KNOW THE FOE: Key Baylor players to watch Saturday against Iowa State

Sep 30, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA; Baylor Bears cornerback Caden Jenkins (19) celebrates his touchdown with a teammate during the second half against the UCF Knights at FBC Mortgage Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports 

AMES — Iowa State seeks to accomplish a rare feat on Saturday: Win at Baylor. The Cyclones (4-3, 3-1 Big 12) have beaten the Bears (3-4, 2-2) in Waco just once since 2005. That triumph — a defense-fueled 23-13 decision in 2017 — helped ISU head coach Matt Campbell lead his team to the first of six winning seasons. Now the Cyclones appear poised to make another strong conference run and Baylor stands in the way. ISU has dropped its last two matchups with the Bears by a combined nine points, so Saturday amounts to another “detail and precision” oriented crucible for the Cyclones, who are finally winning in those areas again. For now, at least.

 Whether that rediscovered ability to thrive “in the margins” proves to be durable is shrouded in uncertainty — and here are five Baylor players who aim to reverse that trend:

 QB Blake Shapen

  The junior from Shreveport, La., missed three games this season because of an MCL injury, but is clearly at least nearing full strength as recent performances can attest. Shapen’s thrown for 293-plus yards in each of the three conference games he’s played in — including a 316-yard, interception-free performance in the Bears’ 32-29 win at Cincinnati last Saturday. The 6-0, 205-pound playcaller has scored eight total touchdowns this season (five passing, three rushing), but his dual-threat abilities have been hampered by poor pass protection and spotty run blocking. Shapen’s been sacked 15 times in the four games he’s played this season, so if the Cyclones can apply ample pressure, his first interception(s) of the season could come. 

 TE Drake Dabney

 Dabney, a 6-5, 248-pound senior from Cypress, Texas, never redshirted and has started at least two games in each of his three-plus seasons. He’s scored half of his six career touchdowns this season but all three of those scoring grabs came before Big 12 play began. Still, as Shapen continues to resharpen his game after the injury, it’s likely Dabney can reemerge as a big-time red zone target once again. He possesses soft hands and surprising athleticism — as evidenced by his three receptions this season spanning 35-plus yards. He caught two passes for 23 yards in the Bears’ 31-24 win over ISU last season. 

 LB Matt Jones

  Jones is in his sixth season within Baylor’s program and his playmaking ability has been on full display ever since redshirting in 2019. the 6-3, 251-pounder from Odessa, Texas, boasts two sacks this season after totaling 2.5 in 2022. He’s also matched his career-high in passes defended with four and leads the Bears in tackles with 50. Jones has yet to force a turnover in his otherwise solid career, but he has been at his best against the Cyclones. Jones recorded the second tackle for loss in his career in a loss to ISU in 2020, the notched a then-single-game career-high in tackles with five against the Cyclones in a win in 2021. He had four tackles, a pass breakup and a tackle for loss in Baylor’s win over ISU last season.

 WR Monaray Baldwin

 The speedy 5-9, 170-pound junior serves as a potent threat as both a receiver and a runner. Baldwin leads the Bears in receptions this season with 24 and is averaging a robust 18.9 yards per catch. He also is tied for the team lead among receivers with two touchdown grabs and is remarkably skilled at gaining yards after a catch. In other words, he can do a lot of damage on his own, which is why Baylor also occasionally deploys him in the running game. Baldwin’s rushed three times for 17 yards this season, but he’s averaging 10.9 yards per run in his career and has scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.

 CB Caden Jenkins

  The true freshman’s biggest game of his young career netted him Bronco Nagurski national defensive player of the week honors. The slim and swift 6-1, 166-pound cornerback soared for his first career interception and returned a fumble for a touchdown in the Bears’ stunning 36-35 comeback win at Central Florida three weeks ago. Jenkins will likely shadow ISU’s Jaylin Noel or Jayden Higgins on Saturday, which makes him a noteworthy player to watch.