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Truck driving school: Baylor D-line shifts into higher gear in pass rush

Truck driving school: Baylor D-line shifts into higher gear in pass rush

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We didn't have to go far to find special guest Chris Williams, who's @CWillTV on Twitter: He's been a sports reporter for KWTX-TV News 10 for about a year, and he joins Brice Cherry and John Werner to talk college football.

Lately when Dave Aranda is asked about Baylor’s defensive line, he takes reporters for a ride. Specifically, right to the car lot.

Aranda wants his D-line to be tough, rugged, hard-working. He wants those guys to do the dirty work of the defense. So, the analogy he has latched onto is a vehicular one. He said that he doesn’t want a bunch of high-priced sports cars on his line. He wants trucks.

“So many times a guy wants to be a Corvette or some type of sports car,” Aranda said following Baylor’s 45-20 win over West Virginia last Saturday. “But what we’re asking our guys to be is the F-150, the Chevy trucks, the Ram trucks, that type of thing. We’ve got heavy loads and we’re hauling and all of that. For that process, from a Corvette to a Ram truck, that’s quite a journey you take.”

It’s a word picture that should resonate with football fans in Texas, where two-ton Tacomas outnumber tiny Teslas probably 10 to 1. Certainly, against the Mountaineers, the Bears engaged in some of their best trucking of the season. Baylor bagged six sacks, doubling their season total. It marked the Bears’ highest sack total of the short Aranda era, topping the four sacks the team produced in games against Kansas and Oklahoma in 2020.

Baylor didn’t ramp up its pass rush out of sheer motivation. In order to tackle the quarterback, the Bears had to first tackle the running backs, Aranda said. They stuffed their sack totals by showing they could stuff the run.

“Really, we were able to stop the run and that’s what started that,” Aranda said. “There was (the idea that) this is going to be a run play or, hey, we’re defending now a pass play. Whereas when you’re struggling to defend the run, you can see everything. You’re not taking anything away. So, this is the first game this year where it was clearly stated that we’re going to stop the run and put you in passing situations, and I think that freed guys up.”

Siaki “Apu” Ika led the charge among Baylor’s unleashed D-line. The 350-pound transfer from LSU made his heftiest impact as a Bear, registering the first two sacks of his career. Up until this point, Ika had most been known for his playful dancing outbursts on the BU sideline. This was a performance that gave him a reason to shake his tail feathers even more.

“I think everyone on our team knows what he brings to the table,” linebacker Terrel Bernard said when asked about Ika after the West Virginia game. “It might not always show up on the stat sheet. It did today. But he’s a game-changer and he does a lot of things that kind of go unseen if you’re not looking for it.”

Ika may have won Baylor’s sack race, but he had friends nipping at his heels. Bernard pocketed his second sack of the season in his return from a knee injury after missing Baylor’s loss at Oklahoma State. Garmon Randolph, T.J. Franklin and Victor Obi contributed a sack apiece.

That increased level of production did not go unnoticed by Baylor’s back-end defenders. In fact, nobody appreciated the sackfest more. It’s a quid quo pro kind of thing.

“That’s huge,” said cornerback Raleigh Texada. “Seeing the D-line get to the quarterback just makes my job way easier.”

But what does it really mean to be a truck? What does that look like for a defensive lineman? Asked this week to expand on the car vs. truck analogy, Aranda obliged.

“Heavy lifting, heavy duty, a lot of horsepower,” the coach said. “Can take a dent, can roll through ditches, can pull a lot of weight, push a lot of weight, I think those things. I think from the other side, the sports car imperative, it’s taking corners fast and looking a certain way. I think it’s not a lot of heavy duty work associated with those cars. Those are more Friday night and maybe Saturday night, maybe Sunday afternoon.

“So, I think it’s just the work ethic piece, hitting blocks, taking on double teams, doing dirty work, pushing a lot of weight, that’s a mindset.”

It’s a mindset that Baylor’s defensive line hopes to carry into this week’s homecoming game against No. 19 BYU. The Cougars have proven themselves as one of the better pass-protecting teams in the country. They’ve allowed just five sacks in their six games. That stands out as the eighth-best total in the country.

So, BYU isn’t likely to bend easily. But Aranda said that if everyone on the defensive unit does his own individual job, takes care of his own responsibility, then collectively the Bears can shine.

“So, be you, but align with us,” Aranda said. “We have a lot of colorful characters on defense, guys that I really do love and have come to know and I appreciate very much. I think for all those colorful characters to come together and play as one unit, we can be darn good. I think we just need to play as one.”

One guy is a truck. Together they’re a convoy.

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