Last week’s Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State was a chance for K-State to seize on their non-conference momentum and make an impression. After a surprising 3-0 start led to a national ranking, K-State had a week off to prepare for a Cowboys team coming off a draining loss to Texas.
Instead, the Wildcats never could get their offense on track. A defensive effort that wasn’t impressive in the particulars - Chuba Hubbard was probably running through Scotty Hazelton’s nightmares all week - nevertheless did enough in the macro to keep K-State in range all game. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
Now the Wildcats return to Manhattan for their home opener, against Baylor. The Bears are 4-0 and pulled out a close win at home against Iowa State last week.
Players to Watch
Passing: Skylar Thompson, 47-76-0, 604 yards, 7.9 yards/attempt, 4 TDs, 151.0 yards/game
Rushing: James Gilbert, 55 carries, 321 yards, 5.8 yards/carry, 4 TDs, 80.3 yards/game
Receiving: Dalton Schoen, 10 receptions, 150 yards, 15.0 yards/reception, 2 TDs, 37.5 yards/game
Passing: Charlie Brewer, 79-119-0, 972 yards, 8.2 yards/attempt, 10 TDs, 243 yards/game
Rushing: John Lovett, 34 carries, 238 yards, 7.0 yards/carry, 1 TD, 59.5 yards/game
Receiving: Denzel Mims, 24 receptions, 355 yards, 14.8 yards/reception, 5 TDs, 88.8 yards/game
That should look like a familiar cast of characters. Lovett and Mims both had big games in Manhattan two years ago in K-State’s narrow win over the Bears, while Brewer is back for his second season at quarterback. Maybe this isn’t one of the old Briles offenses, but Baylor still has the weapons to inflict damage quickly.
Under Matt Rhule, you knew defense would be an emphasis at Baylor. The Bears sport a top 20 defense by SP+. They are particularly good at preventing good plays and being generally disruptive (16th nationally by Havoc Rate).
Losing the ability to generate big plays shouldn’t matter much to K-State, as the Wildcats don’t create many of offense anyway (51st nationally by Explosive Rate). This game will likely devolve into an efficiency contest and come down to who executes their schemes better. K-State’s offensive success rates are slightly better than Baylor’s defensive rates, but not so much that it creates a clear advantage.
One area of concern is Baylor’s pass defense, which is really good. K-State couldn’t get anything going through the air last week against OSU (a putrid 5.1 yards per pass attempt). Baylor allows less than five yards per attempt. With Malik Knowles likely out again, K-State probably isn’t going to find a lot of success through the air.
On the other side, K-State’s pass defense thus far has been excellent, ranking seventh nationally by Success Rate and 11th nationally by yards per attempt. That continued last week when the Wildcats limited Spencer Sanders to 5.3 yards per attempt and snagged two interceptions.
Assuming that K-State can replicate that performance and not also let Lovett rampage for 250 yards, then the home team should have a pretty good shot at a win tomorrow.
Vegas has K-State as a two-point favorite at home, while SP+ expects Baylor to prevail by four. Anyway you look at it, the experts predict a low-scoring game between two good defenses and two middling offenses.
For some reason, I’m not optimistic about this one. K-State’s offense was putrid against Oklahoma State, averaging only 4.4 yards per play and only scoring 13 points. Baylor’s defense is better than OSU’s. Let’s hope K-State’s coaching staff has a better plan this time around.
Bears 28, Wildcats 21