With only three games, the second week of conference play is a slim slate. The early game on Saturday will feature two teams that are each searching for a win against a Power Five opponent as the Baylor Bears travel to Manhattan to take on the Kansas State Wildcats. Neither team is probably where they imagined they’d be in the win/loss column heading into this game, but both are hungry for an opportunity to get better.
DATE & TIME: SAT, SEP 30 at 2:30 PM CT
WHERE: Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium (Manhattan, KS)
FORECAST: Mid-70s, Partly Cloudy
STREAM: Watch ESPN
BETTING LINE: KSU -16.5
Baylor goes into their second week of Big 12 play hoping to see signs of progress in the form of wins. The Bears have yet to get a W this season, but they have come close on more than one occasion. Three of Baylor’s four losses, in fact, have been by eight points or less.
Last week, Matt Rhule’s rebuild in Waco seemed to get a shot of life when the Bears found themselves in a close game with top ranked Oklahoma at home. After looking like they had virtually no shot of winning a game in 2017 to start the season, Baylor’s performance against OU has the squad looking much improved.
The 41 points that Baylor scored against Oklahoma were due largely to the contribution of quarterback Zach Smith, who solidified himself as QB1 on Saturday by passing for 463 yards and four touchdowns. Anu Solomon started the season, but was replaced after posting a 14.2 QBR against UTSA in week two.
The Bears have good reason to think they’ve got something in the sophomore Smith, who looked poised as he torched the Sooner secondary for big plays.
Smith’s stellar performance was made possible by an offensive line that gave him time to read the D and get the ball out. Giving the quarterback time to get through his progressions allowed receiver Denzel Mims to have a big day. Mims has now accounted for 31 percent of the points that Rhule’s team has put up.
Running the ball continues to be a problem for the Bears, however, who currently rank last in the league in Rushing Offense.
There are struggles on the other side of the ball as well, but it’s not all bad news.
Even though Baylor’s run defense, giving up 236.5 yards per game, isn’t anything to write home about, the Bears managed to keep pace with the Sooners last week largely because of their pass defense.
Baylor tries to give opposing offenses multiple looks and will use stunts selectively to get into the backfield. That tactic seems to be paying off in terms of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as Baylor is tied for first in the Big 12 in sacks with 11 on the year.
KANSAS STATE (2-1)
Kansas State enters Saturday’s contest hoping to have figured some things out in their bye week after being upset by SEC foe Vanderbilt 14-7 in the third week of the season. There were rumblings in the preseason that KSU might be a Big 12 dark horse this year, but a physical game in which QB Jesse Ertz had a 35.7 pass completion rate has raised questions about how good the Wildcats are offensively.
Of course, there are reasons to believe that if the Wildcats play their brand of mistake-free, ball control football through nine conference games, they could do some big things.
Both Ertz and his receivers will look to bounce back from a game where he struggled to connect with his teammates downfield. KSU is not a team that wants to primarily make its yards throwing the ball around, but the Wildcats have a veteran group of wide receivers who are certainly capable of taking one to the house.
Kansas State, averaging 230.3 yards per game thus far, does most of its damage on the ground. The running game is powered by Ertz, but starting running back Alex Barnes has been solid and Justin Silmon was impressive in his first game in action against Vandy.
Coming into conference play, KSU has been more impressive defensively. Granted, none of the three teams Kansas State has played thus far could be considered an offensive juggernaut, but the D has taken care of business. From all appearances, this team looks to have the same kind of discipline and quality fundamental play that have characterized other Bill Snyder championship squads.
The strength of the team has thus far been their pass defense through three games, allowing opponents only 5.6 yards per pass. It’s no wonder when you consider that the Wildcats have veteran defensive backs who can play zone or tight man-to-man coverage like D.J. Reed.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR BU
Develop Your Strengths – Matt Rhule’s team is young and many of them are still developing. There are several aspects in which this team needs to improve. Teams in a rebuilding mode have to start with a handful of things that they do well and use that as a baseline to get better overall. For Baylor, the passing attack with Zach Smith and the ability to make plays in the backfield on defense seem to be two areas where the team already excels. Try to continue to forge an identity around those things.
Play For Field Position – Bill Snyder’s teams have a well-known reputation for winning games by capitalizing on the mistakes of other teams. Make the Wildcats earn their points the conventional way, by driving the ball down the field on offense. If Baylor can keep this game close early and get the ball to midfield, Zach Smith can try to take a deep shot or two and maybe come away with some points.
Stay Focused On The Road – Young teams have a tendency to get distracted or overwhelmed in road environments and this will by far be the most hostile road environment Baylor’s faced so far. Keep it together, play within yourself for sixty minutes and forget the crowd.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR KSU
Get Into A Rhythm Throwing The Ball – Baylor might be the least challenging test the Wildcats face in the next few weeks, since they have to go on a couple of road trips and face two teams currently in the top ten in the month of October. KSU has to make developing their passing game a priority. Otherwise, other teams in the Big 12 will just key on the run game and make life difficult for Jesse Ertz and Co.
Find Playmakers – Through three games, no one on this Kansas State team has emerged as someone who makes big plays consistently. The Wildcats might be in close games throughout the season and they will need guys who can swing the momentum their way.
Be Special On Special Teams – Historically, this is a staple of great Bill Snyder teams. Against Vanderbilt, this phase of the game was passable, but not spectacular. This game can be a coming out party for the Wildcats if they show up in the kicking game.
This is a game that Baylor understandably needs to win, as the schedule doesn’t get any easier for a while for the Bears. It’s also not hard to see a scenario where the reality of Matt Rhule’s team not going bowling has set in by Halloween. Trusting the process is easier when you have an actual win to reward some of that trust.
That being said, this feels like exactly the kind of game that K State wins in an extremely boring way. Kansas State is a veteran team playing at home with a 77 year-old head coach who was so upset with his team’s performance in a loss that he wrote a letter apologizing to the fans. That coach, one of the greatest college football coaches of all time, was undoubtedly motivated to get his team on the right track and he had an extra week of practices to do it? It seems like you have to go with Snyder in this one.
There are ways that Baylor wins this game because they have athleticism and – as Kevin Garnett reminded us – anything is possible, but I’m going to go with the Old Man here. We will all look up and it will be the middle of the third quarter and Kansas State will have covered.