With waves of bad publicity hitting them every week, the Baylor football players somehow found a way to play well throughout the first half of the season.
They seemed to find a sanctuary on the field even as more details of the program’s sexual assault scandal kept pouring in.
In mid-September, the Rice Marching Owl Band spelled out IX in reference to Baylor’s Title IX investigation in their halftime formation. The Bears still found enough focus to pull off a 38-10 road win.
In last week’s 35-34 loss to Texas in Austin, the Bears let a late, eight-point lead slip away. But they played with a lot of determination in an atmosphere where Texas fans were shouting “rapists” at the Baylor players as they entered the tunnel to their locker room after the game.
But in Saturday’s dismal 62-22 loss to TCU, the Bears couldn’t overcome the distractions. Baylor ran into a fired up Horned Frogs team that played great football. But there was an undeniable toxic atmosphere at McLane Stadium.
Some fans were wearing black #CAB T-shirts in support of former Baylor coach Art Briles while also showing disgust for the board of regents that fired him in May. One fan hung a CAB banner outside his McLane Stadium suite for everyone to see.
More than five months after Briles last coached at Baylor, some fans still can’t accept that he’s gone and won’t be coming back.
On the night before the game, the Baylor assistant coaches sent out a mass tweet that supported Briles in his handling of a sexual assault issue.
Though the Baylor players tried to block out the many distractions, it was impossible. All the bad vibes that had come their way throughout the season seemed to catch up with them in one day, resulting in Baylor’s worst home loss in 11 years.
Following two straight losses, the question now is whether the Bears can keep from completely falling apart in the final four games. The Bears fell 12 spots to No. 25 in both the Associated Press and coaches polls following the TCU loss.
A road trip to Norman to face Big 12-leading Oklahoma isn’t the ideal place to fix a broken team. The Bears come back home to play Kansas State on Nov. 19 before facing Texas Tech at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium. The Bears will finish the regular season against West Virginia in a traditionally tough environment in Morgantown.
If the Bears play like they did against TCU, they won’t win any of the remaining games.
If they bond together with an us against the world mentality like they did in the first six games, they still have a chance to finish strong as they continue to delve into the toughest part of their schedule.
Baylor quarterback Seth Russell, who has shown tremendous leadership throughout the season, is counting on the latter scenario.
“I have a lot of faith in these guys,” Russell said. “We’ve been through the wringer and we’re still in it. We’re not going to get out of it until after Dec. 3. We just have to find something to help us get that edge back that we lost these last couple of weeks.”
The Bears need to play with much more inspiration and clean up a lot of areas to even stay on the field with the No. 9 Sooners. The defense can’t miss tackles all day like it did against TCU, and the players can’t commit costly penalties like the unsportsmanlike conduct calls that plagued them in Saturday’s blowout loss.
Russell has to get more on board with his receivers and the offensive line has to protect their quarterback better. The Horned Frogs sacked Russell three times and Baylor’s running game couldn’t get untracked.
Baylor coach Jim Grobe said the coaching staff needs to do a better job. While Grobe is the acting coach, he’s allowed Briles’ former staff to do their jobs as they’ve always done them. The team clearly wasn’t prepared or focused for TCU.
“I think it starts with the coaches,” Grobe said. “We’ve got to bring these guys in and show them not only where we didn’t play very well but also where we could have made better calls, maybe have done some things differently.”
It would also improve the team’s focus if the assistant coaches don’t send out distracting tweets the night before the game. Sure they’re upset the Baylor board of regents fired Briles and want to be heard, but the timing couldn’t have been worse before the TCU game.
Since Briles’ firing, it’s been an awkward situation for the coaches and players. But they had enough talent and motivation to win their first six games through the easier part of their schedule.
Now the Bears are in danger of completely falling off the rails. It’s going to take quite an effort from everybody — Grobe, the assistant coaches, the players – to keep the team from plummeting even deeper.