Coming off a 12-win season with a conference championship and a NY6 bowl win, most coaches probably would not seriously entertain the idea of changing quarterbacks, particularly going into year 3 as a head coach at any level. Sure, everyone says they’re having an open QB competition pretty much every year, but most coaches don’t actually do it. And if they did it, given the issues surrounding roster management, most coaches might string an announcement about the decision out into the summer and possibly even the fall to try to keep the loser (of the QB competition) from transferring out.
Most coaches aren’t Dave Aranda, who preaches “person over player” and practices what he preaches.
Yesterday evening, SicEm365 reported that Blake Shapen, MVP of the 2021 Big 12 Championship Game against Oklahoma State, would be named Baylor’s starting QB going into the 2022 season. That news has not been officially confirmed by anyone at Baylor, but we have no reason to doubt its veracity given subsequent events. Specifically, 247Sports reported earlier today that Gerry Bohanon, starter of 12 games last season including the Sugar Bowl against Ole Miss, has entered the transfer portal as a graduate transfer with immediate eligibility.
It’s quite the one-two punch of news at the QB position, and the timing is unusual only because it didn’t have to happen now. Aranda and Grimes could have played things closer to the vest, saying nothing about the decision or simply not making one at all, likely keeping both players in the program into the summer or fall when transfer options would be fewer and further between. You could argue that might be the smart move for the program but probably not the right one by the players involved (and thus, by Aranda’s stated ethos, the program). By making the decision in April and telling Bohanon exactly where he stood, Aranda gave him the opportunity to make a move into the portal and find a program that needs a talented, winning QB (there will be quite a few) with a summer to get acquainted with a new team and system. It’s a risk in that sans-Bohanon you become completely reliant on the smaller Shapen staying healthy, but it’s also the right thing to do for a kid (Bohanon) that deserves the chance to find somewhere to start. It’s a high-integrity move from a high-integrity coach and one that most coaches probably wouldn’t make. But again, most coaches aren’t Dave Aranda.
It’s also a pretty extraordinary set of events in the pure football context. I’m having trouble thinking of a similar situation where a QB led a team (through 12 of 14 games, at least) to its best season ever, lost the QB competition the following spring, and then decided to transfer out. And before we go any further, I have zero—ZERO—issue with Bohanon transferring whatsoever, and neither should you. He waited patiently for three years to start, won last year’s competition over Jacob Zeno and Shapen, gave the team everything he had during an incredible season, and is now going elsewhere to play because (I assume) he wants to start again. I know I speak for all of us here at ODB, and I hope I speak for the vast, vast majority of the Baylor fanbase, when I say that I wish him the absolute best. I’m a Bohanon fan wherever he goes, words that I hope I don’t end up eating.
But I digress. The reason we are here today is that, notwithstanding what happened before, the coaches (apparently) decided that Shapen gives them the better chance to win football games going forward and that both players deserved to know where they stood, Shapen so he could prepare for next season as the QB1 and Bohanon so he could decide on his future. This is the conclusion of a decision-making process that probably started when Shapen took the field in relief of Bohanon against Kansas State, won that game, and then led the Bears to back-to-back wins against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, the latter of which included a Big 12 Championship Game record 17-straight completions. No matter how much you loved what Bohanon had done to that point, Shapen looked fairly incredible himself in his redshirt freshman season, throwing for nearly 600 yards on 72.8% completion with 5 TDs and no INTs. Before we found out that he was injured in that win over Oklahoma State, it was an open question who would start the bowl game against Ole Miss. Had he been healthy, my bet is that it would have been Shapen.
I have to believe that the primary driver of the decision now is the desire to get more explosive and consistent in the passing game, and less predictable overall on offense. I’m using a lot of words like “looked” and “seemed,” so take it with a grain of salt, but time and again last season we saw what seemed like an initial hesitance to attack down the field with Bohanon, or, if it didn’t work, an abandonment of those attempts in favor of a more grinding style. That didn’t seem to be the case with Shapen; for example, in his very first start against Texas Tech, he had more passing attempts (34) than Bohanon did in any other game, and in his second against Oklahoma State, by far the best defense we played all season against the pass, he had more attempts (28) than Bohanon did in all but three games (WVU, 29; BYU, 28; and UT, 30), and that was with a hurt shoulder in the second half. This concept, that it seems like the coaches are more comfortable with Shapen throwing the ball, looks to have been borne out in the Spring Game last week, where Shapen came out slinging (hitting Gavin Holmes on his first play), connected with Monaray Baldwin for a 50-yard TD, and hit walk-on Josh Cameron for another TD (no video I could find). Speaking of Baldwin, aside from Shapen himself, he and Ben Sims are probably the big winners of this deal in that their usage rates should go way up in the passing game.
The only concerns I have about this move are fairly obvious ones. First, as I talked about above, committing to Shapen and losing Bohanon to the portal means you really need Blake to stay healthy all season, and that seems somewhat unlikely given his slighter build no matter how good our OL should be. There is now a lot of pressure on Kyron Drones to continue to develop in case we need him, and depth is an issue; since we did not take a QB in this class, the QB room now contains just three guys—Shapen, Drones, and former walkon CJ Rogers, who I would expect will get a scholarship now if he doesn’t have one already. Second, I wonder if the running game suffers somewhat from not having Bohanon’s size and strength, which seems likely. We don’t have a good number for actual designed runs, but Bohanon carried the ball 76 times last season according to his game logs, third-most on the team. I don’t see them letting Shapen do that given the depth concerns.
But we shall see. The Blake Shapen Era at QB is officially here!