The 11th ranked Baylor Bears look to stay perfect as the Kansas Jayhawks come to town for homecoming weekend. The undefeated Bears will need a decisive win against a struggling Kansas team to prove to the world, and to themselves, that their slow starts and close games against below-average teams are behind them. Meanwhile, the Jayhawks will attempt to pull off a huge upset after getting a sniff of one last week against the TCU Horned Frogs.
Date/Time: Saturday, October 15; 2:30 p.m. CDT
Where: McLane Stadium (Waco, TX)
Forecast: Sunny, high of 90F with 10-20 MPH winds from the South
Betting Line: BU -35
Kansas Jayhawks (1-4, 0-2)
Despite their 1-4 start, one might “Chalk” up the season thus far as a success. Before Kansas’ week one win against Rhode Island, the Jayhawks had lost 15 straight, including a win-less season last year, and were 3-21 over the past two seasons. I’m sure the 55-6 week one blowout win had many Kansas fans thinking that their football squad had finally turned things around. Unfortunately, the Jayhawks have lost four straight since week one, and all signs are pointing to another year with a bad football program. However, there have been other signs of improvement in Lawrence.
Last week Kansas nearly, and in most aspects probably should have beaten the TCU Horned Frogs. In a game where they beat their opponent in nearly every statistical category, the Jayhawks went into the fourth quarter with a two-score 23-14 lead on TCU, but failed to add any points while giving up 10 to the Horned Frogs, who ultimately won on a game-winning field gold with less than 90 seconds on the clock. TCU may not have the team that they’ve had in the past five years, but they’re still a good football team with a solid defense and an offense that can score.
Kansas’ defense, after allowing an average of nearly 48 points per game in the four weeks prior, saw a massive improvement by only allowing half of that average to a good offensive team while forcing four turnovers. On the other side of the ball, I think there’s another sign of good things to come with sophomore QB Ryan Willis being the go-to quarterback, as opposed to using both Willis and Junior QB Montell Cozart. Despite throwing three interceptions, Willis seemed to settle into the role quite well, having a respectable completion percentage (68.89%) and threw for nearly 350 yards.
Keys to the Game for Kansas
Stick With Willis – Last week was Ryan Willis’ coming out party, after having to split time with and play a secondary role to Montell Cozart the first four games of the season. Willis didn’t throw any touchdown passes and threw three picks, but completed a high percentage of passes and looked very comfortable in the role while throwing for 348 yards. Stability would not only be a huge help to Willis and his growth, but would surely also be a help to the rest of the Jayhawks offense.
Focus On Defense – The Kansas defense was exceptional last week after being less-than-impressive in the games prior. If the Jayhawks defense is able to perform at that level for a second straight week and keep Baylor from scoring on command, Kansas might have a real shot at winning this game.
Finish, Finish, Finish – Don’t let what happened against the Horned Frogs happen again. If the Jayhawks are able to get a lead on Baylor during the game, they’ll have to at least match their output for the remainder in order to keep it. Baylor is going to score, there’s no stopping that. But if the Jayhawks can manage to slow the scoring, come up with a few stops, and put up a decent amount of points of their own, they’ll have a shot at spoiling the Bears’ Homecoming Weekend.
Baylor Bears (5-0, 2-0)
The Bears are coming off a win against the Iowa State Cyclones in Ames to bring them to 5-0 on the season, 2-0 in Big 12 play. Baylor hopes to continue their undefeated season by handling the Jayhawks in Waco for their Homecoming game. In order to do so, Baylor will need to play better than they did two weeks ago against Iowa State. Baylor was down 42-28 to the Cyclones at the start of the fourth quarter, but were able to put up 17 unanswered points, including a last-minute, tie-breaking field goal to win the game. The Bears relied heavily on their run game, out-rushing the Cyclones 469 yards to 204, while QB Seth Russell struggled throwing the ball, only passing for 178 yards.
Taking their last game out of the equation, the Bears have had a very productive season on both sides of the ball. Baylor’s first three games were lopsided blowouts, outplaying their opponents by scoring an average of nearly 45 points per game, while only allowing an average of 10 points. The game before last against Oklahoma State was a great win for the Bears, holding a high-powered Cowboys offense to only 24 points with the help of four forced turnovers, while Russell was able to get his game going by throwing for nearly 390 yards. The Bears will need to take what they did in their win against the Cowboys into the weekend, as Baylor’s defense and the play of Russell will be major factors again in order to get a win against the Jayhawks on Saturday.
Keys to the Game for Baylor
Get Seth His Swagger Back – Coming into the season on the Heisman hopeful shortlist, Senior QB Seth Russell has had an underwhelming season at best. He’s shown that he’s the same stud quarterback as last year with his stellar performance against Oklahoma State three weeks ago, but has struggled in his other games. Getting Russell going early will be key to putting the Jayhawks away early.
Short-Term Memory – This goes for both Russell and the Baylor defense, as neither of them played well in their last game against the Cyclones. The Bears’ defensive unit gave up 42 points in just three quarters of play to an Iowa State team that aren’t considered to have a high-scoring offense, while Russell only completed 12 of his 22 pass attempts for 178 yards and one touchdown. Both will have to forget their poor performances two weeks ago and come out Saturday looking like a brand new team.
Start Early and Don’t Let Up – Baylor has put up some gaudy numbers offensively thus far, but the fact is those numbers are still probably lower than they expected them to be considering their opponents. Baylor’s offensive unit got off to slow starts against both Rice and SMU but managed to put the games away in the second halves of each game. It’s different when playing a Big 12 team, no matter who they are, as Baylor surely already knows. They’ll need to come out guns blazing from the start of the game and keep their foot on the gas for all four quarters in order to get the decisive win that they need to make the jump into Top 10.
Baylor’s photo-finish win two weeks ago against the struggling Cyclones was unsettling, whereas Kansas’ ability to take TCU to the last minutes of last weekend’s game was impressive. I don’t see the Jayhawks putting up as good of a fight this week, however, as Baylor’s ground game has proved to be punishing, accompanied by a top-tier quarterback and one of the best receiving cores in the nation. Playing in front of a Homecoming crowd on Saturday, I see the Bears putting up 50+ points for the first time since week one.
On the other side of the ball, I think that the Baylor defense will find redemption against a Kansas offense that is still struggling to find their identity. I won’t be surprised if Kansas busts out a couple of trick plays early on that go for long yardage or scores, but I predict Baylor’s defense holds them to two scores and Baylor covers the -35 point line with the help of their offense.