No. 16 Baylor football tackles slow starts, seeks identity

Quarterback Blake Shapen looks down the field for an open pass, assisting in 25 points against Oklahoma State on Saturday, October 1. Grace Everett | Photo Editor

By George Schroeder | LTVN Executive Producer

A slow first half may have been the reason No. 16 Baylor football came up short 36-25 to No. 9 Oklahoma State on Saturday, and now the team has an opportunity to use its bye week to step up its tempo and continue developing its identity.

The Bears actually outscored the Cowboys in the second half, 22-20, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a 15-point deficit from the first half. Head coach Dave Aranda said the way his team started was disappointing, but after halftime things improved.

“I’m proud of our team for the second half that we had, and the ability to start that third quarter with some motion and some energy, which, frankly, was missing from the first and second quarter,” Aranda said.

The stats backed Aranda’s claim, as Baylor gained 301 total yards in the second half, almost twice as many as the 156 yards gained in the first. According to fifth-year senior offensive lineman Connor Galvin, the continued slow start and failing to execute in critical moments put the Bears in a hole.

“We just weren’t playing to our standard,” Galvin said. “After the first half, we went into the locker room, we talked about it, we addressed the issue. Came out in the second half and played to our standard of football.”

Cowboys redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Sanders offered a case study of the difference between Baylor’s performance in both halves. In the first, he rushed for 72 yards, and in the second, the Bears held him to only three. Fifth-year senior linebacker Dillon Doyle said between halves, it was the energy that changed.

“We pretty much played the same calls, they pretty much did the same stuff too,” Doyle said. “It was just kind of a matter of going out and executing. Obviously, disappointed that we didn’t do that, because we were ready to win that big game.”

Aranda echoed Doyle’s sentiment as the Bears took control in the second half, rising to match Oklahoma State’s energy.

“There were times in the first half, on the sideline, in the huddles, where it was as if someone drained our blood from our faces, and it felt like that,” Aranda said. “Didn’t feel that at all in the second half.

While the Bears certainly have time to fix the issues they are facing on the field before they take on West Virginia in two weeks, there may a larger problem at play: What is the Baylor identity?

At the beginning of the season, Aranda said the team was beginning the process of finding it, but five games in, Doyle didn’t have an answer to that question.

“I don’t do a lot of thinking about that during the week to be honest,” Doyle said. “The bye week will be good to figure out who we are a little bit, kind of do some self-scout and figure those things out, and then move forward with what we have.”

After the 2021 Sugar Bowl win and a 12-win season, the team knew they had found their stride and confidence in a selfless identity — a confidence Aranda said this team hasn’t found yet.

“I think some of that is, ‘Hey, this ain’t last year,’” Aranda said.

In Saturday afternoon’s meeting, Aranda said his staff felt confident about the team and the matchup, but they weren’t sure if that feeling was grounded or not — he said the last time the coaches felt the same way was against BYU, which also ended in a loss.

“For us as a staff, and me particularly, kind of working through some of that and reading the signs of where the youth of the team is and how they are reading ‘this game means this,’ all the outside things that we really have to kind of limit is really going to be a key the rest of the season,” Aranda said. “It’s a big lesson for me.”

For the team, finding an identity may simply require cracking the code between the coaching staff, younger players and older players — but it’s not all bad news for Baylor fans. Aranda said the second half of Saturday’s matchup proved that issue can be solved.

“I use this as an example – when we would huddle to run off on the field in the first half, I would be kind of bumping into guys kind of like ‘let’s get going,’” Aranda said. “The second half, I didn’t do that one time.”

Maybe the team hasn’t found its identity yet, but that doesn’t mean the Bears’ culture is unhealthy, and it’s being noticed across the sidelines.

In total, only five penalties were committed by both teams — Baylor only had two for ten yards. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy said he respected Aranda and the way his team conducted themselves on the field.

“There’s no B.S,” Gundy said. “There’s no late hits, guys aren’t slamming people down, there’s nobody talking trash, the guys are just playing football. I give them credit for that. I appreciate his team and I appreciate what they did.”

According to Doyle, the Bears will be working to continue developing their identity and focusing on the fundamentals through their bye week. The next opportunity Baylor will have to prove they can open with an explosive first half will be in Morgantown, W.Va. when it faces West Virginia on Oct. 13.