Bowl hopes fading, football team travels to MissouriNov. 11, 2005
By DANIEL YOUNGBLOOD, reporter
After starting the season with a 4-1 record, local and national media were abuzz with talk of Baylor's football team reaching a bowl game for the first time since 1994.
Four weeks and four losses later, the buzz has faded to a mere murmur.
With a road game against the University of Missouri on Saturday and a home matchup against Oklahoma State University on Nov. 19 to close out the regular season, the Bears will have to steal wins from two programs that they are a combined 0-14 against since the Big 12 began.
While the Bears' four-game losing streak and their recent record against their next two opponents make the task of sweeping the two teams a daunting one, both Missouri and Oklahoma State are going through lulls of their own.
At 5-4, Missouri is still in bowl contention, but its lost their last two games by a combined score of 54-15.
And Oklahoma State, which has dropped its last five games by an average score of 43.6 to 18.4, is off to its worst start since 1993.
Senior linebacker and defensive captain Colin Allred is not intimidated by either team and said he views the next two weeks as a challenge.
"We're just approaching it like a playoff system," Allred said. "We're kind of looking at it like we're a wild card team in the playoffs. We got to go on the road and win and come home and win to get to our Superbowl."
The teams' goal of making it a bowl game and reaching their "Superbowl" looked like it might be achieved early in the year when the team dropped several close calls.
The Bears' first three losses were by a combined 19 points and two of them were lost in overtime.
Junior cornerback C.J. Wilson said he's disappointed with the overtime losses, but he is focused on the next game.
"(The overtime losses) were missed opportunities, but you can't give the past too much thought or it will come back to haunt you again," Wilson said. "Right now we're dealing with a two-game season. So if we win (at Missouri), we get a chance to come home and play Oklahoma State and provide school history."
The Bears, who were one of the media's "feel-good" stories of the 2005 college football season after grabbing four quick wins and playing competitively with traditional powers such as Texas A&M University, Nebraska University and the University of Oklahoma, have found a little more leg room on their bandwagon after being blown out by two of their in-state rivals.
Back-to-back shutouts at home, including a 28-0 loss to No. 13 Texas Tech University and a 62-0 loss to No. 2 University of Texas, have many pundits questioning the state of the team.
Head Coach Guy Morriss said the last two losses weren't a product of the teams' lack of confidence.
"I don't think the kids have a confidence problem at all," Morriss said. "It's more of an execution problem. Everybody's just got to focus."
The lack of execution has been most evident on the offensive side of the ball.
The Bears, who rank 11th in the Big 12 in scoring offense, have struggled all year to put points on the board.
In an attempt to spark the offense, sophomore Terrence Parks took over the starting quarterback duties for junior Shawn Bell, who started the first eight games.
Parks struggled against Texas, passing for only 89 yards with two interceptions, but the coaching staff hopes he can turn it around against Missouri.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease thinks he can.
"We look at our matchups this week against Missouri, and we'll find ourselves in some more equal situations," Pease said. "We feel good about our matchups. Now (Parks) has to go out and play with the speed of the game and be productive with his reads."
Quarterback hasn't been the only offensive position that has struggled this year for the Bears. Baylor's quarterbacks have been faced with constant pressure, allowing 18 sacks on the year.
They have also gotten little relief from their running game, which ranks ninth in the Big 12 with just 120.7 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry.
The defense also took a statistical hit after the Texas game. After entering the game as one of the better defenses in the conference, they dropped to 11th in the Big 12 in rushing defense and eighth in scoring defense.
Morriss said the team will rebound.
"We've just got to move on and get focused," Morriss said. "We're going to have to figure out all this nonsense. I don't think it should be hard to get them motivated to go play."
The task at hand
Morriss said the team has already gotten the blowout losses out of their systems.
"If we focus, we have kind of gotten through the heavy meat of our schedule," Morriss said. We've got to remember that the carrot is still dangling out in front of us."
Standing between the Bears and their "carrot," though, is a 5-4 Missouri team that is also seeking bowl eligibility.
To beat the Tigers, the Bears will have to execute better on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, Baylor gets a break after facing two of the top five defenses in the Big 12. Missouri ranks 10th in the Big 12 in scoring defense, giving up an average of 29.6 points per game.
Pease said the Bears' offense might have an edge against the Tigers' defensive personnel.
"They aren't as big with our matchups, but they have good feet," Pease said. "If we get our bodies on them, it makes better matchups for us."
Morriss knows this game will be a dogfight.
"I think (Missouri is) a good team," Morriss said. "They didn't get to five wins by accident...we need to travel well and not get distracted by that."
The Bears had ample distractions last week when two of their starters were suspended for off-the-field actions and another was ejected in the game.
However, the Bears will be at full strength for Missouri, as senior defensive end Montez Murphy will face no suspension from the Big 12.
Both starting defensive tackles also return, after junior M.T. Robinson was forced to sit out the entire game and senior Michael Gary missed the first half.
Robinson said he's glad to be back and have the chance to help the team.
"I missed last week, and I couldn't participate, so now I just want to come in and give a spark to the team." Robinson said.
Robinson may be just the spark the Baylor defense needs to return to its early season form and shut down the Missouri offense.
Largely responsible for Missouri's offensive success is their dual-threat senior quarterback Brad Smith.
Smith, who broke the record for most career rushing yards by a quarterback with his 3,811 yards in their loss last week to Colorado, is torching opposing defenses with his arm and his legs.
He leads the Big 12 in rushing with 919 yards and has been efficient passing as well, already passing for 1,702 and nine touchdowns.
This year, the way Missouri's offense has performed has been directly dependent on how Smith plays.
On the season, Smith is averaging 291.2 total yards per game. In the team's four losses, he has had 413 total yards against the University of New Mexico, 238 against Texas, 179 against Kansas University and 176 against Colorado University.
Allred said if the Bears can contain Smith, they can shut down the Tigers' offensive threat.
"I don't think their offense is as balanced as it has been," Allred said. "I think he's mostly their only option. Shut him down and you can shut that team down."
Wilson agrees with his teammate, but he went even farther.
"(Smith) can only do what we allow him to do - period."
While Smith has proven he's a viable option whether passing or running the ball, Baylor's game plan is to make him beat them through the air.
Defensive Coordinator Bill Bradley said Smith is "what makes (Missouri's) offense really tick."
"Smith, he's a force we're going to have to deal with," Bradley said. "One good thing is that he's down the list in passing so maybe we can get him in some passing downs and take advantage of him."
Allred thinks his defensive unit is up to the task if it can execute its game plan.
"We'd like to have him pass the whole game," Allred said. "If he does run, we're going to clamp it down. He makes a lot of plays when plays break down and when he's rolling out. When he rolls out, we have to lock onto our men and not give him too many options."
Smith, who has started for the Tigers since his freshman year, will be playing his final home game Saturday in Columbia, Mo., at Memorial Stadium.
The Bears hope to spoil Senior Day for Smith and the Missouri fans with a win that would put them one away from bowl eligibility.
The significance of Baylor's final game against Oklahoma State hinges on how the team fares in Missouri.
Morriss said the Oklahoma State game means nothing if the Bears can't take care of business in Columbia.
"The (Oklahoma State game) doesn't matter if we don't win (the Missouri game) for what we want to do," Morriss said. "I think (the team) realizes that."
If the Bears could topple the Tigers, they would get a shot at the bottom-dwelling Cowboys in a game that would decide their postseason fate.
Robinson said a bowl game would be huge for Baylor's football program.
"It would be a pretty big step," Robinson said. "That's what we've been playing for all season long. We can make history, and that's what we plan to do."