By Trey Gregory, City Editor
Saturday was heartbreaking for Baylor fans as the Bears lost their first game of the season to Oklahoma. Baylor Nation isn’t used to losing and the loss effectively took the Bears out of the playoff race. I, like many fans, was shocked and sad after the event, but I also got over quicker than I thought I would because I realized Baylor still has a lot to be proud of and a lot to play for.
First, let’s all recognize that there’s no shame in losing to a great team like Oklahoma. They are extremely well coached, own a great defense and have one of the top quarterbacks in college football. Things don’t always go your way when you play a team like that.
I also recognize that Jarrett Stidham may have been launched into an impossible situation. I’m sure he and the rest of the team never doubted his ability, but that doesn’t mean it was realistic to expect Stidham to take Baylor into the playoffs.
Seth Russell was playing so well for us, and for a good reason. Russell is very talented, but he also had time to develop. Asking Stidham to beat Oklahoma, when the season was on the line, in only his second start, was a tall order. There’s nothing wrong with a true freshman QB not being ready to beat a team like OU in his second start.
I truly feel bad for the fantastic senior players on the team. I think they earned the right to play for more. There is still something to achieve, however.
Baylor hasn’t won a bowl game in two years. Maybe that was supposed to be the next step before we make the playoffs. Go to a big bowl game and beat a good team from a strong conference and prove to the nation that Baylor can compete with anyone. The Bears are still in contention to do that. I think a bowl game with LSU is looking more and more likely.
Beating a marquee SEC team like LSU would be huge for Baylor’s national reputation. Nobody knows who Baylor will play in their bowl game, but not matter what, it’s still a big opportunity.
Stidham is also getting invaluable reps in these big games. I don’t know if Russell or Stidham will start for the Bears next year, but we all know Stidham will start eventually. Getting these snaps in big games against elite Big 12 teams will only speed up his development and make him that much better for the future.
I want to be clear that I’m not blaming Stidham for the loss. There has been a lot of talk about an injury that hampered his play early in the game and I maintain that it is not his fault if he was thrown into the fire before he was ready. Injuries happen and sometimes players have to start before they’re ready. Realistic fans should have at least considered that our season was over once our starting QB went down; he was the starter for a reason.
Playing a good offense like OU’s will also give Phil Bennett plenty of tape to watch and improve his defense with. To be frank, the middle of our defense was wide open all evening. It was the same story against Kansas State. This has to be a wakeup call for Bennett to fix the team’s gap control: make sure someone is covering every gap to ensure runners cant move freely through the middle of our defense.
Controlling the gaps and keeping contain on the edges will be key in Baylor’s upcoming games, especially against TCU. I think all Baylor fans will feel a little better about the season if we beat TCU again. A quarterback like Trevone Boykin can wreak havoc on a defense if those things don’t happen. If nothing else, this game gave the defense plenty to work on before November 27 to make sure Boykin is contained.
The main point I want to get across is that Baylor suffered a brutal loss, but the season isn’t over. The players still deserve enthusiastic fans, we still have heated rivals to beat and a bowl game to win. The playoffs are out of sight now, but that’s okay. Maybe OU can win the rest of their games, make the playoffs and earn the Big 12 a little more respect with the committee. That will just make it that much better when we beat them next year.