BU Preview: No. 17 Baylor begins Big 12 title defense at Iowa State
No. 17 Baylor (2-1) at Iowa State (3-0)
Site: Jack Trice Stadium, Ames, IA
Time/Day: 11:00 a.m., Saturday
TV/Radio: ESPN2/ESPN Central Texas
Betting Line: Iowa State -2½
Series: Baylor leads, 11-9
Once a team with high expectations enters conference play, there’s typically some trepidation that accompanies it.
A healthy amount of the hype felt the impact when the Bears lost at BYU on Sept. 9. However, that didn’t deter the hopes of repeating as Big 12 champions.
Now, the pursuit begins and forever more the offseason talk has disappeared. The Bears play an interesting Big 12 opener Saturday at Iowa State that is pretty much a referendum on both teams.
Are the Bears ready to repeat as Big 12 title contenders? Is Iowa State really good or is this start – even a win at rival Iowa – not as significant as it normally would be given the Hawkeyes’ offensive issues.
By mid-afternoon, there will be some indication. The Bears know they must play a clean game both on penalties and turnovers. They were guilty of 14 flags in Provo, UT. They committed three turnovers in the second half last week against Texas State. Mistakes like those on the road are a recipe to get yourself beat.
But what should be important to learn is if the WOW factor for a lot of the younger skill players is or is not the issue it was at BYU. Handle that and don’t beat yourself and the Bears can put themselves in position get a W.
“I feel the ability to play with a little more edge on the offensive side and the reducing of the penalties and the increased discipline were all good signs,’’ Baylor head coach Dave Aranda said. “It’s a beginning and a start. We’re definitely going to be challenged coming up on Saturday.”
Here are some things to look for
>The availability of some players is going to be in question. Based on his tweet, wide receiver Monaray Baldwin (head injury) appears to be ready to go. Tight end Ben Sims (head injury) is unclear. There is also the hope defensive tackle Gabe Hall, offensive guard Grant Miller, who were injured last week and didn’t return, will be able to go. It doesn’t appear that Baylor will see running back Taye McWilliams (head injury) or defensive end Cole Maxwell. Safety Christian Morgan missed last week because he reaggravated his hamstring at BYU.
>Defensive pressure is something that was hit and miss last week. In the first half against Texas State, it was non-existent. In the second half, it was better. The push from the front is going to have an impact for a young secondary that’s been decent but also been picked apart. Baylor’s defense has not collected an interception in 106 opposition attempts.
>What will Baylor attempt to do with its passing attack and who will step up as the alpha receiver? Those are two questions that have not been answered to this point. But the lesson against BYU was that the Bears did not test the Cougars’ secondary by stretching the field. While wide receiver separation can be used as a justification, it really comes down a mentality of wanting to outfight defensive backs for 50-50 balls or just making difficult catches. Someone has to emerge, and quarterback Blake Shapen needs a go-to pass catcher.
>If the running game is going to swing to Richard Reese as the primary running back, then Baylor must commit to him and let him get into a rhythm. He was the best back last week. Yards likely will be tougher to come by against the Cyclones. But if has the competitive maturity to do this, then a strong performance will be the result.
After starting 4-13 in Big 12 openers from 1996-2012, the Bears are 7-1 in lid lifters since 2013.
Keys to the Game
>Ball Hawks – The Bears have forced and recovered only two fumbles in the first two games. That’s a little surprising given that two of the opponents were pretty inferior. The Bears forced 27 turnovers in 14 games in 2021. Now that was with an experienced secondary. However, it is time for this group to start making a move. While Iowa State QB Hunter Dekkers has completed nearly 75 percent of his passes, he has thrown three interceptions.
>Stretch it – As mentioned above, Baylor’s passing game cannot be anything close to what it was at BYU. That’s not going to work. While a team wants to minimize risk on the road, there will be moments where an offensive coordinator (Jeff Grimes) should take some risks. Baylor must be more balanced with its run/pass selection.
>Apu the dude – It had been a quiet start for NT Apu Ika through the first 2½ games until he asserted himself in the second half last week. Notably, the batted attempts on consecutive pass plays. But Ika needs to ramp it up so the defensive ends can crash from the outside and make Dekkers uncomfortable. They have to help the secondary which will have enough of a challenge facing a great receiver in ISU’s Xavier Hutchinson.
>Kicking game conundrum – Aranda says he feels good about his kicking game. Well, there wasn’t anything challenging facing John Mayers when he replaced Isaiah Hankins last week. All Mayers needed to do was kick PATs. Hankins has the stronger leg and can go from 40+, but he has a confidence problem. Mayers probably feels he has another chance, provided he’s kept this job. But his track record from 40 and beyond isn’t that great, 5-10 lifetime, 4-9 (40-49). If a Baylor drive to tie or win stalls as the Iowa State 27, will the coaching staff send him out there?
This is what you expect to think about conference games on the road. You really don’t know what to think. I tend to give Iowa State a little more credit for its 3-0 record because that’s a great win at Iowa. The Dekkers-Hutchinson combo is working well. For me, this comes down to Baylor’s fronts. The Bears defensive line needs to make its impact from start to finish. This offensive line must play with an attitude that has been lacking from the opener. That starts with the left tackle, Connor Galvin. Like the previous three meetings with the Cyclones, I think we’re going to see another tight one and it will come down to the final moments. It’s almost like a learned behavior. Baylor escapes.
Baylor 30, Iowa State 27