By Nathan Keil | Sports Writer
After enjoying their first of two bye weeks, the Baylor football team returns to action Saturday as it hosts the Kansas Jayhawks for homecoming at McLane Stadium. The bye week allowed the Bears to relax, get healthy, and re-focus after two difficult games against Oklahoma State and Iowa State.
Perhaps more important than the physical rest, was the mental break the Bears got to enjoy this last week of not having to play a game.
“I think it’s been pretty good for our kids mentally with two really tough, physical football games and stressful games,” said Jim Grobe, the acting head coach. “It was good to relax and take some time off.”
Baylor will now turn its attention to the Kansas Jayhawks, who enter the game 1-4 overall, and 0-2 in Big 12 play. However, the Jayhawks enter McLane Stadium after playing their most complete game against TCU. After rotating quarterbacks throughout the first four games of the season, Kansas seems to have found its pick in sophomore Ryan Willis who completed 31 of 45 passes for 348 yards in their 24-23 loss to the Horned Frogs. Sophomore wide receiver Steven Sims Jr. and junior wide receiver LaQuivonte Gonzalez are the favorite targets of Willis, tallying 413 and 349 yards respectively while contributing six touchdowns.
As far along as the offense has come this season for the Jayhawks, the thing that has impressed Grobe the most has been their defensive tenacity and their ability to explode to the football.
“The things I like about Kansas is the way their defense chases the football. They fly around and get a lot of people to the ball. They play really hard defensively,” Grobe said. “They’re very aggressive. They like to blitz and bring pressure and mix things up. I like they’re scheme. They’re fundamentally coached really well, and you can tell they’re very fundamentally sound defensively. They did everything against TCU but win the football game.”
Kansas head coach David Beaty knows the plethora of talent Baylor possesses and the challenge they present for his Jayhawk team.
“They’re aggressive and physical,” Beaty said at his weekly press conference. “Our guys have had really good practices the last two days, I know they’re excited to get back out on the field.”
Baylor hopes to re-establish the aerial attack of Russell and company after the Bears threw for a season low 178 yards on 12 completions. The return of junior wide receiver KD Canon might serve as the perfect remedy for the Bears as Grobe confirmed that he expects Canon to be healthy and full strength for Saturday’s affair.
The Bears also hope to see senior running back Shock Linwood pick up where he left off after his 237 yard performance against the Cyclones. According to Grobe, he has earned the right to start and see the majority of snaps.
“That was Shock being Shock,” Russell said. “He’s here, he knows what his role is, and it was huge for him to step up in that way for us.”
However, Baylor will continue to use their balanced run attack with Linwood’s youthful counterparts, sophomore running back Terence Williams and redshirt freshman JaMychal Hasty, both of whom are having productive seasons in the back field.
Baylor will also look to take advantage of Kansas mistakes offensively as the Jayhawks have turned the ball over 17 times in their five games this season. The Baylor defense will look to be aggressive, as it has been all year, to try take advantage of this Jayhawk trend.
Baylor, after watching Kansas give TCU a scare and surviving a scare of their own against Iowa State, will not take the Jayhawks lightly.
“They’re definitely a different ball club from last year for sure. They fly around, they’re doing good things on defense, and we just have to focus on what we do and play better football,” Russell said. “Coaches are going to have a good scheme going into it. As long as we execute it, we’ll be okay.”
For Baylor, their defense has been at its best in the fourth quarter, outscoring their opponents 45-0 and eliminating any chance of a comeback.
“I think it’s reflective of a team that knows how to finish, and that’s a tribute to our coaches and our players,” Grobe said.
If Jayhawks hope to escape Waco with a win, they’ll have to score early and often or somehow manage to find their way into the end zone in the fourth quarter, something that has yet to be done this year.
With a win against Kansas, the Bears will reach six wins, making them bowl eligible for the seventh consecutive season. Although it is far from the Bears’ ultimate goal, it is a step in the right direction and the continual growth of a program that struggled for many years.
The Bears defeated the Jayhawks last year in Lawrence, 66-7. The two teams are set to kickoff at 2:30 p.m at McLane Stadium. The game will air on FS1.