Bears vs. Cyclones: Three storylines to follow into Ames this Saturday

Sophomore running back Craig 'Sqwirl' Williams makes a run through two TCU defenders in Saturday's 33-23 loss to the Horned Frogs at McLane Stadium. Photo courtesy of Baylor Athletics

By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor

So, Baylor football is heading into Jack Trice Stadium this Saturday for a 6 p.m. game against the 17th-ranked team in the nation on FS1 while riding a three-game losing streak. No pressure, right?

After a lethargic first half against TCU last week and a less than impressive game against Texas the week before, the Bears are starving to get a win. And here we all are with our fingers crossed and our candles lit, praying the Cyclones will serve it up for them on a silver platter lest the uncalled, unwanted hounds of social media (better known as Longhorns fans that have nothing better to do) are unleashed after another loss. Here are three storylines to follow into Baylor’s matchup against Iowa State.

Cohesion and Consistency

Baylor’s biggest trouble on offense has to be the offensive line. Due to the team’s COVID-19 struggles early in the season, the O-line had a limited amount of practice and had personnel missing for most of it.

Baylor has had four different offensive lineups with eight different guys rotating into each of the five positions. For the TCU game, Connor Galvin and Blake Bedier started at tackle, Xavier Newman-Johnson and Jake Burton started at guard and Jason Moore was placed at center.

Junior defensive tackle Ryan Miller, who started his Baylor career on the offensive line before moving to defense, said that being on the same page is essential for players on the O-line and that the lack of practice affected the way they learned to read each other.

“The offensive line is one heartbeat, one muscle,” Miller said. “You start to understand where someone’s going to be when they’re next to you on specific plays. You kind of get used to that rhythm and how it feels playing next to specific guys. Sometimes it gets tough even with the rotations, because you get a different look or feeling from someone next to you than maybe someone else. As an offensive line, I think it’s tough having these breaks where you’re not practicing … and it makes it a little more difficult to find that cohesion.”

On Monday, head coach Dave Aranda said that the Bears planned on having the same five guys on the O-line that they did against TCU, which could be a good thing for the offense to find some consistency and cohesion.

The Origin of ‘Sqwirl’

After returning from an injury that sidelined him for a year and a half, sophomore running back Craig ‘Sqwirl’ Williams has had an immediate impact on Baylor’s offense, sparking some late runs for the Bears. With senior John Lovett’s status questionable as of Monday after an injury he suffered in Saturday’s game, Williams could see more time on the field this weekend.

Williams said he’ll be ready if he’s needed and he’s happy he can help his teammates.

“I prepare every week like a starter so when they call my name, I’m ready to go, I’m ready to contribute to the team,” Williams said.

Aranda said that Williams has brought explosiveness and an ability to create dynamic plays in space which works well with some of the coaching staff’s game plan downhill. After a 61-yard rushing performance and a touchdown against Kansas as well as a 32-yard touchdown run against TCU, ‘Sqwirl’ has become a fan favorite.

In a light hearted moment, Williams explained to the media on Wednesday the odd reason for his popular nickname.

“When I was a round 6-years-old, I spent the summer with my great-grandparents,” Williams said. “[My great-grandfather] had a weird farm with a bunch of different animals and one of the animals were squirrels. He had a cage of squirrels. So, he put me in this cage and told me if I caught a squirrel, he’d cook me a great dinner, buy me donuts the next morning. I got in the cage and stayed in there 15, 30 minutes before I caught a squirrel and it just stuck with me. He told my dad the story and he took the name and reworded it and it’s stuck with me ever since.”

Start Fast and Keep it at the Line

No. 17 Iowa State is not going to be an easy game for Baylor but the Bears still have the talent and competitiveness to win. They just can’t continue to shoot themselves in the foot. Aranda and Williams both said the team will need to start fast so they won’t have to fight to catch up.

“I think our biggest challenge will be ourselves,” Williams said. “Iowa State is a great team and everything, but I think, us coming out and starting fast is the biggest thing. It’s the biggest challenge for us. I believe if we start fast, we’ll be able to get out ahead and we won’t be playing from behind.”

Baylor will be playing a Cyclones team that sports the NCAA’s leading rusher in Breece Hall, who has rushed for over 100 yards in all six games Iowa State has played this year.

They also have the winningest quarterback in Iowa State history. While Brock Purdy hasn’t had his best year in 2020, Miller said he can still be deceptive and stopping ISU’s offense at the line of scrimmage will be key for Baylor’s defense.

“Their running back is pretty special,” Miller said. “Purdy is a really good player, too. He’s really shifty. His whole thing is he’s got this really good pump-fake that he does that kind of fakes people out. So, keeping him contained is going to be important … [and] forcing him to throw the ball instead of trying to tuck it and run it because I think that’s where he becomes more dangerous.”