Sports Take: Baylor football needs to continue up-tempo offense

Redshirt junior quarterback Blake Shapen (12, right) hands the ball off to junior running back Dominic Richardson (21, left) during a nonconference game against Texas State on Sept. 2 at McLane Stadium. Kenneth Prabhakar | Photo Editor

By Jackson Posey | Sports Writer

As a wise philosopher once said, “Speed. I am speed.”

Baylor football would do well to take his advice.

The Bears have faced a number of hurdles early this season, not the least of which was losing starting redshirt junior quarterback Blake Shapen to injury for multiple weeks. Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes had to reshape a lot of the offense around redshirt sophomore backup quarterback Sawyer Robertson, but there’s one thing that doesn’t need to depend on who’s under center: pace of play.

The Bears have one of the slowest offenses in the country. Their average time of possession (32.4 minutes per game) ranks 13th among FBS teams and sixth among power conferences. But even that stat is misleading, given how often they pass. Baylor ranks No. 14 nationally in pass attempts (186) and is averaging nearly 17 incomplete passes per game.

Grimes’ patience has worked in the past, but Saturday’s win over UCF revealed a better path forward: Hit the gas.

“I thought the tempo was effective because we were able to get lined up quick, and there were no shifts and motions,” head coach Dave Aranda said Monday. “It forced the defense to have to be able to not make calls according to our formation. Get lined up, set edges, get tight on coverage — things that were so-so in being accomplished. And I think we were able to take advantage of those spaces in between.”

The 36-35 victory marked Baylor’s highest-scoring output since dropping 38 points on Oklahoma on Nov. 5, 2022. Perhaps ironically, those wins bookended a quasi-infamous seven-game losing streak against FBS opponents that stretched across parts of two seasons.

Some of that scoring output came from freshman cornerback Caden Jenkins’ electric 72-yard scoop-and-score TD, but the offense really clicked behind star performances from junior wide receiver Monaray Baldwin (seven catches for 150 receiving yards, one receiving TD) and sophomore running back Richard Reese (16 carries for 100 rushing yards). Both players credited the faster tempo with creating more opportunities.

“I like it a lot,” Reese said of the up-tempo offense against UCF. “It makes [the defense] not lined up [on time]. So I would say it’s really good, especially [to] make us move faster and get to where we want to get and hit the hole faster.”

Since arriving in Waco as a true freshman in 2022, Reese has played a critical role in the team’s offensive success. In games where he rushes for at least 60 yards, the Bears are 7-1. When he doesn’t, the team is 1-9. They’re 4-0 when he hits the century mark.

The same goes for scoring. The Bears are 7-2 when Reese reaches the end zone, and 1-8 when he doesn’t. The lone win? Saturday at UCF.

To be sure, some random variance was involved in the 28-point comeback, but that isn’t to take away from an offense that may have found its secret sauce. The Bears racked up 446 yards against the Knights — a number they reached against just three power conference opponents last season. None of those teams ranked better than 89th in scoring defense.

With a potential inflection point under its belt, the Baylor offense must lean further into what’s working. Shapen, Reese and Baldwin played like the best versions of themselves on Saturday, and if that keeps happening, the Bears’ early-season struggles will look more like a flash in the pan. If Lightning McQueen’s philosophy was good enough to beat Chick Hicks, perhaps it’s good enough to knock off Texas Tech too.