Baylor QBs show promise in Green & Gold Game

Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 3:08 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (Waco Tribune-Herald) - Baylor coach Dave Aranda has seen a lot of promising developments from returning starting quarterback Blake Shapen and Mississippi State transfer Sawyer Robertson throughout spring drills.

The Bears’ fourth-year head coach saw many of those traits on display in Saturday’s Green & Gold Game at McLane Stadium, and hopes to make a decision on the starting quarterback in the upcoming week after meeting with his offensive staff.

“With Blake, I thought you could see just the coolness and the whole thing today,” Aranda said. “You see a dude just kind of grow up, really mature. I look at Sawyer, I look at his ability to run, he’s got a moxie and kind of a spirit that’s contagious. So I think we’re blessed with the two we’ve got.”

Showing the ability to improvise when forced out of the pocket, Shapen hit 11 of 20 passes for 100 yards with a 29-yard touchdown pass to tight end Drake Dabney.

Throughout Baylor’s 6-7 season in 2022, Shapen was highly erratic after winning the starting job last spring over returning starter Gerry Bohanon. Aranda and his staff are looking for much more consistency, poise and leadership as a junior this season.

“I look at Blake and I look at the season that was last year and how disappointing it was,” Aranda said. “To walk around and carry that can be heavy. And then, to put in work and to make changes and to really kind of confront the things that were holding you back, and to do it in a way to not bring attention to yourself but really just to focus on the specifics of the thing is a way cool thing to see.”

After seeing little action in two seasons at Mississippi State, Robertson completed nine of 16 passes for 170 yards and two scores in his first Baylor spring game. He found Jonathan Davidson on a 14-yard scoring strike in the first half and hit Monaray Baldwin for a 57-yard score on a screen play in the second half.

Robertson has undergone a big learning curve this spring in Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes’ pro-style offense after playing in Air Raid offenses at both Mississippi State and Lubbock Coronado High School.

“I think his growth and his learning are just going to continue to take off just because of his want-to with everything,” Aranda said. “So his command and getting guys lined up are really good, and he’ll only continue to get better.”

The defense showed some good signs as the Bears collected six sacks. After ranking second in the Big 12 with 44 sacks in the 2021 Big 12 championship season, the Bears collected just 24 sacks last year to rank ninth in the league.

“This year I believe our emphasis is going to be on disrupting the quarterback, moving the quarterback off his spot, making him uncomfortable in the pocket,” said Baylor senior defensive lineman TJ Franklin. “And we got a lot of guys that can get at that. We got me, Gabe (Hall), we got the outside linebackers, we got plenty of blitzes written up for people to go in there and disrupt the quarterback.”

Losing All-America noseguard Siaki Ika, all-Big 12 linebacker Dillon Doyle and several key defensive backs, first-year defensive coordinator Matt Powledge has a considerable rebuilding job.

With the highly energetic Powledge setting the tone, Aranda saw considerable progress throughout the spring. Baylor’s increased attention to detail has been obvious.

“It’s cool for me to walk around in the walk-throughs and see an attention to detail and a focus,” Aranda said. “There’s an energy that you feel, it’s a contagious one when there’s a fit drill going on in front of you and hands are in the right spot, the correct foot is up, eyes are in the right spot, and there’s just all this detail to it.”

After losing so many veterans, transfers will be key for the Bears while some freshmen could also make a quick impact.

Former North Texas tight end Jake Roberts made a team-high five catches for 60 yards in the spring game while Oklahoma State transfer running back Dominic Richardson picked up 46 yards rushing on eight carries. Former Franklin High School star Bryson Washington showed his potential with 11 carries for 67 yards.

Arkansas transfer receiver Ketron Jackson and former BYU offensive linemen Campbell and Clark Barrington are other key offensive additions.

“The Barrington brothers for the O-line, I can see them become more and more comfortable with their leadership role,” Franklin said. “They’re older than most of the O-linemen we have now. So I can definitely see them growing in their leadership with the offensive line.”

On the defensive side, Liberty transfer linebacker Mike Smith, former Miami cornerback Isaiah Dunson, and Hutchinson (Kan.) College transfer defensive lineman Jerrell Boykins are potential starters.

“We have Mike Smith at linebacker, he’s had a tremendous spring,” Franklin said. “Beforehand, I didn’t know who he was and then he came in and he definitely showed up, showed everybody who he was. And I expect him to be one of those big-time players in the fall.”