By Tyler Cagle, Sports Writer
After beginning the 2015 season 4-0, the No. 3-ranked Baylor Bears will travel to Lawrence, Kan., to take on the Kansas Jayhawks on Saturday.
“Anytime you go on the road to play a conference opponent, you see that it’s tough,” said head coach Art Briles. “That’s just the way it is. It’s always tough. It doesn’t matter what’s gone on prior, you have to go and win for those 60 minutes.”
What’s “gone on” prior to this week is that Kansas has been one of the nation’s worst defenses.
The Jayhawks are allowing 535 yards of offense and 40.3 points per game. Baylor comes into the contest with the nation’s top offense, scoring 63.8 points per game.
“You can’t go to sleep on Kansas because they’ll play up and beat you. They usually have that one game a year where they beat somebody or it’s close. We don’t want that to be us, so we have to stay focused,” said left tackle Spencer Drango.
Drango said the Jayhawks have a history of surprising results over the years, including an overtime thriller against the Bears in 2012. That game ended on a failed two-point conversion attempt.
Last season, the Jayhawks almost defeated a very good TCU squad that, at the time, ranked in the top 10. Kansas lost that game by just four points.
Drango said he is cautious of the possibility of that history repeating itself against Kansas.
The Jayhawks could very well play their game of the season against the Bears. It still may not be enough to overcome the Bears, though.
Baylor is the nation’s second-ranked rushing offense, averaging 376.8 yards per game.
Leading the charge for the Bears is junior running back Shock Linwood. Linwood has run all over opposing defenses this season, running for 584 yards and six touchdowns.
Linwood isn’t the only capable back in Baylor’s offense, though. Sophomore running back Johnny Jefferson and freshman running back Terence Williams have each run for over 275 yards as well.
Junior running back Devin Chafin could also return against the Jayhawks after suffering from a hamstring injury early in the season.
The speed of Jefferson and Williams brings a welcome shift from the more power-oriented running style of Linwood.
“It keeps us in a good rotation, and it also puts pressure on the defense because we each have a different style of running. They have to adjust to that every time we rotate in the game,” Linwood said.
Defensively, the Bears have played very well so far this season, allowing 26 points per game in 2015.
However, the Bears’ defense allows almost 400 yards per game as well, something on which many of the defensive players have said they must improve.
“Against a team like Texas Tech, who could run a lot of plays, it felt good getting out there and limiting them to 35 points. A lot of the mistakes we made were self-inflicted, so after watching film yesterday, the good thing is we can correct those mistakes and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes against Kansas,” said Travon Blanchard.
Blanchard plays the nickelback position in the Baylor defense, a hybrid between the linebacker and safety positions, which requires major athleticism and understanding on the field.
Blanchard forced a fumble and intercepted a pass last week against Texas Tech.
“If you win the turnover battle and win the field position battle, normally you are going to have the momentum and you are going to win the game,” Briles said.
The Bears have forced 10 turnovers so far in 2015, allowing the nation’s best offense to go to work.
However, Baylor must also concentrate on securing the ball, as Kansas has forced seven turnovers in just four games played this season.
With the real meat of their schedule looming, Baylor must figure out a way to limit their turnovers while also playing sound defense.
The game is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday in Lawrence, the earliest kickoff for the Bears this season.
Joshua Davis (@jdavis_second) will be in Kansas for #BUvKU. Follow him on Twitter for updates from the stadium.