Players Club: Looking to play spoiler against TCU
Welcome to the players club. This week stars defensive lineman Kyler Jordan and tight end Jake Roberts as the Bears prepare for a battle against arch-rival TCU in tough but familiar territory. The weather should be nicer this time.
The Frogs have owned the game lately, painfully so. But Baylor has a chance to change the recent narrative surrounding this series and put on a good showing as the sun sets on the 2023 season.
Last season’s loss to TCU left a scar, one that this program appears to still be recovering from in some ways.
But in this latest confrontation, hatred aside, the stakes are dramatically different. The Bears won’t make it six wins, while the Frogs must win their last two, Baylor and @Oklahoma, to make it six wins themselves. A far cry from the 13-2 record and national runner-up campaign in Sonny Dykes’ first season.
There’s certainly a competitive drive for the Bears this weekend, and there’s also the opportunity to play spoiler, but what other forces are driving them when some goals are off the table?
“Playing for each other. We know we can’t play a bowl game right now, but that’s not going to stop our preparation. We have to stick together and it’s about pride at this point,” the junior tight end said. Jake Roberts said Tuesday.
“It’s about loving the game, and coming out here, I’m going to do it the same way whether we’re 8-0, or if we haven’t won a game yet. It’s bringing the same mentality every day, playing together, and finishing it the right way.”
From the outside, we can often forget the personal aspect in light of the personal aspect. So, no, this team isn’t playing for a Big 12 title. Bragging rights? certainly. But most of all, they are playing for brotherhood at this point.
This team has battled together through the offseason, the summer heat, and the brutal nature of this season’s losses. Now it’s about giving it their best shot and finishing it.
“I feel like there’s a real camaraderie in the locker room. So, I really try to stick with each other, not walk away from the relationships that we’ve created, and just try to play for the guy next to you,” Kyler Jordan said.
The redshirt freshman full-back has featured in all 10 games this season. His highlight of 2023 came against Utah when he notched his first career interception and first tackle for loss on a near-snap.
“I mean we put a lot into this season and it doesn’t stop now because of our record. So, yeah, we’re just going to stick together.”
The teamwork mentality permeates throughout the tight end room these days. Not many offseason expectations were met, but there was a strong belief that the group would have good numbers in terms of depth and impact in the passing game. This is correct.
Senior Drake Dabney has started his second game with 100 receiving yards and leads the team with five receptions. The Cy-Ranch alum ranks second behind Monaray Baldwin in receiving yards (452) and receptions (27). Dabney was also a huge help to Roberts when he first arrived from North Texas.
“It’s been a real pleasure to grow with him. And I feel like we’re having a really productive year, and Drake is stepping back, and we’re all having our own year,” Roberts said. “And it’s fun to see everyone succeed, but it was really fun to play alongside him. He was a great teammate and a deep fryer.”
By everyone withdrawing, I assume Roberts means comprehensive participation in several narrow parties.
Last week, freshman Hawkins Polley received a touchdown ticket in his college debut. Fellow freshman Matthew Klopfenstein started in nine games and caught his second career assist last week against Kansas State. As for Roberts, he played in all 10 games and caught 19 passes for 162 yards and one score. Kelsey Johnson is averaging one or two catches a week lately. You get the point.
So, with Dabney performing so well and so many players getting opportunities, does pride and confidence radiate through the group now?
“100%. I think our camaraderie in the tight end room is really strong right now. I think we’re playing for each other. Everyone’s fighting their own battles. And we just want to see each other succeed,” Roberts said.
“So we’re trying to do what we can to help contribute to the wins, and we want what’s best for the team. We’re doing a good job of playing for each other and playing tough in the tight end room.”
Experts can evaluate the group’s effectiveness in the blocking game, but when you consider the program’s steps forward, the room ranks near the top in potential positives to build on.
Although the Bears can’t participate in the postseason, they ensure the Frogs also stay home for the holidays. TCU must win its final two games, starting with Baylor this weekend, before wrapping up at Oklahoma.
The Sooners should have reasonable prospects of striking the final blow, if necessary, but why wait?
Dave Aranda mentioned how it destroyed the team at the time and how the result could serve as motivation for those who played a year ago.
But do players care about this kind of thing?
“I think that’s intrinsic motivation for us, but we know what’s at stake, and we know they’re fighting for the same thing. And we need to go out there and focus on playing Baylor football and let the cards fall as they do,” Jake Roberts said.
“We know what’s at stake this weekend, even if it’s not about qualifying for the tournament, we know we want to beat these guys. That’s kind of bragging rights. We know that means a lot to a lot of people. So we’re going to “Go out there, we know what’s at stake.”
As a Lubbock native, Kyler Jordan grew up watching Texas Tech games and was unaware of the long history of the rivalry between Baylor and TCU. But he knows enough to understand the importance of putting in a good display, especially with only two chances remaining.
There’s a lot at stake, and Jordan can feel the buzz of a big game throughout the locker room, from the coaches to the staff to the players.
“Absolutely. This is a big game. I think we still have to make a statement. There’s definitely something to play for, regardless of how the season has gone so far,” Jordan said. “You still have one more chance to play football, and you have a chance to compete. So, you have to put your best product out there.”