Kicking the Tires: Baylor

Richard Rowe-USA TODAY Sports

A team averaging 70.5 points and 779 yards per game comes to Manhattan this weekend. K-State will have to keep the Baylor Bears' offense off the field and try to create a few turnovers to have a chance.

These aren't the Baylor Bears of your college days.

In the Big 12's strongest days, there was no surer bet than a win over Baylor. The Bears own the longest losing streak to conference teams, dropping 29 straight league contests between October 10, 1998, and October 5, 2002. The Bears were the victim of a series of revisionist historians, as Big 12 partisans alternately wished that Houston or TCU had been invited to the conference in place of the hapless Bears. Over the Big 12's first 10 seasons, K-State beat Baylor five times, by an average score of 39.2 - 7.2.

But in 2008, Art Briles happened. And along with Briles, Robert Griffin III and a Heisman Trophy happened. The Bears stopped losing to everyone, started going to bowl games, and this year are in position to win their first Big 12 championship, if not more. The very thought that Baylor could contend for a Big 12 title, much less a national title, seems almost as preposterous as it would have for K-State 25 years ago.

Players to Watch

K-State

Passing: Jake Waters, 70-107-5, 959 yards, 4 TDs, 191.8 yards/game, 9.0 yards/attempt

Rushing: John Hubert, 65 carries, 268 yards, 4.1 yards/carry, 4 TD, 53.6 yards/carry

Receiving: Tyler Lockett, 31 receptions, 475 yards, 15.3 yards/reception, 1 TD, 95 yards/game

Baylor

Passing: Bryce Petty, 67-92-1, 1,348 yards, 10 TDs, 337.0 yards/game, 14.7 yards/attempt

Rushing: Lache Seastrunk, 53 carries, 589 yards, 11.1 yards/carry, 8 TDs, 147.2 yards/game

Receiving: Antwan Goodley, 21 receptions, 540 yards, 25.7 yards/reception, 5 TDs, 135.0 yards/game

Baylor will stretch the field from sideline to sideline with four- and five-receiver sets, but it's the Bears' rushing attack that's as dangerous as anything. Seastrunk is a weapon, as we know all too well after last year. K-State has been pretty vulnerable to teams going to five wide receiver sets this season, as our normal defensive alignment leaves the middle of the field empty against such sets. As noted in the charting post, it appears we adjusted our alignment against Oklahoma State, a team that runs a similar offense to Baylor. We'll see if that relative success carries over.

Seriously, marvel at those numbers. What makes them even more insane is that Baylor's starters have yet to see a fourth quarter, and barely have any action in third quarters.

K-State's Advanced Offensive Stats

  • S&P+: 58th
  • PPP: 0.58, 42nd
  • Success Rate: 47.4%, 29th
  • Passing Downs: 80th
  • Standard Downs: 21st
  • Passing S&P: 25th
  • Rushing S&P: 59th

Your guess is as good as mine as to which quarterback will start this weekend. As noted in the Charting post, from a Success Rate standpoint, it doesn't really matter. Both quarterbacks are right at 50 percent Success Rate this year. The rushing game actually went backwards, from 50th in Rushing S&P last week to 59th this week. Explosiveness also dropped, from 25th last week to 42nd. But the overall ranking is up almost 20 spots. So, yay for playing a tough defense!

K-State's Advanced Defensive Stats

  • S&P+: 54th
  • PPP: 0.47, 37th
  • Success Rate: 44.1%, 87th
  • Passing Downs: 23rd
  • Standard Downs: 69th
  • Passing S&P: 29th
  • Rushing S&P: 92nd

Oklahoma State's offensive struggles helped, but the defense acquitted itself pretty well in Stillwater. That's encouraging, because they'll see some similar stuff this weekend. Of course, Bryce Petty has a better arm and more time in Briles' system than J.W. Walsh has at OSU, Seastrunk is galaxies better than any running back at OSU, and Goodley and Tevin Reese are outstanding receivers. Like K-State, Oklahoma State's primary problem is a talent deficiency as compared to previous years. That's most decidedly not Baylor's problem.

Baylor's Advanced Offensive Stats

  • S&P+: 1st
  • PPP: 1.19, 1st
  • Success Rate: 68.7%, 1st
  • Passing Downs: 1st
  • Standard Downs: 1st
  • Passing S&P: 1st
  • Rushing S&P: 1st

Hard to ask for more.

Baylor's Advanced Defensive Stats

  • S&P+: 38th
  • PPP: 0.41, 16th
  • Success Rate: 28.4%, 3rd
  • Passing Downs: 11th
  • Standard Downs: 8th
  • Passing S&P: 45th
  • Rushing S&P: 2nd

Phil Bennett and the much-maligned Bears defense came on strong at the end of last season, starting with the Great Wildcat Massacre in CenTex. Baylor's schedule-adjusted numbers (S&P+) reflects that they haven't played anybody worth a damn, but they've been solid against their competition, which is all you can ask for. They do an excellent job of limiting explosive plays and keeping opponents off schedule, though the pass defense leaves something to be desired.

Conclusion

For a detailed blueprint on what must be done to stop Baylor, read here. Last year, with defensive playmakers like Arthur Brown, Meshak Williams, and our cornerbacks, K-State had the athleticism to execute some of the coverage disguises to cloud Baylor's option-based decision making. Ty Zimmerman wasn't worth four touchdowns by himself, but he would have made a difference.

This year, K-State will walk a fine line on defense. You can't just sit in base looks all day and stop Baylor. It may take them longer to score, but when presented with simple reads, they will be content to pick up six yards here, 12 yards here, nine yards here, 15 yards here, and score on six or seven plays. That's assuming you tackle well. But K-State does not have the athletes to match up with Baylor's wide receivers in one-on-one coverage, and it doesn't have the athleticism at linebacker to get too complicated with pre-snap alignments. Doing so could create confusion when assignments are executed properly, but it runs the risk of huge plays when they're not.

On the offense, the conventional wisdom is that Sams will start at quarterback. From a ball-control standpoint, this makes sense. Both quarterbacks are successful about half the time. But on Sams' unsuccessful plays, the clock generally continues running, while Waters' incomplete passes stop the clock. I'm not terribly worried about our defense getting tired, because Baylor is not the type of team that's going to lean on and wear down a defense. But keeping Baylor from getting opportunities is important, and time of possession is thus important.

Of course, remember that Baylor's strength on defense this year has been against the run. If that's legitimate, and not just a product of schedule, then Sams may not be the better option at quarterback. Because while Sams is clearly the superior runner, if he's not running or throwing short passes off simple reads, he's a turnover waiting to happen. Waters hasn't exactly been Collin Klein when it comes to ball security, either, but if Baylor is weaker against the pass, then he could be a better option. Then again, even if Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson play, they likely won't be anywhere near 100 percent.

Regardless, I see very few scenarios in which K-State wins this game. It is Baylor's first road game this year, and we know what Briles thinks of the crowd in Manhattan. If K-State can force a turnover, grab an early lead, and make Baylor a little uncomfortable on offense, then this could be an interesting game going into the second half. Of course, that's several ifs that we're counting on there, and the odds of all of them in combination occurring are pretty slight. With a ball-control offense, I think K-State slows down the Bears without really slowing them down.

Baylor 59, K-State 31

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