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Baylor Football

The Players' Keys: Effort Always and Enduring Lessons from BYU

September 29, 2022

Following a crucial win in Ames, Baylor Football's celebration was enjoyable but short-lived by design and necessity, with the focus quickly shifting back towards the grindstone, and this week, a familiar foe in Mike Gundy's Oklahoma State Cowboys. 

On Tuesday, a fresh trio of players had their turn with the media to talk about last week's win and, of course, the enormous challenge ahead against the Pokes. 

Ames Tribune-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Lineman TJ Franklin 

The Temple native has been a mainstay on the Bears' defensive line the past few seasons and ended Saturday's win with four tackles, as Iowa State's rushing attack managed just 80 yards, not counting sack deductions. So far in 2022, the Bears' defense has yet to allow 100 yards rushing to any of their four opponents. A goal Franklin remains keyed in on entering Saturday. 

"For us, we want to keep teams under 100. No matter who it is, it's really gut-wrenching for us and embarrassing for us whenever people even get close to 100," Franklin said Tuesday. "So that's how much of an emphasis we've made on it this year. We just want to not give them that opportunity to be a two-sided offense. We want to make them one-sided." 

Helping the Baylor defense last weekend was the performance of senior linebacker Bryson Jackson, who earned two of the team's four sacks against ISU QB Hunter Dekkers. Jackson's emergence and continued stellar play have impressed his teammates, including Franklin, who drew on a pretty heavy comparison to describe the super senior linebacker's intuition and knowledge. 

"Oh, he's just honestly become one of those ballers. He's just one of those people that has a super high motor. One of those people that's always around the ball," Franklin said glowingly of his teammate. "He's kind of similar to I would say Jalen Pitre last year, he always knows where the ball is gonna go. He's always gonna be there whenever the ball gets there."

Heading into Ames last week, the team drew on their previous experiences, most notably the tough showing and loss in Provo in week two. Although both teams have moved on since that contest, the BYU outcome remains an essential learning tool. And it certainly helped in a far better follow-up road performance against the Cyclones. 

 "That's honestly what we couldn't do last year. And I feel like a lot of us had that experience last year and didn't want to happen again," the former Temple Wildcat standout said this week. 

"So, we really took our time to actually understand that we're going to be put in these situations where the crowds are going to be loud, we can't really get big-eyed and confused whenever stuff like that happens. We just understand that now we have to lock in a little more, focus a little more, be more communicative and just come together."
Those lessons will come in handy further with multiple road trips remaining, but for now, the Bears are thankful to be back on the banks of the Brazos. 

"Definitely, we got this Gold Out thing this week. So, we're really excited for that. I know the fans and supporters are gonna bring a lot of energy with that. So that's definitely going to fuel us on the field." 

Chris Jones-USA TODAY Sports

Tight End Drake Dabney 

The Bears' junior tight end hurdled over an ISU defender and into last week's highlights, finishing with the impressive leap and two catches for 35 yards total, in addition to his other duties. 

Facing OSU for the third time in a year, some of the personnel has changed, but for the Baylor offense, they know OSU's overall mentality and talent and are preparing for another fight. 

"I think the main difference is just new people on the defense. A lot of the same frontline guys, but definitely new secondary, new linebackers, but still the same fast Oklahoma State team. Lots of respect about that defense, they'll be bringing it," Dabney said to the media. 

"I think it's one of the better defenses we'll face, so definitely be a good challenge for us." 

Going back to that leap last weekend over a Cyclones' defender, Dabney said it's a move he and fellow TE Ben Sims have messed around with in practice, but he enjoyed deploying it in-game. And for outsiders, it might be eye-opening to realize how much planning went into such a move. 

"I mean, we've been talking about the hurdle in the tight end room for a minute. So, before the drive, I was talking to [Jeff] Grimes. He was like, just be ready to pop open, they're gonna go low. So go ahead and do it," Dabney recalled. "And I just told him, like, I'm gonna do it. So, once I got the ball, it was a sure chance I was going to jump no matter what. I was gonna live or die by it. So I just did it. And it worked out." 

Dabney's reception was among many highlights of the offense's passing game last weekend. A welcome sign ahead of the conference grind for a team intent on playing complementary football but having struggled at times to find the right balance. 

"I think Blake got into a rhythm. He looked very comfortable out there. I think the receivers were able to get open and do very well. So, I think we definitely took a step forward in that area," the Cypress native said. 

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365

Defensive Back Lorando "Snaxx" Johnson 

Dabney's hurdle was fantastic, and there were plenty of other plays, but one of the biggest plays last weekend never actually happened, according to the replay booth in Ames. 

DB Lorando Johnson appeared to have forced ISU RB Jirehl Brock into a fumble out of the endzone, effectively icing the game in Baylor's favor. However, after review, Brock "maintained possession," according to officials, and in doing so scored, cutting into the Bears' late lead. In the end, it didn't matter, and Baylor walked away with a victory, but while the play didn't stand, the extra effort and intent by Johnson is something that still stands out as a hugely positive sign exiting Ames. 

Again, the BYU game entered the conversation, and from Johnson's standpoint, like his teammates, the result might have been unkind, but the benefits are already apparent. 

The trip helped speed up the gelling process for a unit not short on experience but composed of a different mix than last year's veteran-led group. 

"I feel like more comfortability with each other, because that was our first real road game test, [for] this team. So, like we just got more comfortable and trust each other more and it was able to pay off." 

For Snaxx, getting comfortable and playing green has also meant adjusting to a newer position, having moved from Star to cornerback in the offseason.

"Yeah, it was something I wanted. It's starting to get more comfortable game by game. Just trying to get better and perfect my craft," said the sophomore from Lancaster. 

Looking around last year, Johnson learned from watching stars like Jalen Pitre, Terrel Bernard, and JT Woods. But this year's defense is also loaded with veteran playmakers and teachers around Johnson, including the defensive line, LB Dillon Doyle, and the previously mentioned Bryson Jackson, who seems to be setting good examples for players like Snaxx and the younger generation. So, again, traits you hope they grab hold of, implement, and continue passing along as their time arrives. 

For Snaxx, one trait stands out in particular regarding Jackson. And if it can rub off on this next wave of young stars, the Baylor defense will remain in good hands for years to come.

"We just expect effort. If we had a leader for effort it'd be him. He gives 100% every play. That's what we expect." 

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The Players' Keys: Effort Always and Enduring Lessons from BYU

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