The No.17 Baylor Bears will host the Texas State Bobcats Saturday at McLane Stadium as they look to get back in the win column after a 26-20 double-overtime road loss to No.12 BYU.
The Bears were ranked ninth going into Provo, Utah, before dropping eight spots on the AP Top 25 poll following the bitter loss.
The game against Texas State is a perfect bounce-back opportunity for Baylor as they are heavy favorites and get to return to the comforts of their home after dealing with the raucous environment in Provo.
A sold-out 63,470 fans packed into BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium to watch the future Big 12 Conference rivalry, and Baylor was affected by the noise.
In the leadup to the game, coaches pumped crowd noise into the Bears’ practice. However, head coach Dave Aranda said his team still seemed intimidated by the boisterous fans, which included a BYU student section that camped out overnight outside the stadium.
“I can remember being in the huddle of our offense and the huddle of our defense on the sidelines, and just seeing really big eyes. Anytime you see big eyes, that generally tells the story,” said Aranda at his Monday press conference. “I think moving forward, we’ll be better equipped. I think it probably takes the real thing to get the message all the way across.”
Baylor may look to prioritize the passing game against the Bobcats after questions were posed this week about the Bears’ run-heavy play-calling against BYU.
Baylor ran the ball 52 times, compared to 28 pass attempts, against BYU. That is the most running plays in one game for Baylor since 2019.
Aranda said the coaching staff realized early on against BYU that the passing game was off the mark. Starting quarterback Blake Shapen finished 18-of-28 for 137 yards with one touchdown.
“I think there was some uncertainty and timidness in the throw game,” said Aranda. “We were really kind of leaning on the (veteran running backs). I don’t think the decision in the moment was that, but it just felt that way.”
The veteran running backs did deliver solid performance in the near win, despite starter Taye McWilliams going down to injury early in the second quarter. Fifth-year senior Craig “Sqwirl” Williams had a career day as a Bear against BYU, rushing for 68 yards on a career-high 17 attempts.
Fourth-year junior running back Qualan Jones added 67 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns.
Aranda said he felt the team was just one big run away from taking the road win in Provo.
“I think a couple of the runs that were five or six yards possibly could have been more,” said Aranda. “We kept trying to find that one big run that never quite got there.”
McWilliams is questionable for Saturday’s game against Texas State, so Williams and Jones may again have to shoulder the load of the Bears’ running game.
Texas State’s passing attack will not threaten many teams, but redshirt sophomore running back Calvin Hill can carve up defenses.
Last week, Hill posted a career-high in both yards (195) and carries (28) as Texas State squashed FIU 41-12. In 2021, the Baytown native led Texas State in rushing yards (714), yards per carry (5.6), rushing yards per game (59.5), and all-purpose yards (792).
It is the second consecutive season the Bobcats and Bears have played, with Baylor starting slow before taking a 29-20 win at Texas State in last year’s season opener. The Bears contained Hill to only 32 yards on nine attempts in that game.
As 31-point underdogs, Texas State will enter with nothing to lose. The underdog always has a chance in sports, especially if the opponent overlooks them.
Baylor players promise they are not looking past the Bobcats to their Big 12 conference opener against Iowa State on September 24.
“We respect all opponents,” Baylor junior safety Devin Neal said. “You can’t see the team logo, you can’t see the name, because when you disrespect your opponent, that’s when you have your worst games.”