By Marquis Cooley | Sports Editor
“Our package is completely built upon the offensive line,” Baylor football head coach Dave Aranda said. “If you go back to December, and you hear that as Baylor fans, it probably puts you in a different spot. But, I think to be the team we need to be, we have to be big-men driven.”
That’s the message Aranda had for the media after being asked about the new offensive scheme going into the first game of the season against Texas State University. Two weeks later, after a 66-7 victory over Texas Southern University that put the Bears at 2-0, that’s exactly what Baylor football has been, “big-men driven.”
In just their first two games, Baylor has already rushed for 664 yards, close to surpassing the 813 rushing yards they gathered last season in nine games. A big reason for this drastic change in the running game has been the growth of the offensive line.
“Oh, they’ve grown a bunch. I mean in terms of physicality, it’s night and day,” senior running back Abram Smith said. “You can see it when we come out in practice. You can see them just moving bodies. I mean, I’m talking huge bodies and they’re just moving them. So in terms of physicality, yeah night and day.”
It’s not just the running game that the offensive line has impacted either. They’ve consistently given junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon a clean pocket to work with and ample time to make throws down the field, allowing only one sack so far into the year. The offensive line’s performance to start the year has earned them back-to-back “Offensive Line of the Week” awards from Pro Football Focus. Bohanon also said it’s their attention to detail that has made them so successful.
“Trust me when I say those guys come in and go to work during the week, like those guys have been in there at 10:30 p.m. at night watching film,” Bohanon said. “They really challenge each other to get better at everything like it’s the small things for them. I think that’s a special group.”
Aranda said new offensive line coach Eric Mateos is the reason for the change in their mentality and production in the way he’s been able to form a deep bond with each of his players.
“He’s one of the best teachers on our staff,” Aranda said. “I think he’s made great connections with our guys. He went through fall camp, went through hero, hardship and highlight with all of them and just really spent time getting to know who the person was, and their motivators and their fears and all of it. All that’s real, man. They can be real with him and he can be real with them. Communication is a whole lot easier when you’re real. I think their ability to kind of work together to a common goal is way strong, and they’re really pushing the team right now. [I’m] proud of them.”
While the offensive line’s play has been stellar so far, the growth of confidence in themselves that Aranda has seen from the start of fall camp to now, makes him believe that the offensive line is going to get even better as the season progresses.
“Confidence is such an important and an almost really overlooked thing,” Aranda said. “I think for first someone to be wherever they’re at, and then to want to achieve more and be more and become something they’re not, takes confidence. When you step outside of your comfort zone, you have to trust the aid that’s helping you walk you to where you want to get to, and so I could see a real strong change in confidence in that group. I think Eric’s done a great job, but I think just their connectedness and their level of honesty and keeping stuff real is way unique and way strong. I would bet on us with that group continuing to get better.”