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Bears' focus clear in home opener

Bears' focus clear in home opener

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One of the basics second-year Baylor coach Dave Aranda has tried to instill in his team is to play with extreme focus regardless of the opponent.

The Bears didn’t dismiss Texas Southern as the only FCS team on their schedule or a team that was throttled by Prairie View A&M, 40-17, in the opening week of the season.

The Bears came out playing with high energy and maintained that intensity throughout a 66-7 blowout Saturday night in the home opener at McLane Stadium.

It was exactly the type of performance Aranda wanted to see heading into Saturday’s Big 12 opener against Kansas at 2:30 p.m. in Lawrence.

“I was impressed with the week that went into this,” Aranda said. “I think at the start of it, we had the focus we needed to be there. There are analytics that we use throughout the week, and we looked at the first week compared to this week. Our load and our effort were so much higher and so much stronger. I think some of that had to do with just the second week, knowing what’s expected.”

The Bears did nearly everything better against Texas Southern following a 29-20 win over Texas State in San Marcos in the Sept. 4 season opener.

Baylor’s offense amassed 714 yards after a 386-yard effort against the Bobcats. With 238 yards rushing, the ground game was strong against Texas State as both Trestan Ebner and Abram Smith surpassed 100 yards.

But the Bears pushed their running attack to 433 yards and averaged an astounding 9.7 yards per game against Texas Southern as Ebner, Smith and Taye McWilliams became the first trio of Baylor backs to surpass 100 yards in a game since 2015.

The offensive line continued to show improvement as the Bears opened massive holes. Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon wasn’t surprised because of the work ethic they showed throughout the week from morning film work to afternoon practices.

“When I say those guys come in and go to work during the week, they’re here at 10:30 watching film,” Bohanon said. “They really challenge each other to get better. That’s a special group.”

Aranda gives a lot of credit to first-year Baylor offensive line coach Eric Mateos for their steady improvement.

“I got a lot of respect for Eric Mateos,” Aranda said. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s one of the best teachers on our staff. He’s made great connections with our guys.”

But nobody made a bigger step forward than Bohanon, who hit 17 of 23 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns in the second start of his career after making his first against Texas State.

Bohanon looked more poised in directing the offense and showed more confidence that he could make any kind of throw.

“I’m a very confident person,” Bohanon said. “I know I prepare, I know I put in the work. I know those guys got my back. If I make a mistake, I’m really not worried about it because they’re going to pick me up. I’m getting a feel, I’m more comfortable. Actually, I’m in a good spot.”

The Bears spent much of the week trying to perfect deep passes, and it showed when Bohanon hit Tyquan Thornton in stride for a 48-yard first-quarter touchdown.

“We wanted to improve the downfield throw game, and I think we did,” Aranda said. “Gerry throughout the week was trying to be perfect with things, where one of his attributes is just getting that back foot in the ground and slinging it, and receivers will be running underneath it. So to see Gerry relax and then continue to work on it and get better at it is what you wanted to see.”

Bohanon also showed how dangerous he could be running the ball as he carried five times for 27 yards and scored on seven and 10-yard runs. The 6-3, 221-pound Bohanon isn’t afraid to plow over defenders for extra yardage.

“I love it,” Bohanon said. “It makes me feel alive. The big guys play physical, the wideouts play physical, the running backs play physical, so why can’t I be physical too?”

Defensively, the highlight of the night was safety JT Woods’ school-record 97-yard fumble return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.

Woods picked up the ball after Baylor’s Jalen Pitre knocked it out of Jacorey Howard’s hands as he was trying to run for a touchdown.

“I’m excited for him,” Aranda said. “When I first got here, I know he was always smiling. He just loves on everybody. JT has a big heart. And I think football-wise, he’s a great player. He’s a better person. Whatever he winds up doing, he’ll be more successful.”

That was the only turnover the Bears forced against Texas Southern after intercepting three passes against Texas State, including Woods’ 20-yard return for a touchdown.

But Baylor’s defense played solid football night by limiting the Tigers to 281 yards. The Bears recorded 10 tackles for loss with Pitre and linebackers Matt Jones and Ashton Logan recording two apiece.

Both Pitre and Jones set the tone by laying big hits for losses on running back Jeff Proctor on Texas Southern’s first two plays.

“I think defensively, having that aggressiveness helps you a lot mentally, but also kind of wears down offenses a little bit,” Woods said. “Not everybody wants to get hit play after play after play. So I think that physicality wears people down, and when you can stay physical for four quarters, not a lot of people can do that.

The Bears will face a Kansas team that’s 1-1 under first-year coach Lance Leipold following a season-opening 17-14 win over South Dakota followed by Friday’s 49-22 loss to No. 16 Coastal Carolina.

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