By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
Baylor football head coach Dave Aranda is dealing with more than common frustration from his group. The Bears (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) are coming off a discouraging 36-25 loss to Oklahoma State University on Oct. 1 and had a shortened bye week to regroup ahead of Thursday’s contest at West Virginia University.
Aranda said there are immaturity issues among the younger players to pair with a level of complacency shown from the veterans. He said it was good timing to have the bye week now to hash some of that out.
“There is a level of immaturity or just youth that we’re really working on growing,” Aranda said. “With the vets, there’s some complacency that we’re working on getting rid of and waking up from. The week was good in those respects and getting everybody on the same page in terms of where we’re at and what it takes to go where we want to go.”
Baylor, who was predicted to repeat as Big 12 champions in the preseason, has not performed to expectations to this point, alluding to the internal issues Aranda mentioned. One of the key problems talked about over the last few weeks has been limiting the outside noise and staying level-headed.
In order to improve in that regard, Aranda said the team needs to be intentional during practice. He said staying present and not overlooking the little things will impact on-field performance.
“Knowing why I’m in this meeting, why I’m in this individual period, why I’m in this team period, what I want to get better at and what specifically I’m working on,” Aranda said. “To be here now is an important mindset. Just stay way focused in the moment and where improvement is at.”
From a veteran and leadership standpoint, sixth-year senior outside linebacker Bryson Jackson agreed that it was good timing to have the bye week following the week five loss.
“Facing adversity, it’s a perfect time, especially when it happens early,” Jackson said. “So, you have time to kind of evaluate and self-reflect and figure out what road and what steps we’re going to take to become the team that we actually want to be and the ones that we set out to be for the season.”
Aranda said in order for a team to take the most out of a loss, “you really have to sit in it.” He said being able to watch more film than normal “really makes you see the parts and the places and the things that you would otherwise choose not to see.”
While the team was able to reflect on that tough loss to the Cowboys, it now looks ahead to an unorthodox Thursday matchup against the Mountaineers (2-3, 0-2 Big 12). Sixth-year senior offensive lineman Jacob Gall, someone who’s been to Morgantown, W.Va., a few times, said the imposing environment is another one to prepare for.
“Obviously a good team, really good environment there,” Gall said. “We know how loud it’s going to be. We practice for that kind of stuff. The guys are refreshed from the smaller bye week. We’re definitely ready to go.”
The Bears are still looking for their first win in Morgantown, as they have lost all of five road matchups against WVU. In the last contest between the two programs on Oct. 3, 2020, Baylor came close, but couldn’t sneak past the Mountaineers in a 27-21 double-overtime loss.
Junior running back Qualan Jones said one area the coaching staff is emphasizing in preparation for the hostile crowd is generating friendly energy. Jones said the team needs to stay connected, positive and to not let the noise impact them internally.
“That’s the big key thing that we [are] looking for to play in a hostile environment is just to bring energy and have everybody on the sideline encouraging the defense in tough times, encouraging the offense,” Jones said.
The Bears will have a chance to get the Morgantown monkey off its back Thursday when it faces WVU at 6 p.m. on FS1 at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Aranda said that despite missing some time against OSU, junior defensive lineman Siaki “Apu” Ika will be available on Thursday versus WVU.
Junior running back Taye McWilliams is still dealing with a head injury and is “a couple of weeks out” according to Aranda.
Sixth-year senior offensive lineman Khalil Keith is probable to play on Thursday, as he started to get back into individual practice this week, per Aranda. It would be Keith’s 2022 debut if he were to suit up and play.