‘They’ll fix things’: Utah expects Baylor to be much improved after season-opening loss to Texas State
Utah’s favored heading into its first-ever game against Baylor, but the Utes don’t expect a similar showing from the Bears this week in Waco
The Baylor Bears are licking their wounds after losing to Sun Belt Conference opponent Texas State 42-31 at home.
The Bobcats, in their first-ever win over a Power Five opponent, pretty much controlled the game from start to finish in Waco, Texas.
Texas State quarterback TJ Finley, who previously played at Auburn and LSU, threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a score.
“The backup came in and did some good things, did sputter at times like everybody does, but he’s an athletic kid.” — Utah coach Kyle Whittingham on Baylor’s backup QB, who the Utes will face Saturday
Baylor amassed 525 yards of offense of its own, but couldn’t stop Texas State — the Bobcats finished with 441 yards of total offense. Texas State scored on four consecutive drives in one stretch spanning the first to third quarters. Add in two costly turnovers by backup quarterback Sawyer Robertson on Baylor’s final drives and a failure by the Bears to fully capitalize on the Bobcats’ two turnovers and it equaled a Texas-sized upset.
Blake Shapen, who threw for 304 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for an additional score, suffered an MCL injury and will be out against Utah, Baylor coach Dave Aranda said.
Robertson, a four-star prospect, transferred to Baylor from Mississippi State, where he saw limited action in five games for the Bulldogs (6 for 11 passing for 23 yards and an interception in those five appearances).
Last Saturday, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound QB was 6 for 12 for 113 yards, an interception and a fumble against Texas State.
“The backup came in and did some good things, did sputter at times like everybody does, but he’s an athletic kid,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.
Utah’s an eight-point favorite heading into its first-ever game against Baylor, but the Utes don’t expect a similar showing from the Bears this week in Waco.
“It was a disappointing loss for Baylor. I’m sure we don’t expect to see the same team on Saturday that we see on tape in that game,” Whittingham said. “They’ll fix things, they got good coaches and they will get the ship corrected, and so we’ve got to play our best football to be able to go down there and have a chance to win.”
Both teams are dealing with injuries.
“Looking good. He’s doing good things and progressing nicely,” Whittingham said.
If Rising is not cleared for the Baylor game, Bryson Barnes will be Utah’s starting quarterback, with Nate Johnson taking snaps as well.
Whittingham had no update on tight end Brant Kuithe, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury just four games into the 2022 season.
Utah’s defense was without starting left end Connor O’Toole, starting left tackle Junior Tafuna, plus contributing defensive tackle Simote Pepa in the season opener. Linebacker Karene Reid also exited early last Thursday with an apparent head injury.
“No guarantees, but we hope to get one or two of them back at least and we’ll just see how things go. Again, a lot of those guys are day to day and that’s as good as I can explain it right now,” Whittingham said.
Running back Ja’Quinden Jackson was also “nicked up” against the Gators, according to Whittingham.
“Something that was bothering him in spring or in fall camp showed up again and so we planned on him being more involved. But like I said, he got slowed down by an injury and hopefully he’s going to be available this week,” Whittingham said.
On Baylor’s side, besides Shapen’s injury, which will sideline him out two to three weeks, the Bears will also be missing starting safety Devin Lemear and starting linebacker Garmon Randolph against Utah, Aranda said.
Lemear is the only returning starter from Baylor’s 2022 secondary.
The game starts in the trenches, and Baylor has a new offensive line — senior Gavin Byers is the only starter back. Through one game, that line was outplayed by Texas State.
Playing in its first game together, Baylor’s offensive line had six false starts and allowed three sacks. The Bears’ defensive line didn’t fare much better, only sacking Finley once.
“I think a lot of the issue was this is a college football game, this is really happening, these are bright lights, all of that. And I think for a couple guys, especially on our right side of the line, that was definitely the case,” Aranda said. “And I think as it went on it got a little bit better, but there’s a ton of room to improve and we must improve and it’s going to be demanded that we improve,”
Stopping the run, especially with a backup quarterback, is going to be top of mind for both teams. The Utes allowed just 13 rushing yards against Florida (Utah allowed 283 rushing yards versus the Gators in 2022) and look to limit the run again this week.
The Bears rushed for 108 yards against the Bobcats; Dominic Richardson was the lead back for Baylor with 79 yards on 16 carries.
“I’m sure coach (Morgan) Scalley and the defense will have a good plan and it all starts with being tough against the run. ... If you can’t run the ball, it’s hard to win. And so conversely, if you can stop the run on defense, then it’s hard to get beat and so that’s always job one for us,” Whittingham said.
Monaray Baldwin, who led the Bears with 565 receiving yards last season, is a target to watch on Saturday. Drake Dabney had six receptions for 101 yards and two scores against Texas State.
The Utes have some familiarity with Baylor offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, who was the offensive coordinator at BYU from 2018-2020.
“Obviously the run game is very similar. The throw game is just a little bit different, but people change from year to year. I change from year to year. So the main thing is focus on the game that you just saw. Focus on personnel, what their strengths are, what their weaknesses are,” Scalley said.
Utes on the air
No. 12 Utah (1-0)
at Baylor (0-1)
Saturday, 10 a.m. MDT
Radio: ESPN 700/92.1 FM
On defense, Aranda brought in Matt Powledge, the co-defensive coordinator at Oregon last year.
The Bears have a fairly new secondary and will miss Lamear on Saturday. Randolph will leave a big hole for Baylor’s linebackers to fill as well; returning starter Matt Jones is a player to watch at linebacker.
Baylor is hoping to stop the run and get pressure on Utah’s quarterback, whoever that turns out to be. Along the defensive line, seniors TJ Franklin and Gabe Hall both have experience at defensive end and lead that group.
It’s an early look at what will shortly be a conference game between the two schools, but Whittingham isn’t looking past this season — or the game in front of him — to next year in the Big 12.
“No, that hasn’t even entered into my thought process and hopefully not our guys.’ It’s just another game that we got to get ready for and nothing really outside of that,” Whittingham said.