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Baylor Football

The Players Club: The Approach Heading into Kansas State

November 8, 2023
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Welcome to the Players Club. This week's lineup features quarterback Blake Shapen and defensive lineman TJ Franklin as the Bears look to shake off lousy home vibes and shock the world as three touchdown road dogs entering "The Little Apple" this weekend. 

The fearsome foe, the reigning Big 12 Champs, who obliterated the Bears in Waco a year ago. That team will take their home field supremely confident and probably a little ornery after last week's heartbreaking loss to top-ten Texas in Austin. 

With three weeks to play, time is ticking on the 2023 Bears, and their opportunities are dwindling, but an opportunity to finally put it all together awaits them this Saturday at Kansas State. 


THE APPROACH 

TJ Franklin has been around the block at BU and experienced all sorts of highs and lows, wins and losses, championships, and last-place finishes. Now, he's entering the final three-game stretch of his college career and was asked about his approach as the losses gather, but time winds down. 

"Just to continue to inspire people to play hard, even whenever it feels like we don't have much to play for at this point in the season. And just trying to encourage everybody to put their best thing on film every time they step on the field," Franklin said. 

That's easier said than done this year when sitting at 3-6 and said record leads to an unavoidable amount of outside noise and, in some cases, extreme negativity. But players and coaches can't afford to be as reactionary as fans, foes, and media. 

That's part of the focus and part of the trick to overcoming the grind that is college football. 

"Pretty much after every loss, as a player, you just got to flush it. I mean, you could be sad or upset or disappointed in the moment, but that'll affect the next week of prep if you let it. So you just got to flush it and allow the team to lean on each other and just be good for each other, be there for each other," he said. 

A perceived strength became a glaring weakness this season, as the Bears struggled to take advantage of 8 home games vs. four road contests. As we hit mid-November, the Bears are hitting the road for the third time all season. The team is a well-publicized 1-6 at home but 2-0 away from McLane Stadium, with down-to-the-wire victories against conference newcomers Cincinnati and UCF. 

Dave Aranda has acknowledged that road trips allow this group to focus differently, like Baylor Football vs. all of Manhattan, Kansas this week, but their tactics are no different. 

"We look forward to every game, it just so happens that we won a majority of our away games rather than home games. But we attack the week the same every week," Franklin explained. 

It's silly to believe in road magic, considering the small sample size and opponents. And these Bears rolling into town and shocking the Little Apple to its core, would require some wizardry this team hasn't previously displayed. 

YOUNGER FOCUS

Time is running out for a veteran like Franklin, who's seen and experienced it all at this career stage. But how are the younger guys handling the losses? 

And not just because of the existential roster threat that is the transfer portal, but also when it might be easy to crumple this season up, throw it away, and start eyeing a fresh slate and improved opportunities in 2024. 

The veterans on this team, like Franklin, are either out of eligibility, too settled in, or unable to transfer again without penalty. So, this is all or nothing for them. But the younger guys? Are they locked in on the present? 

"For the most part, I believe so. I mean, it seems like we've all always been dialed into the next game plan, the next week ahead. So I don't think that that's ever been like an issue," Franklin said. 

Shapen sees the same from his point of view. They're worried about plenty of things, but not a lack of focus or commitment from younger members of the roster. 

"Yeah, I feel like they are [locked in]. We have a good group of people that come into work. And we have a good team. So you know, I don't think anybody has like given up or anything like that, or keeping them locked in is like a challenge for us," the Bears' QB1 said. "I think, especially right after the game, yeah it's tough, but when you get into the week and you start to flush everything out from the week before it definitely helps."

4TH AND FOREVER 

The Bears struggled mightily to convert prime opportunities into points last weekend, getting shut out in the first half and nearly all of the third quarter before finally awakening the scoreboard. It was a slow start from a points perspective but not an opportunities perspective. 

"I mean, you look at last game, I think we started fast, actually moved the ball on the first drive and things like that. We just didn't get points. And so, that's been one of the things that we've had to grow at all year is scoring points when we get in the red zone. And, we tend to shoot ourselves in the foot too many times. But yeah, when we don't put points on the board early, it's very frustrating for sure," Shapen stated. 

The issues early and often came down to penalties and protection, and the play of Houston or an all too familiar lack of execution. But the Bears offense awakened late thanks to some trickery, big plays, and their QB. 

Shapen's 20-yard scramble on 4th and 17 kept hopes alive last Saturday when the end seemed near and a win impossible. It was one of the most improbable and, at the time, impressive plays we've seen this season. It generated an incredible amount of much-needed spirit, belief, and playmaking the team desperately needed. 

"I just feel like that's what I got to do as a quarterback. Whenever we get in tough spots, I feel like my job is to make a play. And whenever a play needs to be made, I need to make it. And so that's what I've tried to do," Shapen said. 

And that's what he did multiple times late, especially on that all-timer of a fourth-down conversion that extended what would become the game-tying drive and force overtime. The play didn't lead to a victory, but it gave them a chance, and they capitalized. 

"That was the first time I've ever done that. I didn't expect for that to happen. I meant to create and find somebody downfield but didn't really find anyone. So I was like, once I took off, I had to go get the first down and I went for it." 

The fourth and forever scamper was a fun moment to watch on Saturday, but the Bears will need that and a whole lot more to give the 'Cats a proper fight this weekend. 

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The Players Club: The Approach Heading into Kansas State

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