Kicking the Tires: Baylor Bears

This Kicking the Tires post brought to you by the Texas State Tire College. Roll Tire!

The Baylor game used to be that expendable game, the one in your season-ticket package that, if you had something else going on that was moderately important -- like a birthday party to take your six-year-old child to -- you could miss without feeling like you were going to miss much. K-State won its first four conference matchups against the Bears by an average score of 45-8. But, to say the least, these are not the Baylor Bears of the mid-1990s. Art Briles arrived from Houston and brought a freakish athlete with world-class speed and beyond-his-years maturity to play quarterback and, while the results haven't been spectacular in the sense that the Bears have made a BCS bowl game, or anything close to it, the results are spectacular for Baylor. They did make a bowl game last year, for the first time in the Big 12's 15-year history, after all.

More importantly for us, they've won two of the last three against K-State, including a 48-42 triumph in Waco last year.  Hit the jump for more on this year's matchup.

Players to Watch

 

K-State

Passing: Collin Klein, 34-57-1, 335 yards, 4 TD, 111.7 yards/game (5.9 yards/attempt)

Rushing: John Hubert, 44 carries, 286 yards, 1 TD, 6.5 yards/carry, 95.3 yards/game

Receiving: Chris Harper, 11 catches, 122 yards, 1 TD, 11.1 yards/catch, 40.7 yards/game

Baylor

Passing: (10) Robert Griffin III, 70-82-0, 962 yards, 13 TD, 320.7 yards/game (11.7 yards/attempt)

Rushing: (24) Terrance Ganaway, 50 carries, 278 yards, 3 TD, 5.56 yards/carry, 92.7 yards/game

Receiving: (1) Kendall Wright, 31 catches, 420 yards, 4 TD, 13.5 yards/catch, 140 yards/game

You all know about RGIII by now, he of the TD:Incompletion ratio. And if you haven't heard of his deep receiver corps, you probably will by the end of the game Saturday, though let's hope it's more because of the broadcasters talking about their first three games than it is because of the huge plays the receivers made on the field. In any event, Baylor has four receivers who have eight or more catches on the season, and seven receivers who have caught at least one touchdown pass.

But don't forget about that running game. The Bears ran pretty well last year, averaging 194.6 yards per game, good for third in the Big 12. They're even better this year at 240.7 yards per game, but Texas Christian is the only decent defense they've faced thus far, and the Horned Frogs rank only 69th in the country this season against the run.

Why do I make such a big deal out of the Baylor running game when it's the Bears' aerial attack we all fear? Two reasons, both related. In Baylor's six losses last season, it ran for well below its season average in three of those games. And in all but the Texas Tech loss, the Bears fell way behind early and had to (try to) play catch up the rest of the game. We'll get into this more at the end.

Team Statistics (stats from NCAAFootball.com)

Rushing Offense

K-State:24th, 219.67 yards/game

Baylor:15th, 240.67 yards/game

Passing Offense

K-State:114th, 125.67 yards/game

Baylor: 7th, 353.33 yards/game

Total Offense

K-State: 90th, 345.33 yards/game

Baylor:2nd, 594.00 yards/game

Rushing Defense

K-State: 21st, 89.0 yards/game

Baylor:71st, 152.0 yards/game

Pass Efficiency Defense

K-State: 12th, 96.61 rating

Baylor: 72nd, 129.98 rating

Total Defense

K-State: 6th, 246.33 yards/game

Baylor: 59th, 363.0 yards/game

Unlike last week, when I made such a big deal out of Miami having played a terrible Maryland team -- seriously, the Terrapins lost 38-7 to Temple last weekend -- and some state university in Ohio, this week the strength of schedule is more even. According to Football Outsiders, Baylor's SOS is 13, whereas K-State's is 18. Not much adjusting needs to be done this week.

