#6 Baylor Bears vs. Kansas State Wildcats Preview

The Baylor Bears will rely on back up QB Jarrett Stidham to lead the team moving forward. Photo Courtesy: Matthew Lynch
The Baylor Bears will rely on back up QB Jarrett Stidham to lead the team moving forward.
Photo Courtesy: Matthew Lynch

By Jeff Cantrell

Game Info
#6 Baylor Bears vs. Kansas State Wildcats
Thursday – November 5 – 6:30 pm CT
Bill Snyder Family Stadium – Manhattan, Kansas

Tonight, the Baylor Bears will take on the Kansas State Wildcats. The Wildcats are coming off a tough 23-9 loss against the Texas Longhorns. The Wildcats started the season off 3-0 but have gone 0-4 in conference play. In a curious twist, in 2012 Kansas State was ranked #2 in both the AP and Coaches Poll and #1 in the BCS ranking. Then they traveled to Waco, where the 4-5 Bears defeated the Wildcats in a 52-24 route that took away their chance to play for a national championship. Now the Wildcats are 3-4 and hosting the Bears who are ranked #2 in both the AP and Coaches polls, but #6 in the newly released College Football Playoff Rankings. Wildcat fans might be thinking revenge, especially since the Bears now appear vulnerable.

The Bears are coming into this game without Seth Russell, their starting quarterback, who was injured late in the 4th quarter of Baylor’s 45-27 victory over Iowa State. Bad weather severely hampered the Bears passing attack and Russell went 16-37 passing for 197 yards and two TDs with an interception in the game. Several of Russell’s passes were catchable balls that, in the wet rainy conditions, slipped right through his receiver’s hands. The Bears still managed to build an impressive 35-0 lead on the Cyclones, before allowing Iowa State to score their first TD with 4:49 left in the first half. Then the Bears went cold, a turnover to end the half and a third quarter in which the Bears punted on all three possessions let Iowa State sneak back into the game. A scoring drive by the Cyclones to start the third quarter made it 35-14. A fumble by Baylor RB Johnny Jefferson, to start off the fourth quarter, led to another Iowa State TD and after a missed extra point the score was 35-20. On the following Baylor possession, power running by RB Shock Linwood led the Bears down the field. Then on 3rd down with 5 yards to go, Russell kept the ball on a designed run play. Short of the marker he lowered his head and went helmet to helmet with an Iowa State defender coming up for the tackle. After a time out, K Chris Callahan kicked a 34-yard FG to again make it a three possession game. On the next Baylor possession, backup QB Jarrett Stidham took the field with the first team offense, Baylor fans got the first indication that something was wrong. Working on a short field, Stidham found WR Corey Coleman in the end zone from 12 yards out to make it 45-20, and put the game safely out of reach.

At the end of game, the initial announcement was that Russell has suffered a strained neck. Later, after a more extensive examination, it was released that Russell had fractured a bone in his neck. A trip to the specialist on the following Monday determined that surgery would be needed and ended Russell’s season. In just his first year as a starter, Russell had showed pose and had risen up to the challenge of leading the high powered Baylor offense and silenced the doubters. He was in the thick of the Heisman conversation, and was considered a top 5 contender for the award. Now, he is sidelined for the season, with hopes of returning next year to lead the Bears. It certainly not the end that anyone would wish for a competitor like Russell, and it is heavy blow for Baylor going into the toughest part of its schedule.

So now, Baylor will have to travel to the unfriendly confines of Snyder Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas to take on the revenge minded Wildcats without their leader. Many doubt the Bears chances going forward. How the Bears perform this week will go a long way in revealing who the Bears are and will influence the perception of Baylor going into November. The focus for Baylor will be on giving Stidham his best chance for success and to do that the Bears, both on the Offensive and Defensive side of the ball, will need to step up to the challenge and do their part.

What to look for when Baylor has the ball:

  • It will be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Kendal Briles will do as far as play calling in this game. Certainly, the change at quarterback will affect the play calling, but how much is still unknown. Will Briles play it safe and pound the ball on the ground as Texas did against the Wildcats or will he put Stidham to the test with deep pass plays to Corey Coleman. Odds are high that Briles will want to see what Stidham can do, so expect a good number of pass plays as Briles gives Stidham his baptism by fire. Most will be short, high percentage passes to start, but the long bombs will come, should Stidham hold up.
  • The pressure will be on the Baylor offensive line to protect their true freshman quarterback in his first start. The Wildcats will undoubtedly put pressure on the untested Stidham. How well C Kyle Fuller, RG Jarrell Broxton, LG Blake Muir, RT Pat Colbert, and LT Spencer Drango perform in their duty of protecting Stidham will be a difference maker in this game. If the front five can keep him upright and give him time, Stidham should be effective throwing the ball. If they can’t, then it will be a long day for the Bears, and could be the harbinger of doom to come.
  • Needing to take the pressure of Stidham, Baylor will need a productive day from RB Shock Linwood. If the Bears are unable to get the run game going, K-State will be able to give unwanted attention to Stidham and the passing game. It again falls on the O-line to perform well, as Linwood will need them to open holes and push the K-State defenders back for him to be successful. A solid performance by Linwood will by key for Baylor to come out on the winning side of one.

What to look for when Kansas State has the ball:

  • Andrew Billings missed the Iowa State game with an ankle injury but it looks like the Bears will have him back for this game. Kansas State has struggled lately, and Billings’ presence in the middle of the Baylor defensive line will be a much needed boost to the defense that needs a solid performance in this game. Kansas State QB Joe Hubener, himself a backup QB, has been lackluster in conference play. In the last four games, he has gone 30-78, for 378 yards, for 1 TD with 5 INTs. Hubener has also been sacked 12 times on the season. So pressure from Billings, could lead to more interceptions or even another sack or two. What the big men in the D-line cannot do is let Hubener escape the pocket as he did against TCU for 111 yards and four scores. Here again, putting pressure on Hubener and containing the Wildcat offense takes pressure off of Baylor’s young quarterback.
  • The Baylor CBs Ryan Reid and Xavien Howard both pulled down interceptions in their last game. Reid had his first career interception against West Virginia and his second against Iowa State. He certainly would enjoy making it three in a row against Hubener and Kansas State. The Wildcats should try to rely heavily on the run game in this matchup, but should they fall behind, and if Baylor can hold up against the run, Hubener will be forced to air it out and Reid and Howard will be waiting.

Looking at what each team has going for them, this looks like a game Baylor should win easily, even with Stidham’s starting his first game. A powerful run game, speedy receivers, and veteran linemen on both sides of the ball should be enough to earn Baylor the victory. Then again, I’m sure that people assumed the 2012 #2 ranked Kansas State team would easily handle unranked Baylor. It will be exciting to watch this one to see how Stidham handles his new role and to see if the Bears can rise up to their new reality as they head into the part of the season.

Prediction: Baylor 52 – Kansas State 28