Shapen, Reese lead No. 17 Baylor to 42-7 win over Texas State

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WACO, Texas – Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen was racing untouched to the end zone while running back Richard Reese was being tackled in the backfield on fourth-and-1 just before halftime.

That bootleg was the punctuating touchdown for the 17th-ranked Bears, who beat Texas State 42-7 on Saturday and avoided becoming another Top 25 team to lose at home to a Sun Belt Conference team.

Shapen took off to the right after the fake handoff, and past an over-pursuing safety, for that 35-yard touchdown that came right after Texas State (1-2) had closed to 14-7 on Layne Hatcher‘s 12-yard touchdown pass to Ashtyn Hawkins with 1:59 left in the first half.

“Blake is comfortable getting out of the pocket that way,” Bears coach Dave Arada said. “They know it, we know it, and we still execute it. We need to get more things like that.”

It wrapped up a nine-play drive after the Bears (2-1) started at their own 4. Craig Williams, a fifth-year junior nicknamed “Sqwirl” who earlier ran 30 yards for a touchdown, had muffed the kickoff.

“Very pivotal moment for us,” Texas State coach Jake Spavital said. “We got it to a one-score game with the ball coming out in the second half.”

Reese, a true freshman, ran 19 times for 156 yards and three touchdowns. Shapen completed 15 of 26 passes for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Baylor jumped in front when Reese went straight up the middle for a 14-yard TD on the game’s opening drive. He added scores of 52 and 5 yards in the fourth quarter, giving him five rushing TDs in the Bears’ two home games.

“We did start off a little shaky, slower than we would have liked to,” said receiver Gavin Holmes, who had a 28-yard TD catch after halftime. “But yeah, I think that two-minute drive kind of put us into gear for that second half.”

Texas State lost 29-20 at home to then-unranked Baylor in last season’s opener, but Shapen’s run before halftime Saturday pretty much ended any thought that the Bobcats could follow up last weekend’s Sun Belt upsets – Appalachian State at Texas A&M, and Marshall over Notre Dame.

Aranda still felt a nervous energy among his players in the locker room at halftime.

“The second quarter was that, we could feel some of that nervousness. … In a battle, trying to get it right and it’s not going right,” he said. “Some of the talks at halftime were that. I think some of what we were fighting was expectations, it’s supposed to be like this, or it used to be like that, and I have to do a better job of being out in front of that.”

NO TARGETING

Williams’ TD run in the second quarter came on the first snap after Shapen returned to the field after having to sit out a play because his helmet came off after a tackle. There was initially a targeting penalty on that tackle, but that was taken away after replay review, and backup quarterback Kyron Drones came on to throw a 10-yard pass.

MISSING STARTERS

Baylor was without three starting skill players on offense. Tight end Ben Sims, running back Taye McWilliams and receiver Monaray Baldwin were in concussion protocol this week. Aranda said the Bears are “hopeful” of having them back next week.

Even without Sims, three of Shapen’s five completions on the opening drive of the game went to three different tight ends.

THE TAKEAWAY

Texas State: Hatcher and Hawkins hooked up for 29 yards on the first play of the second half, but that drive ended with a lost fumble. “Kind of the landslide started to happen right there,” Spavital said.

The Bobcats, who are 0-10 against Top 25 opponents since becoming an FBS team in 2012, twice failed on fourth-down tries in the first half. After they converted on fourth down in the third quarter, their field goal attempt four plays later was blocked.

Baylor: It was a lethargic start in the nonconference finale for the Bears, who kicked off just after 11 a.m. local time, a week after their double-overtime loss at No. 12 BYU ended after midnight in Utah and they didn’t get back to Waco until about sunrise Sunday. They finally took over after halftime and, even with a lost fumble and failed fourth-down conversion, closed out the lopsided victory and had 509 total yards.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Baylor, which dropped eight spots last week after the BYU loss, should be in about the same spot in the new poll after winning a game it was supposed to win.

UP NEXT

Texas State: Hosts Houston Baptist in its last nonconference game next Saturday night.

Baylor: At Iowa State (3-0) next Saturday for its Big 12 opener.

Gavin Holmes’ return for Baylor has some Bears ‘at loss for words’

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When Gavin Holmes weaved through the defense past would-be tacklers and broke free for the end zone on a punt return in the season opener, his Baylor teammates couldn’t contain their excitement.

More than the 72-yard touchdown return, this celebration was about the sixth-year player who scored it. Holmes missed all of the Bears’ Big 12 championship season last year because of a broken right foot, and that was after being limited to one game and missing their other conference title game during a two-season span when he twice tore the ACL in his left knee.

“He scored, and I was like, `Yes!’ I was at a loss for words because I knew how much it meant to him, I know how much it meant to the team and I knew how much it meant to his parents,” fifth-year Baylor cornerback Mark Milton said this week. “It was a blessing. A lot of people would have given up, but he didn’t.”

Not after five surgeries on his left knee, and all of the rehab that came with those. Not after the broken foot with ligament issues in the spring following the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, when he had 33 catches while playing in all nine games.

“I’ve always said I wanted to play until I physically can’t anymore, because I love this game. It’s all I’ve been doing my whole life,” Holmes said. “I’ve learned so much about myself in this process. And I know that I can still follow my dreams, chase my dreams and do what I want to do. So that really pushed me to keep going.”

