By Michael Haag | Sports Writer
Baylor junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon is expected to be back under center to lead the Bears’ offense against No. 8 University of Mississippi in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, with redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Shapen likely unavailable. Shapen suffered a shoulder injury during the Big 12 Championship game and has not been practicing, with a poor chance of being ready for the Sugar Bowl.
In recent weeks, Baylor head coach Dave Aranda noticed improvements in Bohanon’s passing and running game, since the hamstring injury he suffered against Kansas State. During Monday’s virtual press conference, Aranda said he expects Bohanon to continue to improve and be at his best for the showdown on Saturday.
“Gerry’s been good,” Aranda said. “He’s been throwing the ball better and better. I think toward the end of the week, he was at his best, anticipating him to just take off from there. I think confidence-wise, very strong — able to run, open up and do all the things that we’ve been accustomed to seeing him do. So excited for him and his opportunity.”
Bohanon was named the starter back in August and led the Bears to a 9-2 record, in which he threw for 2,165 yards with 17 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also showed production as a dual-threat quarterback, running for 303 yards and nine touchdowns.
Shapen filled in to help cap off the win over Kansas State, then made his first collegiate start against Texas Tech on Nov. 27. He threw for 254 yards and two scores on senior day at McLane Stadium and led the Bears to a 27-24 victory.
Shapen showed his skills in the Big 12 Championship game against No. 9 Oklahoma State University. He was named most outstanding player of the game and threw for three touchdowns en route to a 21-16 win on Dec. 4 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Shapen unfortunately suffered a shoulder injury and has yet to recover. Aranda said he doesn’t expect him to be available come game time in New Orleans. With injury to both quarterbacks this season, Aranda said he is proud of the way both Shapen and Bohanon have handled everything.
“I applaud both Gerry and Blake just for how they’ve handled it and the type of teammates that they are — the model of what a teammate should be,” Aranda said. “And so [I am very] proud of them.”
With Bohanon slated to start for the Bears and Shapen unable to fill in if needed, freshman quarterback Kyron Drones is up next on the depth chart. Aranda said Drones has been getting ready to play and feels good about it. The four-star quarterback from Pearland has come in and taken a few snaps, but he has yet to throw a pass this season.
“I feel really good about Kyron,” Aranda said. “He has really taken to the added responsibility and reps, has attacked it, has not shied from it one bit. I think his work ethic has always been one of his better attributes, but I think it really stands out now. [I’m] excited about his progress and his potential for sure.”
Aranda also said there is a game plan for Drones if he were needed to lead the offense, part of it being exclusive from what is showcased from Bohanon.
“As it relates to this Saturday, I think we’ve got a really good game plan for him [Drones],” Aranda said. “It includes a lot of the things that we’re doing with Gerry, but then there are a few specific things just for him if he were to find himself with a bunch of time on his hands there.”
With other bowl games being canceled due to COVID-19, Aranda is optimistic about the team’s status heading into its second Sugar Bowl in three years. He said the team’s vaccination rate is “very high” and they feel “in a good spot” moving forward. There seems to be no level of concern among the program, which allowed players to be home for Christmas with their families.
The team’s ability to be home with their families was important for Aranda and his staff. Aranda said he felt it was necessary and will help them be in the right frame of mind for game day.
“And I just think, for us, our superpower, if there is one, is relationships,” Aranda said. “It’s people. It’s family. It’s really caring about others. And I think for us to have Christmas with our families, I think, is really important. And so our guys all checked in last night. And so we got everybody back on time. And we’re excited, man, to get another week in, really the last time here for this team to be together. And so I feel like we’re in a good spot for that and moving forward with the precautions that we’ve taken.”
Baylor was supposed to be in New Orleans on Monday but decided to hold practices in Waco until their expected arrival in Louisiana on Wednesday. The decision was made in an attempt to limit exposure to COVID-19, which could come with being in a new place and environment for an extended period of time. Ole Miss also delayed their travel date, pushing their Sunday arrival back to Wednesday.
Being on a national stage, Aranda believes it is an opportunity to showcase what Baylor football is all about. He said it is a chance to remain true to themselves and finish out the season with a consistent identity.
“I think the bowl gives us an opportunity to show who we are,” Aranda said. “I think there is a stage there. It’s going to be an introduction to Baylor University. It’s going to be an introduction to Baylor football and then to all of our last names in terms of not so much what we do, but how we do it and in terms of what drives us. I think that comes out. We want to put our best foot forward in regard to that. I think to finish this game the way that we started this season — with being really true to ourselves and, in most critical, tough situations, being our best authentic selves — [is what] we want to put on display.”
The Bears (11-2) will take on the Rebels (10-2) in the 2022 Allstate Sugar Bowl, with the game set to kick off on New Year’s Day at 7:45 p.m. CT in the Caesars Superdome in New Orleans. Baylor is 1-0 all-time against Ole Miss, dating back to a matchup from 1975. The Bears will also have a chance to avenge their last appearance in the Sugar Bowl, in which they lost to the University of Georgia.