Stillwater, Oklahoma- When you win the turnover deficit 3-0, and hold a Big 12 offensive to 17 points through 58 minutes, a good team expects to win. The Bear’s failure tonight will lead to plenty of reevaluation in the small sample size world of college football. “Was the Iowa State game a fluke?” “Were the Bears lucky to only lose by 10?” We can get more takeish than that, but the Bears had some big issues tonight.
Dave Aranda took the podium after Baylor’s 24-14 loss and said “I’m very disappointed in our competitive maturity. We’re at a stage right now where something we talk about and give examples about and something that is very important and central to us is not showing up. It’s something that I take as a heavy, heavy blow. It’s something that I’m very committed to improving. We talk about how something like this is going to cost us a game, and it just did.”
He added, “Competitive maturity to me would be to be your best authentic self in the most competitive and pressurized situations. Which you know, I feel ashamed to say, is really what we want to be about. For us to not be that is a dig. And so I think, you look, you point back to our game against Kansas, I thought there were opportunities to do stuff after the game and the play, we were able to not do that. You can go back to the score of the game, and the flow and the rhythm of the game, was not anything to where there was, you were feeling pressure or that. You get to a spot where things are good, things are good. When things are bad, they’re bad. We have to be our best when things our in tough spots. So we’ll continue to work on it.”
Quite simply tonight wasn’t good enough for Baylor. This was the worst Baylor’s looked since the Texas State game. Trestan Ebner had zero rushing yards. Gerry Bohanon completed fewer than 50% of his passes. When Baylor faced 3rd and short, the Bears had no shot at converting most of the evening. The Bears finished a ghastly 3-of-15 on 3rd down.
The Bears were undisciplined, or as Aranda noted, lacked competitive maturity in the biggest moments. Their troubling foray with penalties the last few weeks proved deadly. The Bears had nine for 58 yards, which made the comatose offense’s night tougher. When Baylor tried to run wide zone, Oklahoma State hit harder, which destroyed the offensive line. On certain passes, Aranda noted, “I thought there were a couple of balls we had the chance that we didn’t finish.”
Baylor’s saying the right things in response. Dillon Doyle noted, “But we have a lot of stuff to clean up defensively, so it’s not an offense or defense thing, it’s a team thing. Baylor lost this game today.” Abram Smith said, “We knew we weren’t playing how we were supposed to. When we got to halftime, we came together as a team, and just tried to fire each other up and rally behind one another.”
The Bears have the choice about how they’ll react to a loss like this. Aranda said that Terrel Bernard is expected back next week, which will help. “There was a lot of strong leadership in the locker room. Gerry Bohanon pulled everybody up and said our first-half play wasn’t acceptable. We came out really slow,” Dillon Doyle said.
Jeff Grimes also needs to think about if he’s willing to open the playbook more. He’s rightfully lauded for the massive improvement compared to last season’s putrid output. But saying, “I’m better than the last guy” is a fine strategy to depose the last regime. It’s not good enough when you stop being as good as you were the prior weeks. The Bears were predictable in the second half against Iowa State and have started slowly in all three Big 12 games. Grimes can and will do better going forward. This isn’t the squabbling and misaligned chaos of 2020. Hopefully it’s a few more deep passes and shots on 1st downs.
I’ve been clear from the beginning that Aranda is the right guy at Baylor. He’s far different than Matt Rhule—we haven’t heard about him interviewing for a single NFL job he won’t get after his inaugural season (sorry Rhule, you have to take the jokes when you’re a candidate for every job, including somehow maybe the USC job!)—but Aranda’s showing extreme ownership tonight. There’s no desire to blame officiating or claim tonight’s result is okay.
This is a hard game to tie together neatly because it was so ugly. The four timeouts before Oklahoma State ran through a busted gap assignment to go up 24-14 exemplified the evening. Maybe it’s fitting this is tough to tie together because growth and change don’t happen in straight lines. The Bears took a massive hit tonight. They may yet take more. But the pieces are still here to radically beat preseason expectations. They’ll have to be a lot better in some key areas to do it.