Ever since the Bears were able to hold on to a victory and beat the Cyclones in late September, fans have been making the comparison between this year and the 2019 season. I guess winning a close game at home to catapult the conference schedule felt all too familiar for Baylor fans. Obviously, there will be some glaring similarities and differences between any two college football seasons, but it is interesting to analyze some of the ones that may give insight into the rest of the year.
Older Players Stepping up
The 2019 season was unique in the fact that pretty much every player was playing the best football of their career, especially on defense. The good players became dominant, average players became good, and probably most fun to watch was to see long time backup players excel in more prominent roles—Henry Black and James Lockhart come to mind. And I am seeing the same type of scenario playing out this season. Guys like Bryson Jackson and Cole Maxwell have gone from reserve players on the sidelines, primarily used in special teams and mop-up duty, to being difference makers on the defensive side of the ball. Jackson has been extremely active as pass-rusher. He recorded a huge sack this past Saturday and has had other nice moments that don’t show up in the stat sheet—remember it was Jackson who brought the pressure and forced Spencer Sanders to throw his first interception in the game against OSU. He’s been at Baylor since 2017, but hasn’t had the chance to shine, mainly due to playing behind guys like Clay Johnston. Terrel Bernard, Jordan Williams, Taylor Young, among others. For Cole Maxwell, it hasn’t been so much the depth in front of him as it has been injuries. Earlier in his career he was plagued by a couple of bad knee injuries. But that hasn’t stopped him from having a stellar 2021 season. In just half a season, Maxwell has already obliterated his prior combined career totals.
A Surprise Position Group
Arguably the biggest reason the 2019 team was successful was because of the pressure and havoc that was caused in the trenches by just a 3-man defensive front. It’s hard to forget the impact that Bravvion Roy, James Lynch, and James Lockhart had that season. But what some people might not remember was that there was some angst about the position group entering that year. Experienced guys like Greg Roberts and Ira Lewis had graduated, while BJ Thompson opted to transfer. I think fans saw the potential, but nobody thought they were going to be as dominant as they were. There were game clinching sacks against Iowa State and West Virginia, and often times there was no need to even blitz. In 2021, I see similarities between the 2019 defensive line group and the 2021 offensive line group. Again, fans saw potential, but did anybody expect the group to be so dominant? A lot of credit needs to go to the coaching staff for realizing the potential in Jacob Gall and Grant Miller. I wrote earlier this year about prior OL transfers not quite always working out and how that contributed to the group not turning the corner. That problem seems to be remedied now.
Lack of Impressive Road Win
Going into Halloween weekend in 2019 the Bears had already notched two impressive road wins against Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Some teams play completely different away from home, but by this time in 2019 that was not a concern for Baylor fans. The same can’t be said for this season. The Bears have really only had one true opportunity (OSU) this year and could not get it done. So it’s fair to question whether the Bears are just not as good in hostile environments— I don’t think that’s the case but until Baylor can win in Fort Worth or Manhattan people are free to speculate about it.
Baylor has a tough stretch of games in the next month. There is no doubt that Bears are a surprise team in 2021—-just how big of surprise, however, will be determined in the next five games.