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Defense shines, quarterbacks struggle in Baylor Spring Game

Dave Aranda.jpg
Posted at 6:07 PM, Apr 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-24 20:25:45-04

WACO, Texas — After a month or practice this spring, Baylor had the chance to answer several questions heading into the fall season during the team's Green and Gold game at McLane Stadium.

The Quarterbacks:

The biggest questions heading into the game revolved around the team's quarterback situation.

Throughout spring practice, Jacob Zeno, Gerry Bohanon and Blake Shapen each competed for the starting job. During the spring game, Zeno took the first snaps with the first team offense, followed by Bohanon and Shapen.

In his first two drives with the first team offense, Zeno threw two interceptions, one to Tyrone Brown and one to Al Walcott. Shapen threw another pick during his time leading the second-team offense.

"Throughout the spring game [the defense] was at a high level," Head Coach Dave Aranda said. "So from that perspective, you really think this is a good start and want to continue on that path. I thought last year, there was a lot of good in that general direction [forcing turnovers]. I think offensively, it was our poorest day in terms of that."

Bohanon put together the best overall performance of any quarterback, completing a pair of passes for first downs, including one on third and long.

He added a long touchdown run on a read option keeper, before handing the ball to running back Trestan Ebner for a touchdown. That touchdown was one of just two the entire day.

"There's definitely room for growth," Baylor tight end Christoph Henle said. "But I think we saw sparks of what we can be. I think this spring what we wanted to do was find an identity as an offense."

On the final play of the game, Zeno connected with wide receiver R.J. Sneed for a 30-yard touchdown pass to end the spring on a high note.

"I think it was probably needed, but I also think that they were competing so they definitely earned it," Aranda said.

Aranda said after the game he is not ready to name a starter for the fall.

"I appreciate their ability to work through that because we have a good group, and I'm excited about what's still to come," Aranda said.

The Offense:

In the backfield, Abram Smith established himself as a go-to back for the Bears. Smith moved from linebacker to running back this spring because the coaching staff appreciated his downhill, physical style of play.

"As we come along, you see a lot more bodies moving bodies and a lot more physicality," he said. "And the holes are like 'Boom. They're there, right where you need them at."

Aranda said he has seen considerable improvement from the offensive line under new coach Eric Mateos. However, he mentioned it is difficult to assess them properly as players return from injury and new transfers become more acclimated to the program.

The Defense:

There was a clear gap between the level of play on offense and defense, Aranda admitted.

Collectively, the defense forced four turnovers and caused a safety. Transfer nose tackle Apu Ika shined during spring practice and continued his stellar play during the spring game.

"I love Apu," Aranda said. "I love his energy and smile and his heart."

Apu follows Aranda from LSU, where Aranda had previously served as defensive coordinator.

"I feel like that's going to make our defense that much better, doing my best to contribute," Ika said. "Being able to stop the run consistently is going to be what makes us who we are as a defense."

Aranda said the defense will likely only get better over time, as players like Terrell Bernard return from injury this summer. Bernard told 25 News he will be cleared to return to contact in two weeks. He has been able to work out with the team during spring practice but not participate in contact drills.

Special Teams:

Baylor's specialists had an up-and-down spring game.

Noah Rauschenburg hit his only field goal of the day, while returning starter John Mayers missed his lone try.

Rauschenburg also miss-hit a kickoff out of bounds.

Baylor was unable to break a long return. Ebner served as the primary returner for the second straight season.

Punter Isaac Powers downed one kick inside the ten.

What's Next:

The Green and Gold game marks the end of the spring season for Baylor Football. The Bears kick off the season September 4 against Texas State in San Marcos.