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Powerful 3-0 start gives Baylor Bears hope

Powerful 3-0 start gives Baylor Bears hope

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Tribune-Herald sportswriters John Werner and Brice Cherry, plus special guest Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register, talk Big 12 football this week.

Baylor coach Dave Aranda’s first two seasons have one commonality: The Bears opened the Big 12 by pummeling Kansas.

Last year, the Bears romped to a 47-14 win over the Jayhawks at McLane Stadium after the nonconference schedule was wiped out by COVID-19 cancellations.

On Saturday, Baylor dominated the Jayhawks again with a 45-7 thrashing in Lawrence.

Of course, the Bears won just one more game in 2020 and finished 2-7.

But the Bears have a lot of reasons to believe that 2021 won’t follow a similar downward spiral. The offense is dramatically better, the defense is more experienced, and Aranda has a year of head coaching experience under his belt.

Additionally, there’s not the weekly threat that COVID-19 is going to force a cancellation or a postponement since so many players have been vaccinated or have already had the virus.

Baylor’s powerful offense is the biggest reason for seasonlong optimism. Last year, the Bears ranked ahead of only Kansas in the Big 12 with 310.2 yards and 23.3 points per game.

So far this season the Bears lead the Big 12 with 558.7 yards and 46.7 points per game in their 3-0 start. Though those stats might look inflated since Baylor’s first three games were against Texas State, Texas Southern and Kansas, the offensive line is obviously much improved and has been the biggest reason why the Bears are averaging 321.3 yards rushing per game.

In the romp over Kansas, the Bears rushed for 307 yards and averaged an impressive 6.8 yards per rush. Abram Smith was the catalyst as he rushed for 122 yards on 16 carries to push his season total to 366 yards, ranking second in the Big 12 behind Kansas State’s Deuce Vaughn with 371 yards. Trestan Ebner picked up 72 yards on 12 carries to raise his season total to 317 yards, the third-best rushing total in the league.

Aranda was impressed how Baylor’s offensive linemen adapted to the Jayhawks’ array of defensive fronts.

“You know the challenges with (Kansas) is four-man, five-man, three-man fronts and their ability to run movement and bigger bodies,” Aranda said. “Kansas runs an offense somewhat similar to ours and there are ways we want to combat it. We were able to see all of it and have the communication and effort to attack that. There are guys that are battling through, whether it’s personal stuff or battling through mild injuries or this type of thing. But their fight and their grit up front led this team.”

Making his third start at quarterback, Gerry Bohanon’s confidence and poise in running Baylor’s offense continued to show.

Relying mostly on play-action passes, Bohanon hit 19 of 23 for 269 yards and two touchdowns while also running for a nine-yard score in the fourth quarter. With Baylor’s running backs and offensive line performing at such a high level, the fourth-year junior knows it’s more important to be efficient than spectacular.

“I would say my pocket presence has been good,” Bohanon said. “I’m very confident in the O-line. I’m very confident in my backs blocking. I’m really not worried too much with those guys because I know they’ve got my back. They’re going to give it their all each and every play for me. I’m sitting back there comfortable. I’m really just enjoying the time I’ve got in the pocket, hoping I can make some plays for those guys for holding up like that.”

The only downside to Baylor’s offensive performance was a pair of fumbles that stopped potential scoring threats.

“The competition to this point has been ourselves and penalties and turnovers bit us today,” Aranda said. “If we really played a clean game where we can focus our energies on our opponent, we can play at a really high level. We were able to see some of that and feel some of that in the second half.”

Baylor’s defense limited Kansas to 166 total yards as the Jayhawks converted just three of 12 third downs. Jason Bean hit eight of 17 passes for 57 yards and the Jayhawks never established a consistent ground game as they rushed for 109 yards while averaging 3.3 yards per carry.

“It was very big going out there and getting a stop, shutting them out and putting the offense out there,” said Baylor linebacker Matt Jones. “We have a list of goals we try to complete every game as far as how many yards per carry, yards per play, all those things.”

However, Baylor’s defensive line continued to struggle to apply quarterback pressure. Though noseguard Siaki “Apu” Ika was back from a one-game suspension for an unspecified violation of team rules, he didn’t record a tackle.

The Bears didn’t get a sack and rank ninth in the Big 12 with just three sacks for the season.

But overall, the Bears delivered a strong all-around performance and dominated the second half by outscoring the Jayhawks, 31-0.

The Bears hope to build off that second half as they prepare for Saturday’s game against nationally ranked Iowa State at McLane Stadium. The Cyclones (2-1) rebounded from a loss to Iowa with Saturday’s 48-3 pounding of UNLV.

“We finished how we expected and how we wanted to,” Bohanon said. “But we started kind of slow. We had some self-inflicted plays where we put ourselves at a disadvantage. But we ended up bouncing back, so that was a good thing.”

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