Bears vs. Horned Frogs: Storylines to follow into Baylor’s rivalry game

Former Baylor wide receiver Denzel Mims makes a catch during Baylor's 2019 win in Fort Worth. Lariat File Photo

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

Growl-O-Ween is upon us, Bears! Baylor football will be returning to McLane Stadium for the first time in a month and there are few things more exciting than hosting TCU in Bear Country for Halloween. Would it be more exciting if kickoff was after sunset rather than at 2:30 in the afternoon? Sure. Would it be even better if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic? Absolutely.

But at least we still get football. Here are three storylines to follow into Baylor’s 116th matchup against the Horned Frogs.

Defensive Domination

Let’s just look at the numbers first of all. Baylor has three of the Big 12’s top tacklers in Terrel Bernard (first with 40 total tackles, 25 solo), Jalen Pitre (third with 26 total), 17 solo) and Dillon Doyle (10th, 22 total,12 solo). The Bears also have three players in the top 15 in tackles for loss in Bernard, Pitre and William Bradley-King. Bernard and Bradley King lead in sacks with 3.5 and 2.5 respectively and JT Woods leads in interceptions with two for 60 yards.

Bernard continues to prove he’s a force to be reckoned with, as the junior was named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week after tying his career high in tackles with 19 against Texas last Saturday, which included nine solo tackles and two for a loss. He’s recording an average of 13.3 tackles per game, good for fourth in the nation.

Head coach Dave Aranda talked about Bernard and Doyle’s performances in his Monday press conference, noting the essential role they both play on Baylor’s defense.

“There’s a football IQ, there is straight intelligence, there is a real strong care factor,” Aranda said. “There is the alpha part in both of them that they want to take things head on and turn and run into adversity and conflict, so you love that with your linebackers. I think they both have the ability to cover, defend the run, as well as blitz. So, when you have that variety, I feel you can use that in different ways.”

Pieces Finally Falling Together

Baylor will be entering Saturday with a full week of practice. After returning from the shutdown prior to the game against Texas, the Bears had limited practice time going into Austin. Aranda said Monday the team would look to have more complete practices this week as no one had tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday.

Bernard also noted on Wednesday that Tuesday’s practice was one of the best the Bears have had all season.

“It’s a huge thing just sharpening your blade.” Bernard said. “I think Tuesdays are where you’re supposed to compete the most. You’re supposed to play your best competition on Tuesdays going against each other. I think that’s something we were definitely able to do.”

Coming off a rough weekend against Texas, Baylor is also looking to stay connected as a team. After news that senior running backs John Lovett and Trestan Ebner possibly opting out of the season was reported late Sunday, and then Aranda’s confirmation Monday that they would indeed remain with the team, the head coach said it was just as important for the team to be there for each other off the field.

“You never know what people are going through.” Aranda said. “We talk about that no man is an island, which you give to others will come back to its own. So, we spend a lot of time on that and talk about it as a team. I’ve always believed it. It’s highlighted in today’s times.

“You look at the stuff off the field, we’re fighting the fight on the field. There are things that pile up there. For us to realize that as much as we want to have success on the field, there are bigger things than football. To spend that time and get to know your people, I think is the big takeaway.”

Defining Moment

Everybody knows the importance of the rivalry between the Frogs and the Bears. The history and tradition of the matchup has made for some epic games in the past, and this weekend will be no different. However, this game could mean just a little more for both TCU and Baylor as it could define a turning point in the season for the winning team.

Aranda said he spoke to former Baylor head coach Grant Teaff about the significance of the rivalry and what a win would mean for both teams.

“It’s one of the blessings of being at Baylor is the traditions and the rivalries that exist,” Aranda said. “So, I know we’re playing a team that is hungry and motivated, and in a lot of ways similar to us in that they’re searching for who they are and what they’re all about. When both of these things collide on Saturday, I think there will be some strong emotion. A lot of respect for their side of it as well, but what makes it great to your point is the tradition and the history that backs it up.”

Both teams are coming off disappointing losses and both teams have only managed one win so far this season. While the Bears are ahead of the Frogs in the Big 12 standings, it’s only because TCU has played, and lost, one more game than Baylor has.

The Bears and the Frogs have more in common this season than what meets the eye. Both are anchored by strong defense but have struggled on offense, particularly in the offensive line. A win on Saturday could make or break the rest of the season for both teams.

Baylor and TCU hit the field at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in McLane Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2 with Dave Flemming, Rod Gilmore and Kris Budden on the air.