With the announcement from SicEm365 and Baylor Rivals that Trestan Ebner and John Lovett are planning to opt-out of the remainder of the season, Baylor football faces the worst day since 2017. Challenges don’t come when we want them, but we still have to meet them.
Ebner and Lovett leaving is a catastrophic sign for the team. The duo are both single digits. Lovett is a four year starter. If one left, the other would be set to get way more touches. Ebner didn’t play much last season, so he has a lot to play for and show NFL teams. Despite having reasons to stay, they’re ready to exit.
Losing two of your best players presents an opportunity. Make no mistake, this is not a good thing. But it takes a disaster to recover. Sometimes you need to have your girlfriend leave you to realize there were reasons she left. Maybe you let yourself go physically. Maybe you weren’t there for her mentally. As Tom Cruise famously said in Cocktail, “Jesus, everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end.” If it even needs to be said, losing two of your best players after losing to your rival is a bad ending.
Aranda has a chance to evaluate everything now. The Bears could have looked at their Texas loss and said, “Well, with COVID-19 we barely practiced, and the team showed a lot of heart in the fourth quarter.” That nonsense can go away. When two of your best players leave after four games, it’s incumbent to examine what went wrong.
The Bears have been awful on offense. They opened the campaign No. 23 in Bill Conelly’s S&P+ rankings. The offense is down to 53rd after just three games. That’s a monumental fall, given the preseason data still factors into the rankings and artificially boosts the Bears’ offense. In the Big 12, Baylor ranks 9th in points, 9th in passing yards per game and last in rushing yards per game. If not for Kansas, they’d rank last in points per game. And Baylor’s stats are also inflated by having one their three games against Kansas. If the Bears played a Sun Belt team to start the season instead of the Jayhawks, they’d challenge Kansas for the league’s worst offense.
Charlie Brewer’s arm is a giant issue. Writing that is not fun. Brewer is the toughest man in the Big 12. He’s come back from concussions and injuries. He’d led comebacks and guided the Bears to a Big 12 title game.
The Bears’ QB hasn’t been the same after the Oklahoma game in 2019. He can’t stretch the field, which is letting defenders load up in the box. With Brewer unable to stretch the field and force defenders to cover the field, the Bears can’t run because so many guys are near the line of scrimmage. And when the Bears can’t run, it becomes harder to pass. That catch-22 causes an offensive death spiral.
The biggest offensive issue is Brewer’s arm. Tyquan Thornton didn’t forget how to get open downfield. Brewer didn’t forget how to read defenses either. Brewer’s longest competition this season is 35 yards, and the pass didn’t travel that far. 14 Big 12 QB’s have completed a longer pass than Brewer. His yards per attempt ranks ninth in the conference. Unless Brewer can regain his arm strength, the Bears’ offense isn’t going to get it done.
Maybe it’s unfair to write that about Brewer, especially when he’s stayed. Plenty of strong men would have quit football with all the injuries he’s suffered. He deserves all of our praise for how he keeps playing. He was the best option in 2018 and 2019. He’s not been in 2020.
Benching Brewer isn’t an easy decision. With how he’d played before, he deserved a chance to show he could be what he once was. It would have been incredibly difficult to start Gerry Bohanon or Jacob Zeno, and then turn to Brewer. Given that, I don’t fault Aranda for letting Brewer start. Unless Brewer suddenly regains his arm strength, it’s time for a change though. I also want to be clear that I’m not saying Ebner and Lovett want to leave because Brewer is starting. I don’t have any reason to think that’s why they’re leaving. I’m saying it’s time to fix all the problems with the team, and QB play is the biggest on field problem.
That’s the great challenge for Brewer. His arm always limited his ceiling. That Brewer earned a power five offer is a testament to his will-power. Plenty of more talented quarterbacks never earn a start in the MAC. There’s no doubt Brewer got the most out of his talent. But he lived on the margin. With his willingness to throw his body anywhere, he risked everything to gain anything. That gamble worked for the 2019 Bears. It hasn’t worked this season. LeBron James and Michael Jordan could lose 5% of their athleticism and still win titles at 35. Brewer couldn’t lose much of his limited arm strength and get it done.
The culture around Baylor’s offense also deserves a look. Why did two single digit players decide to bolt? Those are team leaders, and Baylor Rivals reported they didn’t even show up for practice today. Maybe the culture is fine, but that’s horrifically out of order, and it’s an especially weird move if things are going well.
Dave Aranda is a first year coach, and he deserves leeway. He’s coaching during a pandemic. First year coaches have to earn the player’s trust; they deal with balancing a million different challenges daily.
Two guys planning to leave can’t become multiple. In a perfect world, Aranda would bring them back. It could be too late for that, but it’s not too late to fix things.
First seasons are challenging for anyone. After losing to Liberty and UTSA in 2017, Matt Rhule said, “You guys told me you want a staff that wasn’t going to quit on you. I won’t quit on you. Don’t quit on me.” Rhule had to face giant issues to say those words. He still went 1-11 that year, but two years later he went 11-1 and landed an NFL gig.
Aranda’s the right guy for this job. He’s a brilliant defensive mind, and he deeply cares about people. The defense has been excellent. But something is amiss on offense. Nobody wants to face catastrophe, especially this early in their tenure. It presents an opportunity though. Sometimes things have to go wrong to make them right. Aranda has that opportunity, and with how well he’s done at his previous stops, he can get it done.