By Shehan Jeyarajah
After blowing teams out by an average of over 54 points through the first four games, Baylor football faced a battle in its first road test of the season against Kansas State.
The Bears faced their first true adversity and experienced their first deficit of the year, but managed to fight back for a 35-25 victory, for their first-ever win in Manhattan, Kan.
With junior running back Lache Seastrunk having an off day, junior quarterback Bryce Petty stepped up and led the offense.
Petty finished 13-of-22 passing for 342 yards and three touchdowns. Out of the nine incomplete passes, four of them were uncharacteristic drops by Baylor receivers.
Petty has also finished with a rushing touchdown in each of the last four games.
Out of Petty’s passing yards, 94 percent of them were caught by either senior wide receiver Tevin Reese or junior wide receiver Antwan Goodley.
Reese finished with five catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns of 93 yards and 54 yards.
Goodley finished with five receptions for 139 yards and a 72-yard touchdown catch, but also finished with three drops.
“It is great,” Goodley said. “Two years ago, we were up by two, and Kansas State came back and we lost. We still remembered that. So we had to come back here with a chip on our shoulder.”
The rushing attack struggled throughout against Kansas State’s defense, finishing with 114 yards after averaging 349.3 rushing yards per game coming into the contest.
Heisman hopeful Seastrunk received only 12 carries for 59 yards, and was senior running back Glasco Martin received the lion’s share of the carries at the end of the fourth quarter.
“It is all about momentum,” head coach Art Briles said. “They do a great job here in Manhattan and we all know that. With not being in any flow, we only had six offensive snaps in the third quarter. That is our fault. We were not moving the ball and we turned it over.”
Despite their offensive struggles, Baylor still finished with 400 or more yards for the 32nd straight game, the nation’s longest active streak. Texas A&M is a distant second with 17 consecutive games.
Petty pushed his streak of throwing for 300 yards and at least two touchdowns to five straight games in his first five career starts.
Defensively, the Bears struggled against Kansas State’s strong rushing game. The Bears held Kansas State to 118 passing yards, but allowed 327 rushing yards to a team that came in averaging only 155.6 rushing yards per contest.
The Bears had no answer for Kansas State sophomore dual-threat quarterback Daniel Sams. Sams finished with 199 yards rushing on 6.6 yards per attempt and had three touchdowns.
Things went downhill in the third quarter when Kansas State outscored Baylor 15-0. Kansas State kicked a field goal on its first drive, blocked a punt on Baylor’s next drive and then forced a Petty fumble. Both turnovers led to a rushing touchdown from Sams.
Despite the defensive struggles, the embattled unit made plays when it counted.
The Baylor defense held Kansas State scoreless in the fourth quarter after the disastrous third quarter.
The Bears forced a three-and-out on the first drive, but Kansas State missed a chip-in field goal on the next drive, shifting the momentum of the game in Baylor’s favor.
The next drive resulted in senior safety Ahmad Dixon getting his fourth career interception, and senior defensive end Chris McAllister iced the game with a key sack on the final drive of the game.
“Our defense is growing,” junior linebacker Bryce Hager said. “We can stop teams when it comes to that point in the game. When we need a stop our defense can show up.”
Kansas State might have unfurled a formula to beat the Bears by exposing a weakness.
The Wildcats held the ball for two-thirds of the game, slowly and methodically ran down the defense and contained the Baylor running game. Baylor was held to half of its scoring average against K-State.
“Like we said in Tuesday’s press conference, Baylor was a big-play offense and you cannot afford to give up the big plays,” Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder said. “If you take away their big plays, it is a different ballgame.”
Simplifying the game to those keys is a misrepresentation of how Kansas State kept things close.
The Wildcat offensive line played a superb game, creating rushing lanes for a mobile quarterback to take advantage.
Junior KSU defensive end Ryan Mueller played the game of his life with seven tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, a pass breakup, two sacks and a forced fumble against a fantastic Baylor offensive line.
The raucous Kansas State crowd certainly played a central role in Baylor’s miscommunications and early struggles.
The blueprint to beat the Bears is that a team has to win in the trenches against a Baylor team that West Virginia head coach Dana Holgerson said is one of the best he’s ever seen at establishing the line of scrimmage.
The opponent must also hold onto the ball and prevent Baylor’s offense from getting into a rhythm, and must be able to prevent explosive plays from a dominant Baylor receiving corps. Another task is containing the run.
There are very few teams that can do all of those things at the same time in any given football game, if any.
Baylor took Kansas State’s best shot in an incredibly hostile environment, and still managed to win by double-digits, despite the uncharacteristic effort on both sides of the ball.
“We came up here two years ago in the same situation and did not get away with a win,” Briles said. “We came up here today, faced a lot of adversity, and we got a tough win on the road. So I think that shows the direction of our program and the character of our student-athletes.”
After the win, Baylor moved up from No. 15 to No. 12 in both the Associated Press and Coaches Rankings.
The last time the Bears were ranked that high in the polls was in 1991.
The Bears are 5-0 for the first time in that span. The Bears are also 2-0 in Big 12 play for the first time since 2006.
After a win against Iowa State, Texas Tech moved up to No. 16 in the AP poll.
After losing to unranked Texas, Oklahoma fell to 18. Oklahoma State at No. 21 rounds out the Big 12’s ranked teams.
For the first time ever, Baylor is the highest-ranked team in the Big 12 Conference.
Baylor football will play its first game as the highest ranked team in the Big 12 at 6 p.m. Saturday against Iowa State in the final homecoming game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
The game will be nationally broadcast on ESPNU.