The game kicking off in Waco this Saturday might have more importance than was originally thought coming into the season.
The Bears entered 2018 looking for signs of progress from a football team that went 1-11 last year. So far, that’s pretty much been the story of a Baylor squad that it is halfway towards bowl eligibility. Baylor is 3-2 through five games, and needs only three more victories to be in contention for the postseason once again in December.
At the start of the season, it looked as though the Bears might have a tough road, but a few other Big 12 teams have had rough starts, indicating that there are wins to be had.
One of those potential wins would include the Kansas State Wildcats. The Wildcats are below .500 after losing to Texas at home for the first time in 16 years, and seem to be heading in the wrong direction. With a loss in Waco, Kansas State would fall to 2-4 halfway through the season, making their road to a bowl game that much narrower.
Both of these teams will take a win any time they can get it, and this contest will play a pivotal role in determining whether either one of them has a postseason future in 2018.
KANSAS STATE (2-3, 0-2)
The Wildcats have been struggling offensively throughout the start of 2018. Kansas State lost offensive coordinator Dana Dimel to UTEP in the offseason, and in hindsight, that might have had a bigger impact on this team than at first thought – through five games, the Wildcats are averaging just 19.6 points per contest.
Kansas State’s struggles are also related to the offensive staff’s inability to decide on a quarterback. The Wildcats have alternated between starting both Alex Delton and Skylar Thompson, second year players with different skill sets.
Thompson is more of a throwing quarterback, but he can run the ball – he tucked the ball in and ran off-tackle for a score against Texas on Saturday. Delton is probably the more lethal runner, but he can push the ball downfield.
Snyder has repeatedly shown a preference for Delton, even when Thompson sometimes is more productive. With the latter player starting on Saturday, the Wildcats almost managed to come back in a 19-14 loss to the Longhorns.
Undoubtedly, there is a quarterback controversy in Manhattan. Not having a consistent starter there has probably also hurt the play of the rest of the offense, since different skill players tend to shine depending on who’s taking snaps.
Defensively, the Wildcats have had mediocre results. Since Snyder came back to Kansas State, their defenses have traditionally taken a “bend but don’t break” approach. Thus far through 2018, no major playmakers have emerged on that side of the ball, but the secondary is probably the most talented.
Duke Shelley, Denzel Goolsby, and A.J. Parker hold up the back end, and have been one of the better units in the conference this season.
After beginning the season with a bit of quarterback controversy themselves, the Bears appear to have settled on true sophomore Charlie Brewer. Brewer had a productive day last week against Oklahoma, posting 400 yards passing and two touchdowns in Norman.
The passing game is really the strength of the Baylor offense, which shouldn’t be surprising when you take into account the weapons around Brewer. Jalen Hurd and Denzel Mims could feasibly having 1,000 yards receiving this season. Speedy backs like JaMycal Hasty and John Lovett also add to the team’s production.
The Bears have struggled up front. Through five games, Baylor is last in the conference in the amount sacks they’ve given up, totaling nine on the season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Baylor has struggled as well. The Bears are giving up 399.6 yards per game in 2018 and are second-to-last in rushing defense in the Big 12. Although the secondary for Baylor has been mostly solid this season, the front seven has struggled to get off blocks and prevent big gains.
Last week against Oklahoma, the Bears also had issues tackling. That led the Sooners to put up 66 total points on only 54 total plays.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR KANSAS STATE
Run The Ball – Whichever quarterback starts for the Wildcats, there needs to be concerted effort for this team to run the ball this week. As many issues as they’ve had, that is still the strength of this offense. Kansas State wasn’t able to run the ball a ton against Texas, but the did have some success playing good, old fashioned power football. If they can make that a major part of the offense this week, they will be able to shorten the game and move the ball down the field.
Contain Charlie Brewer – Baylor’s offense is at its most dangerous whenever the sophomore quarterback starts making plays with his legs. If Kansas State wants to make Baylor drive the length of the field, they need to keep Brewer bottled up and prevent big gains in long down-and-distance situations.
Win Special Teams – The Wildcats were less than spectacular last week against Texas on special teams. They gave up a touchdown and almost fumbled the ball on a kick return. In Waco, Kansas State will need to make some positive plays on special teams in order to have good field position and put up some points. A punt or kick return that either gets points or sets up points would go a long way for Kansas State.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR BAYLOR
A Little Bit Of Trickery Wouldn’t Hurt – One of the advantages of playing in your home stadium is that it’s a lot easier to really build some momentum off of big plays. This is the kind of game where the Wildcats will probably want to sit back in zone coverage, and some misdirection and trickery on offense might be just the thing to really get them out of position.
Load The Box – Baylor has proven in the past that the front seven on defense struggle when they face even numbers, and Kansas State seems to always line up with tight ends and fullbacks. This is the game where you want players to care much more about stopping the run than the pass. If the Wildcats decide to start airing it out on you, so be it.
Take Field Goals When You Can – Connor Martin is a perfect four-for-four on field goals this season, and he showed all of last year that he can be reliable. Even if Kansas State is able to score some points on the Bears’ defense, there will still be a need for Baylor to take all of the points they can get. Don’t go for it on fourth down if you’ve got an almost assured three points.
There’s a lot of optimism around Baylor right now, and I can understand why. The Bears just threw for over 400 yards against a Power 5 team, and they’ve got a winning record. Kansas State, on the other hand is a program perceived to be in disarray.
Has Coach Snyder lost the magic that helped get his name on a stadium? It’s certainly possible, given that the on-the-field results have just not been there so far this season.
Still, I’m going to defy conventional wisdom here somewhat. I think this will be a very close game, but whatever the Wildcats decide to do wit the quarterback shuffle, I believe Kansas State will win.
Baylor is looking like an improved team over last year, but I’m not sold on their lines of scrimmage. Kansas State has underperformed offensively throughout 2018, true enough. But, I don’t know that the Wildcats have potential weak spot on their team the way the Bears do in the offensive and defensive lines. T
The Wildcats do just enough to get it done in this one. Kansas State by two points.