Running backs provide an edge to Bears’ offense

Senior running back Trestan Ebner scores past Kansas in the second half and is followed into the end zone by senior running back John Lovett who provided the leading block on the run. Baylor defeated Kansas 47-14 on saturday at McLane Stadium. (Rod Aydelotte/Waco Tribune Herald, pool)

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

It took 16 seconds into the second half for Trestan Ebner to spur the Baylor crowd into a frenzy during the Bears’ 47-14 victory over Kansas Saturday night at McLane Stadium. After receiving the 65-yard kickoff off the foot of Jayhawks kicker Liam Jones, Ebner made a mad end zone-to-end zone dash, making cuts and avoiding tackles to put Baylor football ahead 24-7.

Looking back at that moment half a week later, there’s no doubt that Ebner stole the show on Saturday and deserves credit for propelling the Bears into the season-opening victory. Just as deserving of credit is his fellow senior running back John Lovett, because without Lovett’s blocking during Ebner’s run on the kick return, there wouldn’t have been a touchdown. Ebner himself credited Lovett during the postgame press conference for making that lead block on the run.

“That was the first clip we showed the team [Sunday],” head coach Dave Aranda said. “We talk about the Baylor ID, the toughest, hardest-working, most competitive team in the country. And that play by John is an illustration of that.”

Because of their versatility on special teams and in the offense, the running back crew has become a spark point for the Bears in recent years. Ebner said that the running backs knew coming into the season that they would have to be playmakers.

“As soon as we got back, we said that the running backs was the vocal point of the offense and we knew that it would run through us,” Ebner said. “I think it’s important and I think all the guys know that. We’re proud that we can be that for the offense.”

Baylor’s ground game has been crucial in their offensive strategy in recent years as 35 of the Bears’ 59 touchdowns in 2019 were rushing touchdowns. And of those 35 rushing TDs, 15 were scored by the running back trio of Lovett, Ebner and former Bear JaMycal Hasty. Of Baylor’s 2,330 net rushing yards, the three combined for 1,532.

Lovett said that the running back group works tough to push each and feed of each other’s energy in practice and in games.

“Every day at practice me and Trestan compete, along with the other running backs,” Lovett said. “You see he makes a big play, I make a big play, [Craig “Sqwirl” Williams] makes a big play. So, it’s like a domino effect. Every day we come into work and give it our all so that’s what we expect.”

Lovett, Williams and Ebner led the Bears in rushing on Saturday, in that order.

Williams, who made his true freshman debut against Kansas State in 2018 but sat out last season due to injury, came into the game against Kansas in the second half and tallied 61 yards on five attempts and scored on a 26-yard run in the fourth quarter. The redshirt freshman that has affectionately come to be known as “Sqwirl” to his teammates and coaches, is likely to fill the role that Hasty left open upon his departure to the NFL.

Over all the most important thing that veterans like Lovett and Ebner have been able to provide to the offense is their leadership, especially with the uncertainty brought on by COVID-19. Lovett said they have tried to just focus on working hard day in and day out.

“There’s nothing we can do about this pandemic, so we’ve just been grinding and pushing each other every day,” Lovett said.

Baylor football will continue to grind this week as it prepares for its first road game of the season. The Bears will face West Virginia at 11 a.m. Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va. The game will be broadcast on ABC.