The Dave Aranda era at Baylor is off to a smashing start after the Bears dismantled Kansas at home on Saturday, 47-14.
It took a little extra time for the new head coach to make his debut, however, as the team has had to postpone two contests to start the season — one due to an excess of positive COVID-19 cases at Louisiana Tech (their originally-slated opponent to open the season), and one because of an outbreak within their own program.
That seemed to just delay the inevitable, which was the Bears’ first victory after the highly-anticipated arrival of the new head coach Aranda. Coming off a national championship season as LSU’s defensive coordinator, Aranda filled the vacancy left after Matt Rhule departed the program for the Carolina Panthers.
But as WVU coach Neal Brown noted, his reputation preceded him before he had a championship ring on his finger.
“[I have] a lot of respect for Coach Aranda, I think one of the top defensive minds in all of college football over a long period of time,” Brown said.
Aranda has been coaching power five football since 2013, with a stint at Wisconsin before his time at LSU — but at both programs, his defenses were routinely near the top of the nation.
There may be a lot of changes within the Bears’ program under Aranda, but Brown did say he noticed one major constant: the culture.
“When you turn on Baylor’s tape, they’re a tough, physical team that runs very well,” Brown said. “And you can tell that they have a really good culture there that Matt Rhule built and then Coach Aranda and his staff continue to maintain.”
With just two returning starters on defense, Aranda had his work cut out for him ahead of this season — but several key returners on offense helped the Bears pick up right where they left off in 2019. Here’s what to look for this weekend out of Baylor:
Brewer’s back — and Brown still says he’s a “winner”
Neal Brown and Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer have a long personal history, dating back to the senior’s elementary school days — when he coached his older brother, Michael, at Texas Tech. In 2019, Brown called the Brewer family “one of my favorite families I’ve ever had the opportunity to recruit.”
Brewer is a dual-threat signal-caller for Baylor, completing 65 percent of his passes in their opener for 142 yards and a touchdown while adding another 23 yards on the ground.
“He makes plays with his feet,” Brown said. “He does. He extends plays. They’ll run him a little bit, where he really hurts you is on called pass plays when he scrambles and breaks the pocket.”
The Austin, Texas native is the first four-year starter at Baylor in nearly three decades, and his talent and longevity have put him in the program’s record books (for example, his career completion percentage of 64.1 only trails 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III).
“He’s a winner….That’s about as good a compliment as I can give,” Brown said. “He’s a winner, and he’s won at every level. He comes from a winning family.”
The Bears run tough
Baylor is a run-first squad this year, and that showed against Kansas: of the Bears’ 352 yards, 203 of them came on the ground; while three of their four offensive touchdowns were rushes.
“With the talent they have at running back, people try to get their best players the ball and those running backs are special,” Brown said. “So we do anticipate them coming in and establishing the run.”
Baylor relies on a corps of three backs — Travis Ebner, John Lovett and Craig Williams — all three of which found paydirt on offense on Saturday. Ebner, however, is one of the biggest threats with the ball in his hands, as he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns against the Jayhawks.
Brown also added that he believes their offensive line is much improved from a year ago, despite missing some starters in their season opener.
Aranda’s new-look defense
The new head coach has brought his championship-caliber defensive scheme to Waco, which focuses on mixing and matching his players — especially his defensive backs — in order to exploit the weaknesses of an offense.
Aranda utilizes the STAR position, which is a versatile fifth defensive back that can play in either the secondary or the box. This year, that spot is occupied by Jalen Pitre, a redshirt junior who played in just four games last season.
“I think that position is just made for him because it’s a combination of both the linebacker and the safety,” Aranda said. “It highlights his ability to blitz, his ability to set the edge, and then he has just enough coverage responsibilities that he’s keeping people honest with things.”
Up front, the Bears have three new starters on the defensive line. They don’t necessarily lack experience, however, nor do they lack the confidence of their head coach.
“We kind of lost a little bit of that at the end of the game, and we’re certainly going to work to improve it,” he added. “But, I thought there was a great account of our front, and we’re only going to grow and get better.”