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Baylor Football

The Players Perspective — One More Chance to Put it All Together

November 23, 2022
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This season, much of the positivity surrounding Baylor's preseason projections revolved around their veteran-laden offensive and defensive lines. So it was only fitting, with one media session remaining, that both units were represented as the Bears head into a Black Friday finale at Texas. 

The trip marks not just the final regular-season game, but in addition, this may be the last Baylor Football team to play in Austin for the foreseeable future. Even if the Longhorns and Sooners stay until their official Big 12 exit date of July 1, 2025, the temporarily realigned Big 12 means playing every team home and away each year isn't possible. 

Whether or not this is the Bears' final foray into the state capital, it is the final opportunity awaiting them this regular season. However, based on the last two weeks, it's fair to wonder just what type of game awaits this team in the ATX. 

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365

DEFENSIVE LINEMAN — TJ FRANKLIN

Last Saturday, the true senior from Temple was among many upperclassmen introduced and presumed to be playing in their final home contests on Senior Day. Many of those honored had benefitted from a redshirt year, a COVID year, or perhaps both. Franklin took advantage of neither, immediately thrust into the fire as a true freshman in 2019. 

Four years later, Franklin is a hardened veteran, having seen his fair share of triumphs and defeats in that timeframe. Through it all, last weekend's TCU outcome seemed a particularly painful pill to swallow, but he's not worried about hangover effects in Austin, unlike most who visit. 

"Oh, yeah, for the most part, I believe we have [moved on]," Franklin said this week about the TCU loss. "I've mentioned this many times before, no game is more important than our next game. So we just try to always put the past in the past and just focus on the next week."

Despite the outcome against the Frogs, the Bears successfully answered whether they could emotionally rebound from the Kansas State debacle the week before. They responded and stacked up well against the undefeated No. 4 team in the country. And that's something Franklin and the entire team can build from this week. The final score wasn't ideal, but that's part of life and the game. 

"I was super proud, honestly, because all year we've been trying to fight to get to that point. Because we knew we were capable of doing it," the Temple native said about going toe to toe with the Frogs and former teammates Quentin Johnston and Jared Wiley. "Of course, it didn't end the way we wanted it to, but that comes whenever you play football, you sometimes don't get the outcome you expect. But we kind of got to where we were clicking on all levels like we've been expecting to do all year, we've been fighting to do all year."

Now, the recovery question rears its head for the second week in a row, but with some slight modifications. On the road, notable underdogs, on a losing streak, and back-to-back brutal losses are all different factors now, but not insurmountable. 

There are also the added potential distractions of a holiday week and a promised break with loved ones awaiting on the other side of this game. So with all the above mentioned, how are they handling it all? 

"The focus is still where it needs to be. I mean, [the staff] have done a good job by making us practice in the morning and giving us the extra time in the evening to either get extra film or take care of our bodies, do anything that we need to do to be like our final preparation for the game, so that's a big help." 

Franklin later said the approach allowed for more intention in what they wanted to accomplish and get out of this week. 

The Bears are no strangers to elite Big 12 backs, having faced Deuce Vaughn and Kendre Miller in back-to-back weeks. Still, Bijan Robinson has a Lambo on loan, a signature mustard line, and just ran for 243 yards and four touchdowns vs. Kansas, while Jonathon Brooks added 11 touches for 108 yards and two scores. 

"He's going to do stuff that we haven't seen yet from previous running backs," Franklin said of Bijan Robinson. 

So, part of the goals this week includes limiting the Longhorns' rushing attack, which requires wrangling the likes of Robinson and Roschon Johnson, among others. 

"A lot is putting the importance on the d-line to be gap sound, and inside the box, linebackers being gap sound," he discussed Tuesday. "So this week and the past few weeks, we've been talking about staying in our primary gaps a little longer and then working to our secondary gaps once we know that the running back has declared which way he's gonna go." 

That method only sometimes works according to plan, as Deuce Vaughn's shiftiness was too quick two weeks ago, leaving the Bears' defense too often scrambling after being faked out. 

"A lot of times we would think he was going into our secondary gap and then he would step into it and come into our primary gap after we released into our secondary gap," Franklin explained. "So, our big focus has just been sitting in the primary gap." 

Other Texas weapons include QB Quinn Ewers, who makes some All-American throws at times and then looks like a freshman playing his first season at others, particularly in the face of pressure, but that's not a storyline unique to the Southlake slinger. 

"I would say that's probably the same with most collegiate quarterbacks. A lot of them don't have too much pressure in their face most of the time, but whenever they do, they get a little antsy back there," Franklin said matter-of-factly. "So I believe just getting in his face, moving him off his spot, and making him uncomfortable will be a big deal in our game."

Jack Mackenzie - SicEm365

CENTER — JACOB GALL 

After playing in 57 career games, few are better-versed in the intricacies of the unique college football journey. Gall served as one of four captains on Senior Day, ending his second season in Waco following his four years at Buffalo. Of course, the game ended as a less-than-joyous occasion, but Gall's time in town has been impactful and memorable. 

He, too, credited the staff's approach with allowing the team some time to benefit from the lack of classes due to Thanksgiving break. The extra hours enable the Bears to recharge but dial in deeper on the critical finer points ahead of Friday's game. 

Texas will enter Friday with an outside shot of making the Big 12 title game but must defeat Baylor first and then hope for an upset special in the Sunflower Showdown. For the Bears, those hopes are gone, and this year is a guaranteed step down from 2021's peak. So, without those juicy carrots of accomplishments dangling, can this team find the motivation to come out swinging like last week? 

"That's something we've been talking about all week and I think the thing we really come back to is that this is another chance for us to prove ourselves," Gall said. "Everybody that's kind of still been doubting us all season after the start or after any loss we've had, this is still another chance to prove to everybody the team that we actually are."

Plus, who doesn't love beating Texas? The Bears flashed a winning formula last week but fell short in the execution category. The results may leave behind scars, but they don't always define the effort. Baylor played like the better team until the final few minutes. 

"Despite the result, they're a good team, I think we showed glimpses of what we really can be. Maybe not 100%, because I think 100%… we win that game. But I think we showed glimpses, definitely," Gall said this week. 

Of course, one of the big talking points following that loss was the play of quarterback Blake Shapen. Despite some struggles adding up this year, and the effects of outcomes like last Saturday, he never gets too high or low. 

"Yeah, I think he's a super resilient kid. Despite anything that happens to him, I think he just comes out here with the same mentality every day. And I think that's a great attribute to have," he said of Shapen. "Especially being a quarterback to come out here despite anything that happens good or bad. I think he's super consistent." 

Gall, Shapen, and the rest of the crew prepare to head south with bowl jockeying, straight-up pride, and determination as driving factors. Of course, the Bears will meet plenty of resistance and vitriol from the burnt orange faithful, but after lessons learned along the way, this team is built for the challenge, including the road crowd.

It's no secret some players prefer playing on the road instead of McLane Stadium and the friendly surroundings of home. It doesn't sound as though that's a unanimous opinion by any stretch, but a perspective worth noting as they the road following consecutive home heartbreakers.  

"I can't speak for the whole team. But for me, I have the same confidence at home as I do away. Nothing really changes. I think some guys do get a confidence about being away, you're kind of by yourself, your backs against the wall, things like that," Gall said. "So I can definitely see that. There's a lot of guys who do feel like that. But for me, football is football, whether you’re home or away." 
 

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The Players Perspective — One More Chance to Put it All Together

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