By Shehan Jeyarajah
With Oklahoma losing last week in the Red River Rivalry, Baylor moved up to 12th in the country in both the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Polls, which is the highest the Bears have been since 1991. For the first time in the 16-year history of the Big 12, Baylor is the highest ranked team in the conference.
The Baylor Bears will look to prove they belong at the front of the pack as they play Iowa State in the final homecoming game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
Looking in the context of previous homecomings, Baylor is clearly at a special place in its history. In homecoming games, Baylor is 42-43-4. Yes, there have been more Homecoming football losses than there have been wins. In the Art Briles era, Baylor has started a winning homecoming tradition.
“Anytime you get in conference play, anything can happen,” head football coach Art Briles said. “Everybody’s got history with each other. Iowa State is a good, tough football team that plays extremely well.”
Despite playing a challenging game against Kansas State last Saturday, Baylor still leads all of college football with 714.4 yards per game and 63.4 points per game. The passing and rushing attacks each are top four in the country with 412.2 yards passing per game and 302.2 yards rushing per game.
Junior quarterback Bryce Petty has stepped right in line to become the next stellar Baylor quarterback. He is ninth in college football both in passing yards per game and completion percentage. Petty also leads the NCAA in yards per attempt at 14.9. The next highest player averages only 11.7 yards per attempt. To top things off, Petty has rushed for a touchdown in each of the last four games. Despite coming in as an unknown, there is no doubt that Petty is establishing himself as a Heisman contender.
Junior running back Lache Seastrunk’s statistics are among the best running backs in college football. He is averaging 129.6 yards per game, despite having less than 10 second half rushing attempts on the season. Seastrunk leads all running backs in yards per attempt with a 10.0 yards per carry.
The wide receiver tandem of junior Antwan Goodley and senior Tevin Reese are statistically among the NCAA’s best. Goodley is second in receiving yards per game with 133.8 yards per game. Reese is right behind at seventh, averaging 121.8 yards per game. They are the only teammates in all of football to both average 100 yards per game of receiving.
Goodley and Reese also rank first and second respectively on the yards per reception list. Goodley leads the nation with 26.8 yards per reception. Reese averages 26.5 yards per catch. Reese also has the fifth-longest reception of the season in the NCAA: a 93-yard touchdown grab against West Virginia. Goodley isn’t far off; his 83-yard grab ties him for 14th on the season.
“At the end of the day, it’s about Baylor for us,” Petty said. “From an offensive standpoint, it’s always about us going out to execute, us going out to produce the way we know how. It starts with practice the week before. It starts with game planning and watching film.”
The defensive side of the ball has been much improved this season after the horrendous defense played for most of last season. The Bears rank 24th overall in total defense, holding teams to only 346.0 yards of offense per game.
While Baylor’s defense under third-year defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has not been an elite containment defense, the Bears have been opportunistic. The defense averages 2.5 takeaways per game during the last 22 games, and in that span are 18-4. In games in which the Bears record two or more takeaways, Baylor is 19-2.
The front seven have impressed early for Baylor. The Bears defense is fourth in the nation in tackles for loss with 9.0 per game.
Sophomore defensive end Shawn Oakman is individually eighth in the country with 1.8 tackles for loss per game. The Bears also have 16 sacks, which ranks 10th in the nation and second in the Big 12.
Iowa State comes into this game searching for its first win in Big 12 play after losing the first two in heartbreaking fashion to Texas and No. 20 Texas Tech. The Cyclones also had a bad loss to Iowa and a terrible loss in their opener to FCS opponent Northern Iowa.
The Cyclones have struggled this season mightily on the defensive end. They rank 101 out of 123 in total defense, allowing opponents to average 447.6 yards per game. The Cyclones also rank 87 in points against, allowing 29.8 points per contest. The Iowa State offense has not been strong enough to make up for its poor defense.
The Cyclones rank 81st in total offense per game with 387.4 yards and rank 74 in football in points per game with only 28.8 points per game.
Sophomore quarterback Sam Richardson has been relatively effective as the starting quarterback for Iowa State despite not having many weapons around him to work with. Other than a bad day at Texas Tech last week, he is averaging 254.8 yards per game, 2.3 touchdowns and an interception per game on 62.3 percent completion percentage. He is currently struggling with injury woes, but plans to play on Saturday.
Despite Richardson at quarterback, Iowa State ranks 84 in rushing yards with only 150.0 rushing yards per game, and are 74 in scoring with 28.8 yards per game. The rushing game can be described as inconsistent at best.
“Iowa State is willing to take chances,” senior safety Ahmad Dixon said. “They play like they have nothing to lose. We know they’re going to test our secondary. Last year when we went up to Ames, Iowa, we didn’t do a good job controlling the secondary. We have to come back out and show them that this is not the same secondary we had last year.”
Iowa State is a team hungry for a win after losing two close games to Texas (by one point) and No. 20 Texas Tech (by one touchdown). Unfortunately for the Cyclones, Baylor is not going to give them that opportunity. The Bears average 70.5 points per game at home, and Iowa State has one of the worst defenses in the Big 12. Even a Herculean effort from Richardson will not be enough to even stay competitive with a Baylor team looking to prove a point on its home turf for homecoming.
Baylor football will play Iowa State at 6 p.m. Saturday in the final homecoming football game at Floyd Casey Stadium.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.