By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
Following a bounce-back weekend from the comfort of McLane Stadium, No. 17 Baylor football now hits the road for the start of conference play, its first opponent being Iowa State. The first test away from home for the Bears didn’t go their way, as they fell 26-20 to BYU in a hostile Provo, Utah environment.
The crowd won’t be any friendlier this week, thanks to the Cyclones (3-0) playing host for an 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday on ESPN2. It’ll be another packed venue for Baylor (2-1), who’s been tested before and now goes into another tough environment.
“We know it’s going to be loud,” fifth-year senior offensive lineman Connor Galvin said. “We know it’s going to be rowdy. We know it’s going to be one of those games where it’s going to come down to the last play. That’s just how Iowa State is. [I have] a lot of respect for them.”
Regarding Iowa State, head coach Dave Aranda gave praise to the Cyclones and said he’s ready to see if his group has grown since the BYU game.
“As far as the view of who we want to be and consistently look like, I would say Iowa State kind of is that in a lot of ways,” Aranda said. “They don’t beat themselves. They’re efficient with all their movements in what they do. They’re a tough outfit. I have a lot of respect for them and a lot of respect for their coach. It’s going to be a challenge for us, so I’m excited for that and to see how much we’ve grown.”
A positive for Baylor football is that in the BYU contest, it played in front of over 60,000 screaming fans. After that game, Aranda and the team talked about many of the younger guys having “big eyes” in the huddle, being intimidated by the atmosphere.
Galvin, the 2021 Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year, said he’s been in those shoes before and that, unfortunately, those younger guys have to encounter that atmosphere in order to learn from it.
“As a freshman, it’s hard to mock that in practice,” Galvin said. “It’s one of those experiences you just have to go through [in order] to learn from it. Those guys addressed their issues, [they] know what the problem was, and we’ve addressed it. We just have to perform on Saturday.”
Sophomore linebacker Brooks Miller, someone who’s stepped into a bigger role, drew parallels between BYU and Iowa State in terms of physicality. There was so much talk of how physical a battle that week two contest would be, and Miller said this week’s game will be the same.
“People always talk about, ‘Hey, BYU is a physical team,’” Miller said. “Well, since I’ve been here, they say the same thing about Iowa State. So we just have to be more physical than they can.”
A major storyline out of Baylor’s 42-7 win over Texas State last weekend was how the green and gold came out after halftime. Following that game, Aranda said the slow start was due to the team not “playing green.”
He also said it was because his athletes are still seeking perfection on the gridiron. Aranda held clenched fists up and said his team needs to just drop whatever off-the-field stuff they are holding on to.
“A player is not going to prove he belongs by perfection and doing everything right,” Aranda said. “You don’t play football by paint by numbers. The stuff is going to go outside the lines, [so] just be you. Let go of the stuff you’re carrying, and I think that’s a general thing, but for each dude it’s [in a ] way specific. You have to see where guys are at and meet them there and work it out at that level.”
Some of that is indicative of the uncharacteristic penalties from the last couple of weeks, as Baylor racked up 14 against BYU specifically. Aranda said he’s trying to cleanse his group of those mistakes, and Miller said the team will look way different in the future because of it.
“It’s just so early,” Miller said. We’re going to become so much better. In December, we’re going to look back and be like, ‘Wow, how were we running it that way and now we run it like this?”
The Bears have the rest of the week to prepare for their conference opener versus ISU at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. Aranda said he hopes to see his team continue to get closer to playing true to themselves based on character.
“You have to go back to work and get it to where the playing is really an expression of your best self,” Aranda said. “That takes a lot of work to do. To say we have a bunch of guys doing that now would not be true, and so we’re working to get that.”