It wasn’t always pretty, and they needed a lot of help from their special teams to do it, but the Baylor Bears (3-4) bested the Cincinnati Bearcats (2-5) in their first-ever meeting, 32 to 29.
Baylor took an early 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter following a 54 yard field goal by Isaiah Hankins, set up by an excellent punt return by Josh Cameron. Hankins ended the game a perfect 4/4 with field goals of 43, 43, and 46, in addition to the aforementioned 54 yarder.
Cincinnati responded with a 14 play, 6 minute, 75 yard drive capped off with a touchdown throw to Xzavier Henderson. Henderson led all Bearcat receivers with eight receptions for 82 yards and two total TDs.
Given the first two series (and the last game against Texas Tech...), it felt like a four point deficit could be insurmountable. Fortunately, Shapen came to play. He followed up a risky 50-50 ball to Ketron Jackson Jr. for 41 yards with a three yard touchdown scramble a few plays later. On the ensuing kickoff, the Cincinnati return man bobbled the ball and fumbled it into the arms of Byron Vaughns for an easy touchdown. Just like that, Baylor had a 17-7 lead.
SPECIAL TEAMS SCOOP AND SCORE— Big 12 Conference (@Big12Conference) October 21, 2023
Both teams would score again before halftime. Baylor settled for another field goal following a big gain on a flea flicker to Drake Dabney, and Cincinnati finally had an explosive running play go all the way into the endzone. Baylor took a tenuous 20-14 lead into the second half.
Getting the ball to start the third quarter, Baylor efficiently moved the ball downfield and gave Jake Roberts his first touchdown since joining the Bears. Aranda rolled the dice on a two-point conversion and lost. I stand by the decision being the correct one at the time, but it almost came back to haunt them.
After another field goal, Baylor entered the final quarter with a 29-14 lead; however, Cincinnati only needed two plays (and one yard) to bring the game back within one possession.
With a little over 14 minutes remaining in the game, Shapen orchestrated an up-and-down 15 play, 7:19 minute drive — multiple underhanded passes to tight ends, sacks, and passes thrown out-of-bounds couldn’t stop Baylor from running the clock and putting Hankins in position to kick his final field goal.
When Baylor needed only one more defensive stop and solid offensive drive to close out the game, they surrendered a quick, 1:58 touchdown drive and subsequent two-point conversion. And then with a three point lead and five minutes left, Baylor could only pick up one first down and had to punt the ball back to a surging Cincinnati.
We got one (1) first down and then parked it. You go the whole game being aggressive only to pull that in the penultimate drive?— ODB (@OurDailyBears) October 21, 2023
If you’ve been following Baylor football for the last two years, it felt like the ending of this game was inevitable. Just over two minutes remaining and needing to keep the team out of field goal range? Go ahead and chalk it up as a loss. Three nice plays put the Bearcats near midfield, but they wouldn’t get any further. Excellent coverage on back-to-back plays by Carl Williams IV and Corey Gordon Jr. sealed the deal and forced a turnover on downs. Baylor kneeled it out and walked away with a 32-29 victory.
As anyone who read Joe Goodman’s excellent game preview knew, Cincinnati has a stout run defense but is susceptible to big plays through the air. Jeff Grimes and the rest of the Baylor offensive staff took that to heart. Baylor had zero rushing attempts in the first quarter, and their fifteen carries by running backs set a season low.
In their stead was Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen. Shapen had 316 passing yards and one passing touchdown on 42 attempts and 13 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown on nine carries. His rushing yardage includes a couple of sacks and understates his importance in picking up first downs with his legs.
Shapen did a good job getting multiple players involved in the offense. Eight different players caught a pass, including three tight ends and two running backs. Ketron Jackson Jr. had a career day with 130 receiving yards on five receptions.
Ketron Jackson up to 112 receiving yards, a new career high for the Arkansas transfer. His 55-yard catch was NOT a career-long, though, as he hauled in a 64-yarder with the Razorbacks versus Missouri State in 2022.— Michael Haag (@MichaelHaag_) October 21, 2023
Cincinnati’s offense couldn’t have been any more different than Baylor’s. While the latter almost exclusively aired it out, Cincinnati had 43 rushing attempts. Quarterback Tre Emory led the Bearcats with 18 carries himself, but both Corey Kiner and Myles Montgomery posted over 100 yards. Montgomery was especially dangerous with the ball in his hands — the redshirt sophomore had a season high 103 yards with 10.3 yards per carry and two touchdowns.
To be fair to Cincinnati, their offense wasn’t as one-sided as Baylor’s. Despite taking a beating on the ground, Emory went 19 of 30 for 162 passing yards and two passing touchdowns. At the end of the day, it all came down to one bad special teams play.