Football

LOOKING AHEAD FOR ISU FOOTBALL: Week five, the Baylor Bears

Sep 2, 2023; Waco, Texas, USA; Baylor Bears head coach Dave Aranda on the sidelines during the second half against the Texas State Bobcats at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Raymond Carlin III-USA TODAY Sports

Editor’s note: Fifth in a 12-part series previewing each of Iowa State’s 2024 regular-season opponents.

 AMES — Just three seasons ago, Baylor head coach Dave Aranda led the Bears to a Big 12 title and Sugar Bowl win over Ole Miss.

 The program attained a top-10 finish nationally, but it’s been reeling ever since.

 Baylor went 3-9 last season — it’s worst mark since 2017 — and Aranda managed to keep his job while making significant changes to his staff.

 Most notably, he replaced former offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes with Jake Spavital. Aranda also dipped into the transfer portal for a handful of key players, including former Toledo star quarterback DeQuan Finn. He’ll be tasked with leading a new-look offense that returns several experienced skill players, including a trio of running backs (Dominic Richardson, Dawson Pendergrass and Richard Reese).

 Baylor struggled on both sides of the ball last season (101st nationally in scoring offense, 116th in scoring defense), so wholesale changes were sorely needed. Aranda will also call the defense’s plays for the first time in his tenure at the school, making this a make-or-break season for the former rising star among the coaching ranks.

 Finn will be the key for the Bears in their quest to return to the top half of the Big 12 and the 6-2, 205-pounder put up gaudy numbers as a Rocket. Finn threw 63 touchdown passes to just 23 interceptions and also rushed for 25 touchdowns in his three seasons as a starter at Toledo.

 Iowa State vs. Baylor: 3 things to watch

 **Can the Cyclones pulverize the Bears up front? Baylor returning defensive lineman accounted for just three sacks last season and the team totaled just 18 quarterback takedowns last season, which ranked 118th nationally. The Bears do feature an experienced and talented linebacker in Matt Jones as well as solid back-end talent (cornerback Caden Jenkins and safety Devyn Bobby), but with so little bite on the D-line, ISU should be able to impose its will offensively.

 **Will ISU use a spy on Finn? It would seem a wise gambit, given the transfer quarterback’s ability to make big plays with his arm and his legs. The Cyclones held Baylor to just 67 yards rushing in last season’s 30-18 win in Waco, but Finn’s penchant for reeling off big runs — whether designed or improvised — could help the Bears improve that number. If that happens, Finn could have a big passing day, as well, and Baylor always has an array of weapons at wide receiver and tight end.  

 **How will the Cyclones’ secondary hold up? There’s not a better safety trio ISU’s Jeremiah Cooper, Beau Freyler and Malik Verdon, but the Cyclones must replace T.J. Tampa at cornerback. Sophomore Jontez Williams and senior Darien Porter appear poised to perform well in his stead alongside longtime starter Myles Purchase, but Baylor receiver Monaray Baldwin poses a major big-play threat and is experienced enough to pick on a weak link in coverage. 

2024 prognosis

  Baylor will hang around early with some big plays in the passing game, but ISU’s offense should pile up both points and yards in a double-digit win. 

@cyclonefanatic