Tonight, the Baylor Bears will play against the Kansas State Wildcats in an intriguing matchup. While the Bears are riding high in the polls, the game against Kansas State marks the beginning of one of the toughest remaining schedules in the nation.
“There’s a lot of stuff that can happen. We can’t get tied up into that. Our job is to go out and win on the football field,” said head coach Art Briles. “We have a great task in front of us on Thursday night in Manhattan. A great opportunity for us too. We’re very motivated and very excited.”
For Baylor, this will be the first start for true freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham. After a neck injury sidelined starting quarterback Seth Russell for the rest of the season, Stidham was handed the reins of the nation’s top offense. When asked if the offense would change to accommodate Stidham, Briles had a simple response: “That would be no.”
The Stephenville product was Briles’ biggest quarterback commit ever, as he ranked 37th overall in ESPN’s Top 300 high school recruits last season.
Stidham was the second-ranked dual-threat quarterback in that class behind only Kyler Murray, who currently plays for Texas A&M.
Stidham compiled 7,337 total yards and 94 touchdowns during his two-year tenure as the Stephenville signal caller. Although Stidham is just a freshman, Briles believes Stidham is mature beyond his age.
“You go by what you’ve seen and what you feel and what you’ve been subjected to,” Briles said. “That’s what we’ve noticed since being around him. He’s got an old soul. Don’t look at him as that ‘F’ word, because he’s not. He’s a ready quarterback, and that’s the way we look at it.”
Stidham may be an “old soul”, but the fact remains that he is making his very first start in Manhattan tonight. However, nine returning starters on offense surround Stidham, including an offensive line that has played together since week seven of last season.
Starting alongside Stidham is the nation’s third-best running attack. The Bears are averaging 338.3 yards per game on the ground.
Junior running back Shock Linwood has been on a tear this year, rushing 121 times for 974 yards and nine touchdowns. Linwood is the feature back in a Baylor rushing attack that has seen three players rush for at least 400 yards, with Johnny Jefferson at the 399-yard mark.
On the outsides, Baylor has just as electric a receiving core as there is in the nation. Corey Coleman has had a historic run this season, catching 47 balls for 962 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Coleman has been the focus of defenses all season, yet still finds his way to the end zone. Coleman isn’t the only deadly receiver for the Bears. Jay Lee has caught 22 balls for 507 yards and six touchdowns while KD Cannon has reeled in 25 catches for 379 yards and three scores.
Against a Wildcats defense that ranks 84th in the nation by allowing 417 yards per game, Baylor should have a field day. With the explosive offense that Baylor wields against the weak Kansas State defense, Stidham and company look to perform up to Baylor’s high offensive standards.
The Bears have been steadily improving, gaining momentum in order to face the tough remaining schedule. With the health of Andrew Billings in question, the Bears defense could be without perhaps their best player.
“He’s close. I don’t know about full speed,” Briles said. “I would classify him as in the low 90s [percent healthy], which is full speed enough for us. We like his presence. We like his attitude. We certainly like his ability.”
The junior defensive tackle has been one of the best in the nation so far this season. Billings has registered 21 tackles, including eight for loss. His presence in the middle is key to the Bears’ success against both the rush and pass. Without Billings to clog things up in the middle, expect junior Byron Bonds to make the start.
The Bears defense will be in for a treat against the Kansas State offense. The Wildcats have been abysmal this season, averaging just 315 yards per game. That total is good enough for 121st in the nation and last in the Big 12. With a stagnant offensive attack, the Bears could have their best game of the season.
While the rankings may not show it on paper, Kansas State is a dangerous team nonetheless.
Coached by Bill Snyder, the Wildcats are notorious for playing sound football on offense, defense and special teams. Although Oklahoma thrashed Kansas State 55-0 earlier this season, Baylor has no reason to write off tonight’s game as an automatic, blowout win.
“They’re a good football team. We have a lot of respect for that football team and for that program, and if you don’t, then you don’t understand football and you don’t understand programs,” said Briles.
Kickoff against the Wildcats is set for 6:30 p.m. tonight in Manhattan, Kan. Coverage for the game will be provided by Fox Sports 1.