By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
It was a successful weekend for No. 16 Baylor football after defeating Iowa State University 31-24 last Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa. The Bears had not won in Ames since Oct. 1, 2016, and the team was still seeking its first success on the road following a 26-20 double-overtime loss to No. 19 BYU.
Head coach Dave Aranda said he remembered when Baylor (3-1, 1-0 Big 12) lost to the Cyclones (3-1, 0-1 Big 12) 37-31 on Nov. 7, 2020, and being able to overcome its road woes stood out to him.
“I’m excited to be able to see the team take a step,” Aranda said. “The ability to try to get the guys to reveal themselves and not try to be something they’re not and really have a trust to where they’re ‘playing green‘ and being authentic with everything. There was some of that today.”
Sixth-year senior linebacker Bryson Jackson said he agreed with Aranda about the team playing true to itself. He said the squad emphasized that in its week of preparation and that it made a big difference last Saturday.
Jackson, who was announced as Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Week on Monday, said the loss to the Cougars (3-1) was a “learning lesson.” He said it set the Bears up for success ahead of the tough test ISU presented.
“We had to go into the week knowing we can’t let the outside affect the inside,” Jackson said. “[The BYU game] definitely helped us prepare for this fight. We were playing more in our control.”
Sophomore quarterback Blake Shapen had himself a stellar outing, throwing for 238 yards on 19-of-26 passes. Shapen flung three touchdowns as well, but gave high praise to freshman running back Richard Reese, who’s emerged as a potential go-to guy out of the backfield.
Reese ran for 78 yards on 21 attempts with one touchdown. Shapen said the true freshman showed poise and control despite the tough environment.
“Yeah, he was calm the whole game,” Shapen said. “He did his job and was on the same page with everyone. And that was my job was to communicate to them as clearly as I could with the loud crowd. So, being able to communicate helped. He did a great job.”
Baylor jumped ahead 17-7 late in the second quarter, which prompted some of the younger guys on the team to lose focus, according to Aranda. He said there were athletes looking at the scoreboard in that moment and getting excited over the early success.
He said he does embrace celebration, but the team needs to lock in and remember the task at hand because it may backfire. He said ISU’s touchdown right before halftime was proof of that, as the Bears’ lead was cut to three in an instant.
“That needed a lot of work today, and I thought the third and fourth quarter were a lot better,” Aranda said. “Guys are going, ‘zero-zero game.’ Guys are going, ‘There is no scoreboard’ and all that. They kind of fought through it, and I’m proud of them for that. We’re going to need more of that.”
Ultimately, Aranda said he was proud of the team for proving itself with a big win on the road. After suffering such a tough loss in week two, he said it was good to see the group rally together and pull off a gritty victory.
“So much of it is focusing on what you can control, not putting your focus on the outside things,” Aranda said. “It’s crazy how a whisper can turn into almost like a roaring chorus. When you look into it, there’s not a whole lot there, but it’s your mind playing tricks on you. We’ve been through that with Blake [Shapen] and a couple of other guys, so it was good to see them trust themselves, trust the coaches and kind of play as a collective unit.”
Baylor now prepares for another tall task in No. 9 Oklahoma State University, who’s coming off a bye-week. The Bears welcome the Cowboys (3-0, 0-0 Big 12) to McLane Stadium for a 2:30 p.m. contest on Saturday.
Fans are encouraged to wear gold as part of Baylor Athletics’ “Go Gold” campaign.