In the first quarter of ninth-ranked Baylor’s season-opening 69-10 win over FCS team Albany, Holmes fielded a punt, escaped the grasp of an initial defender and then eluded several others. The final sprint was along the same sideline as the Baylor bench.

“So cool,” coach Dave Aranda said, aptly describing that entire sequence.

“I would hope that my son and my daughters kind of have the heart that he has, and just the awareness and the compassion that he has,” Aranda said. “So you root hard for guys like that. And for him to have an opportunity, man, that’s so cool. It could not happen to a better dude.”

Holmes, whose whole family was at the game, said the love and embrace he got from his teammates and coaches after the score was a feeling that he will never forget.

As for what Aranda said about him, Holmes said it was cool to hear.

“Just my journey, my testimony and all that … I want to be an influence to people, who especially are going through things like that I have been through,” Holmes said. “To hear coach Aranda say that about me, especially in reference to his own children, that’s amazing. I’m really appreciative and thankful that God has put me in this position to influence people like that.”

After being part of former coach Matt Rhule‘s first signing class in February 2017, Holmes started four of the nine games he played in later that fall as a true freshman before his first torn ACL late that season. He has played in only 11 games since, including those nine in 2020.

Holmes already has his undergraduate degree in health, kinesiology and leisure studies. But he wasn’t ready to be done playing for the Bears, who are at No. 21 BYU.

“I just want to contribute to the team in the best way that I can,” he said. “I’m surrounded by great guys and selfishly, it was fun being a part of that Big 12 championship last year, but I want to win one where I’m on the field.”

No. 9 Baylor braces for loud noise, late night at No. 21 BYU

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The marquee matchup featuring No. 9 Baylor and No. 21 BYU will be a loud one and a late one. Not to mention the last one as nonconference adversaries.

To prepare for BYU on Saturday night (kickoff: 10:15 p.m. EDT) and the thunderous clatter inside LaVell Edwards Stadium, the Bears have been blaring crowd noise at practice.

“They’re going to be juiced up,” Baylor wide receiver/kick returner Gavin Holmes said as the Bears make their first trek to Provo, Utah, since 1984. “But we can’t let the outside noise get into our circle. … It’s definitely going to be a big test for us.”

For the Cougars (1-0), this will be a final glimpse into the world of Big 12 football before joining the league next season. The Bears (1-0) are no ordinary team out of the Big 12 – they’re the defending champions. They’re a 12-win team from a year ago, which included a 38-24 win over BYU in Waco, Texas, and a victory in the Sugar Bowl.

This will be a good gauge to measure how they stack up. But the Cougars downplayed that sort of angle in a contest where they’re a 3 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

“All I have to say about that is that I’m just excited to play them,” BYU offensive lineman Blake Freeland said.

In the aftermath of Baylor’s win last season, one message resounded: The Cougars needed to get even stronger with a Big 12 schedule looming.

“I think we have done that,” defensive lineman Lorenzo Fauatea said. “On both sides of the ball, everybody looks better, feels better and is playing better.”

The last time Baylor’s football team played in Provo was 1984, when the LaVell Edwards-coached Cougars won 47-13 on their way to a 13-0 season and a national title. The Bears know full well what’s in store at the roaring stadium named after the legendary coach.

“It’s packed. It’s loud,” Baylor coach Dave Aranda said. “That’s a storm we have to run into, and we’ve been talking about and preparing for that.”

SHAPEN SHARP

Baylor sophomore quarterback Blake Shapen was sharp in a 69-10 win over the University at Albany, throwing for 214 yards and two scores while running for another TD. Shapen’s poise certainly caught the attention of BYU coach Kalani Sitake.

“He looks like a veteran back there even though he’s still young,” Sitake said. “Baylor is a tough team to deal with especially when you mix that with a quarterback that’s accurate and has great composure.”

HALL SHARP, TOO

BYU QB Jaren Hall threw for 261 yards and two scores in a 50-21 win at South Florida. His experience stood out to Aranda.

“He’s going to be one of the better quarterbacks we’ll play all year,” Aranda said. “The film’s impressive in terms of the decisions he makes, and the throws he doesn’t take. He doesn’t put the team at risk. He was good last year. He’s better now.”

FAMILIAR FACES

The Cougars know all about Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who held the same role with BYU from 2018 to 2020. He helped mentor BYU standout and New York Jets QB Zach Wilson. Wilson was in the running for the Heisman Trophy in 2020 as he threw for 3,692 yards and 33 TDs.

Bears offensive line coach Eric Mateos also makes his return to Provo. He was in the same position with the Cougars.

NUMBERS, PART I

Over the program’s history, the Cougars are 5-22-1 against top-10 teams. Their last win was 24-21 at sixth-ranked Wisconsin in 2018.

The Bears are 26-33-1 as a ranked team versus another ranked team.

NUMBERS, PART II

Aranda isn’t reading too much into Baylor’s 5-1 record against ranked teams from a season ago.

“We don’t really look at the opponent that way,” the third-year Baylor coach said. “We talked about narrowing the focus, upping the quality and increasing the speed. Those are the things that can travel and can play when it’s third down there and you can’t hear anything.”