By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
A season riddled with change, uncertainty and disappointment came to an end with a whimper for Baylor football as the Bears closed out 2020 with a 42-3 loss to Oklahoma State Saturday night at McLane Stadium.
Baylor fans finally got what they’ve been demanding all season — Jacob Zeno at quarterback. The redshirt freshman filled in for senior starting QB Charlie Brewer at the end of the third quarter due to Brewer experiencing shoulder pain. According to head coach Dave Aranda, Zeno has been Baylor’s No. 2 at quarterback for a while now.
Zeno entered the game following Oklahoma State’s fifth touchdown of the night and was sacked on third down for a three-and-out drive. He finished the night 5-for-8 in completions with 18 passing yards and 13 rushing yards while Brewer accounted for 68 passing yards on 13 completions out of 26 attempts and -16 rushing yards, and was sacked three times.
Due to COVID-19 protocol, the Bears were without 47 players, coaches, staff members and other personnel including most of the coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball. Running backs coach Justin Johnston took over play calling duties from offensive coordinator Larry Fedora. Aranda said that without the usual offensive coaching staff available, Baylor had to change the scope of their plans.
“I credit to Oklahoma State on defense – they changed what they were doing,” Aranda said. “They were primarily heavy man and heavy zero, an aggressive coverage and press and all of it, and they really played none of that today … so I think coverage-wise those adjustments that needed to be made, I think with the unique circumstances we had we struggled to make those just on both ends of it.”
Baylor put up a lackluster 156 yards of offense. Freshman running backs Taye McWilliams and Qualan Jones combined for 55 yards rushing on 12 carries. Jones also led in reception yards with 37 on eight catches.
The Cowboys were without their star running back Chubba Hubbard, who opted out of the remainder of the season in order to prepare for the NFL Draft. But OSU more than made up for his absence with the help of wide receiver Dillon Stoner and running back Dominic Richardson, who accounted for three touchdowns each.
The Cowboys 42 points and 608 offensive yards were the most allowed by Baylor’s defense all season. Despite their uncharacteristic performance on defense, the Bears still managed 71 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions. Junior safety Christian Morgan knabbed his third interception of the season, making it three consecutive games that the Houston native has come up with a pick. Morgan also finished with 11 total tackles, one shy of tying his career-high.
Junior safety/linebacker Jalen Pitre completed a season high 1.5 sacks as well as 1.5 tackles for loss out his eight total tackles and finished the season with a team best 13 tackles for loss. Junior linebacker Abram Smith led the Bears with 13 tackles, nine solo. Smith, who took over for Terrel Bernard as one of Baylor’s starting linebackers, has led the team with double-digit tackles through the last four games. The junior said he’s just tried to make the most of is opportunities on the field.
“The biggest takeaway is just getting comfortable back there, seeing everything, just filling my role, making sure I’m there when I need to be,” Smith said. “In terms of tackling, I mean, I feel like I left a lot out there on the table today, so still a lot of room to improve.”
The Cowboys held Baylor scoreless until the fourth quarter when the Bears finally broke onto the board with a field goal, their only score of the night. Starting at their own 20, the Bears picked up four first downs and converted on third down twice to march into Cowboy territory to set up sophomore kicker John Mayers for the 40-yard FG kick to avoid the shutout.
Oklahoma State’s onslaught began 18 seconds into the game when Cowboys quarterback Spencer Sanders found Stoner with a swift pass on a second-down play which the running back took the house for a 75-yard touchdown. Sanders was intercepted by Morgan on OSU’s next drive but the Bears were unable to take advantage, punting on a 4th-and-7.
Stoner’s torment on the Bears continued with a 15-yard touchdown run on the following drive and a 40-yard TD pass from Sanders to start the second quarter. Another three-and-out for Baylor led to another scoring drive by the Cowboys, this time a 17-yard rushing touchdown by Richardson.
Baylor entered the half trailing 28-0 with just 52 yards of offense.
Halfway through the third quarter, Sanders almost completed his fourth touchdown pass of the night but was picked off in the endzone by senior cornerback Zeke Brown. Brown came up with his second career interception (his first was against Kansas in 2019) after having to wrestle with Cowboys wide receiver Tay Martin after coming down with the ball.
“Zeke’s such a cool story. What a great person he is,” Aranda said of his senior cornerback. “I’ve got so much respect and love for him because you could see him grow, you could see him kind of get out of his shell, you could see him be the person he’s supposed to be. And for him to fight through some adversity today and come up with a play like that is pretty cool because he’s still fighting.”
But despite the effort by Brown, Baylor wasn’t able to capitalize offensively, advancing just six plays and 13 yards before punting. OK State added touchdown No. 5 on a 2-yard rush by Richardson. After Zeno took over at QB for Brewer and led the Bears to their only points if the game, OSU responded with its final score of the night on another rushing TD by Richardson.
Even though the season was less than kind for Baylor, Aranda said he saw a lot of positives come out of his team this year even if they didn’t show in the final game.
“The complications of the season can bring out the best in people and I’ve seen it,” Aranda said. “You feel inspired, you feel this is where you’re supposed to be and this is what you’re supposed to be doing. This is bigger than football when you’re around that type of inspiration when there’s tough stuff and things suck and guys are going above and beyond, and there’s been quite a few of that. That’s what I’m going to remember. It’s not today. I just feel this is uncharacteristic of us and I take the full responsibility for it. I think when you have adversity, it gives people an opportunity to reveal themselves, and we got some really good people.”