yards before Smith finished off the drive with a three-yard touchdown run to give the Bears a 14-10 lead with 36 seconds left in the second quarter.
The Bears pushed their lead to 17-10 when Hankins drilled a 43-yard field goal with 8:50 left in the third quarter.
After a strong defensive possession, Baylor put together an efficient five-play, 70-yard drive to take a 24-10 lead. Bohanon kicked it off with a 13-yard pass to Tyquan Thornton before Ebner showed some physical running by ripping off gains of 16 and 14 yards.
Bohanon then rolled right and hit Drake Dabney for 14 yards. On the next play, Smith tore through the right side of Texas State’s defense for a 13-yard touchdown run to extend Baylor’s lead to 14 points with 4:21 left in the third quarter.
"I give a lot of credit to those guys (up front)," Ebner said. "Without them, we wouldn’t be able to run anything. I’m just proud of them with how they fought and when they were tired they strained and made the blocks, and we were able to make the right cuts off them. All the credit goes to them."
The Bobcats weren’t through as McBride hit Barbee on passes of 12 and 21 yards and then hit Julian Ortega-Jones for 15 yards to Baylor’s 24.
But Pitre came up big for Baylor’s defense as he broke up a McBride pass on first down and then nailed Caleb Twyford for a one-yard loss on third down.
The Bobcats settled for Keller’s 38-yard field goal to cut Baylor’s lead to 24-13 with 45 seconds left in the third quarter.
Pitre intercepted McBride’s pass over the middle and returned it 20 yards to the 27 to start the fourth quarter to set up Hankins’ 26-yard field goal to push Baylor’s lead to 27-13.
On the next drive, McVea intercepted Hankins’ pass at Baylor’s 19. But the Bobcats made it interesting late in the game when Jahmyl Jeter ran for a two-yard touchdown with 1:19 remaining to cut the lead to 27-20.
Baylor finished the game by recording a safety on a bizzare final play. Though the Bears were happy to get out of San Marcos with the win, they know they need to improve in a lot of areas heading into Saturday's game against Texas Southern at McLane Stadium.
"It boosts our confidence a lot," Pitre said. "It shows us hard work does pay off. But it always tells us that we have to keep working."