By Jackson Posey | Sports Writer
After an offseason of hand-wringing about who would start under center, Baylor football finds itself in an enviable spot at the quarterback position.
It was a long journey to get to this point. At one point in the offseason, redshirt junior quarterback Blake Shapen was the team’s only scholarship quarterback, with former four-star Kyron Drones transferring to Virginia Tech and longtime blue-chip commit Austin Novosad flipping to Oregon. At the time, Shapen was coming off a disappointing loss to Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. Optimism reached what felt like a low in Waco.
The Bears brought in a pair of new quarterbacks — and Texas high school products — from the transfer portal back in January. The first name was redshirt sophomore quarterback Sawyer Robertson, a former Mississippi State Bulldog, and junior quarterback RJ Martinez from Northern Arizona. Robertson had blue-chip pedigree from his time as a recruit and the dual-threat Martinez racked up 4,845 yards and 43 touchdowns in two seasons in Flagstaff. But after a long offseason battle, neither could unseat the incumbent starter in Shapen.
Shapen’s performance in 2022, his first season as a starter, was up and down —mostly in that order. Prior to the head injury he suffered against West Virginia in October, he racked up 13 touchdowns to just three interceptions, and looked like a potential long-term answer under center. After the injury, though, his completion percentage dropped by nearly 10 percent, and he threw as many interceptions as touchdowns.
Blake Shapen's season was a tale of two halves:
First six games: 68.5%, 8.9 Y/A, 13 total TDs, 3 INTs
Final seven games: 59.2%, 6.5 Y/A, 7 TDs, 7 INTs
The shift came after a Thursday night loss to West Virginia, when Shapen endured a head injury. He started the following week.
— Jackson Posey ✞ (@ByJacksonPosey) December 26, 2022
No one knew what to expect heading into this season. Fan frustration with Shapen was high, as the student section was chanting “We want Sawyer” in the first half of “The Season Opener Which Shall Not Be Named.” But it was in that game, battling an MCL injury and a Texas State team that had Baylor’s number all night, that Shapen delivered the best home performance of his career. It was his best performance, in fact, since that fateful West Virginia game that pivoted his 2022.
Despite the Bears allowing pressure on 27 of 54 dropbacks, Shapen finished the night as the third-highest graded quarterback in the FBS, per PFF, trailing only Tulane junior quarterback Michael Pratt and the Bobcats’ own redshirt sophomore quarterback TJ Finley.
Even though missing time with an MCL injury will keep him out two to three weeks, Shapen still managed to play multiple drives with a heavily-wrapped left leg. Even with his mobility visibly impaired, he compiled a 300-yard, two-touchdown performance with no interceptions. It was just his second time to hit those three benchmarks in a game, joining the previously mentioned 2022 game against the Mountaineers.
The Bears will need a more efficient offense this week against a No. 12 Utah team that allowed just 21.4 points per game last season. But with Shapen stuck in recovery, the torch moves to the hands of Robertson, who completed six of 12 passes for 113 yards and a tipped-ball interception Saturday in relief of Shapen. Robertson also lost a fumble and nearly caught a touchdown pass on a Philly Special trick play, but senior tight end Drake Dabney’s pass sailed too high.
Standing at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds and flush with athleticism and stop-start acceleration, Robertson is built like a prototypical modern-day quarterback. Coming from an air raid background at both Mississippi State and Lubbock Coronado High School, Robertson brings a distinct skill set and dual-threat ability to a quarterback room that at times has been one-dimensional under offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes. Gerry Bohanon rushed more than he passed in 2021, and Shapen has rushed for over 30 yards just twice in 19 games.
Perhaps now, with a question mark at offensive line and a season on the brink of disaster, Robertson will be just what the doctor ordered. Even in a losing effort, he looked poised and confident against the Bobcats, and he could add a new dimension to an offense coming off of its worst home rushing performance since 2020.
Saturday marked a seminal moment in Baylor football for a number of reasons, many of which will dangle over the team as the season progresses. But it also marked a turning point under center. Shapen was back in a groove, playing one of the best games of his college career. Robertson, in an impossible situation, looked more than capable. In his first significant game experience, the lights were not too bright.
Shapen is the quarterback of the present. Robertson is the future — and might take the present too, if he plays his cards right. Either way, the arrow under center is pointing up, and if Robertson plays well against the Utes, the lights will get even brighter.