Looking at the stats above, it's pretty obvious the teams' strengths and weaknesses match up well. K-State is no offensive juggernaut, but Baylor hardly has a lockdown defense. Baylor has been one of the best teams in the nation on offense, and has the best quarterback in the nation, but K-State has a top-10 defense after three games. As Bill said this week, this will be the litmus test, even moreso than the Miami game, for this defense. Why is that, you ask? Miami runs more of a pro-style attack, using a lot of tight ends and two- or three-wide receiver looks. Baylor runs a modern, up-tempo spread attack, often with four or five receivers. In short, it's exactly the type of offense that has given K-State fits over the years. Look no further than last year's game in Waco, where the Bears nearly put up 700 total yards on the Wildcats.

But this year's K-State defense is a much different group than last year's. K-State's linebackers have the speed to match up with Baylor's aerial assault. I doubt we'll see much blitzing, and that's fine by me. I'd rather see the defense do what it can to generate a pass rush with four, but more importantly keep Griffin in the pocket so he can't have the option to make a play with either his arm or his legs.

Now, we get back to the point I was discussing previously about Baylor's losses last year. It is imperative that K-State get off to a fast start and get the Bears down early. When playing from behind in games where it still has a chance, Baylor tends to abandon the run, which gives the defense an advantage. Baylor has been great throwing the ball this year, but the Bears were great throwing it last year, too, and when they fell behind early they weren't nearly as great. Make them one-dimensional, and this team has a fighting chance to hold the Bears to less than 35 points. That doesn't sound great, but I think it's the magic number.

Two other factors give me hope that K-State can knock off Baylor tomorrow. While I'm not going to give in to the talk that last week's win at Miami was the biggest non-conference win of Bill Snyder's career, there is no doubt that it was very important for this team's confidence. If that carries over to Saturday and we see K-State playing with energy and confidence, on both sides of the ball, then the Miami win will have been even more important.

Second, the Bears have to come to Manhattan. On the strength of last week's win, there should be 50,000 of the angriest fans in America packed into Bill's House, and if the team gives them a reason to make noise, then rest assured the place will be rockin'. Baylor was not particularly good on the road last year, although the won/loss record (3-2) didn't necessarily reflect it. The three wins were over inept Rice (30-13), hapless Colorado (31-25), and pathetic Texas (30-22). Notice anything about those wins? All were relatively low-scoring, close contests (or close-ish, in Rice's case). The Bears were not good on the road last season, and when Bill Snyder Family Stadium gets angry, it can be as tough as any road venue.

One final key to this game is pretty obvious, but it's worth noting. K-State currently leads the Big 12 in time of possession, controlling the ball for a little more than 34 minutes per game. Baylor is last in the conference, barely controlling the ball for more than 25 minutes per game. Winning the time of possession battle alone obviously won't ensure a win over the Bears, but every minute that K-State has the ball accomplishes two important things: it means Griffin doesn't have a chance to hurt us, and it wears down the Bears' defense. I wouldn't be surprised if K-State fell behind in the first half, but makes a comeback in the late third and fourth quarter, on the strength of a tiring Baylor defense.

Prediction

Given all the reasons to be positive, I feel like I should predict a win over Baylor. I feel like I should be confident that the defense is ready to slow down an uptempo spread attack. I feel like Griffin has to come back to earth and throw some incompletions and interceptions at some point. I feel like the momentum from the Miami win and the home crowd, paired with Baylor's road struggles last season, should lead to a K-State win.

So maybe I'm an overly pessimistic person, or maybe I've overlearned the fatalistic attitude that somehow, someway things will go wrong. Whatever it is, I just cannot be confident that K-State is going to win this game. Griffin has been not just great, but superb, phenomenal, and incredible this year. And he's not alone on that offense. While I think the defense will slow down Baylor relative to the Bears' offensive output thus far, and that the offense will put some points on the board, I don't see it adding up to a win. Again, I'd be thrilled to be wrong.

Baylor 38, K-State 34

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