Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: First Look at the Baylor Bears
Air Force will battle a dangerous Baylor team that could be better than its record. Here’s a first look at how the Bears got to bowl season.
Down, but hardly out.
The Air Force Falcons will wrap up the 2022 season with an appearance in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on December 22, where they will face off with the Big 12’s Baylor Bears.
After coming up just short in last year’s Big 12 championship game, 2022 wasn’t quite the follow-up for which the green and gold faithful had hoped, but despite some shaky performances down the stretch, the Bears are nonetheless one of the best opponents that Air Force has faced all season.
So what should Falcons fans expect when they look forward for Thursday night? Here is our first look at Baylor.
2022 Baylor Bears — Team Profile
Conference: Big 12
2020 Record: 6-6 (4-5 Big 12)
SP+ ranking: 30th (27th offense, 63rd defense)
FEI ranking: 33rd
Sagarin rating: 20th
Head coach: Dave Aranda (third year, 20-15 overall)
2022 in a nutshell: Aranda’s Bears certainly had an adventurous regular season, even if the results couldn’t quite reach last year’s highwater mark. After losing a double overtime heartbreaker against soon-to-be-conference-mate BYU in non-conference play, Baylor bounced back a couple of weeks later with a road win at Iowa State to open Big 12 action before defensive letdowns against Oklahoma State and West Virginia left them with a 3-3 record at midseason.
Once again, though, the Bears surged with a three-game win streak that included victories over Kansas and Oklahoma, but that success was shortlived as they dropped three straight against ranked opponents to close out the year. That led to some shakeups on the coaching staff, most notably with the dismissal of defensive coordinator Ron Roberts, and leaves Aranda pulling double duty as both head coach and interim DC headed into this bowl game.
Best wins: at Texas Tech (7-5), at Oklahoma (6-6), vs. Kansas (6-6)
QB Blake Shapen
Shapen came into 2022 with high expectations after winning a quarterback competition with incumbent Gerry Bohanon in the spring, a result which ultimately pushed Bohanon to South Florida via the transfer portal, but it’s an open question as to how well he lived up to those expectations.
He battled through a concussion he suffered in the close loss at West Virginia and, while he finished the year with a respectable 64.3% completion rate and 19 touchdowns while throwing for 2,602 yards, the injury made have had an impact in the back half of the campaign: In Baylor’s last six games, Shapen completed 60.6% of his throws but averaged only 6.3 yards per attempt with just five touchdowns against an interception rate of 3.8%.
BLAKE SHAPEN DIME🎯🐻
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 1, 2022
RB Richard Reese
The Bears have benefited from very good running backs since their revival more than a decade ago and Reese looks well-equipped to follow the likes of Lache Seastrunk and Shock Linwood. He was named as the Big 12’s offensive freshman of the year after rushing for 962 yards and 14 touchdowns on 190 carries, a season which includes three different 100-yard performances.
DT Siaki Ika
Baylor’s lone representative on the all-Big 12 first team, Ika also posted the highest PFF grade among the Bears’ interior defenders at 74.2 after tallying 24 total tackles, two tackles for loss, and five quarterback hurries. Chances are that he’ll get acquainted with Isaac Cochran, Brad Roberts, and company early and often throughout the bowl clash and, listed at 6-foot-4 and 358 pounds, the Salt Lake City native will be a handful to stop.
Would love for my defense to add 350+ pounds of Samoan next to Grady Jarrett in the 2023 NFL Draft. Get Siaki Ika to Atlanta. pic.twitter.com/7AA5FjO9uP
— Eric Robinson (@_Eric_Robinson) October 11, 2022
OT Connor Galvin
A mainstay on the Baylor offensive line, Galvin protected Shapen’s blindside at left tackle while setting the program’s career record for starts in 2022, with the Armed Forces Bowl marking his 50th start altogether. The Big 12’s offensive lineman of the year in 2021, numerous organizations and publications have named him an all-conference performer once again in recent weeks for good reason: His 76.8 PFF grade ranks second among all offensive tackles in the conference.
LB/FB Dillon Doyle
Your eyes do not deceive you: The Iowa City native played as both a fullback and a linebacker in 2022, though he spent far more time in the latter role as evidenced by his 80 total tackles, tied for the most on the team, and a 77.9 PFF overall grade which ranked second among Big 12 linebackers. He also had two interceptions and a receiving touchdown, so the Falcons will need to be prepared for anything whenever #5 is on the field.
The Bears didn’t often have much trouble putting points on the scoreboard with an average of 2.64 points per drive and 53.9% of available yards earned per drive, figures which ranked 32nd and 33rd among FBS offenses, respectively. That level of performance took a hit in November against stiffer Big 12 competition, however, so one question that could determine the bowl’s outcome is how close Air Force can perform on defense to the likes of Texas and TCU.
If Shapen is closer to his typical form, he has weapons around him and a size advantage among an offensive line that featured two all-conference second team players in Galvin and center Jacob Gall, who transferred in from Buffalo and became one of just nine FBS players at his position to post a PFF grade of at least 80.0. That group’s depth took a recent hit when guard Micah Mazzccua entered the transfer portal, but they’ll look to open holes for Reese and junior Craig Williams, who notched two 100-yard performances in November.
One big issue that plagued the Bears all year is a relative lack of explosiveness, as Baylor finished in the cellar among Big 12 offenses with only 50 plays of 20 or more yards. Oddly enough, however, the offense can also boast of having two of the conference’s top six pass catchers by yards per catch. Gavin Holmes had three starts in 11 total games, but he averaged a very Air Force-like 21.4 yards per catch and scored three touchdowns, while Monaray Baldwin had four scores and 17.1 yards per catch on 33 receptions.
The Bears had one of the best overall defenses in the country during their championship game run in 2021, but they couldn’t replicate that success in 2022. Where the offense ranked in the top 40 by points per drive and available yards percentage per drive, Roberts’s defense finished 96th and 87th by those same measures, which almost certainly factored into the decision to let him go.
Ika and Doyle are proof that the unit still has playmakers, but the obvious question heading into the bowl game is how well they’ll be able to withstand the Falcons’ rushing attack. Baylor finished third in the Big 12 by allowing 3.85 yards per carry, but it is worth noting that, too, got pushed by the best their conference had to offer in November. More to the point, the Bears also come into the game with a 15.6% stuff rate that’s 92nd in the country and a 82.4% power success rate allowed which is 128th, which suggests they could quickly find themselves in the danger zone if they can’t knock Air Force off schedule on early downs.
Up front, defensive tackle Gabe Hall (33 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) and JACK Garmon Randolph (39 tackles, six TFLs, 4.5 sacks) will help Ika provide a push in the trenches while safety Christian Morgan (three interceptions, four pass breakups) and cornerback Lorando Johnson (16 tackles, five PBUs) could play a big role on the rare instances the Falcons decide the pass.