By Jessika Harkay | Sports writer, Video by Drake Toll | Broadcast Reporter
Traveling to Manhattan Kan., this weekend, Baylor football has the opportunity to clinch their first away conference win since November 2017.
In Big 12 play last year, the Bears couldn’t hold on to a road win — falling 23-17 to Texas, 28-14 against Iowa State and 16-9 to TCU. The last conference victory on the road for Baylor came against Kansas in 2017 (38-9), which was also the Bears’ only win of the season that year.
Coming off their first conference victory of the season against Iowa State last week (23-21), head coach Matt Rhule said he’s put that game behind him and is focusing on the challenge ahead.
“You have to really be mentally dialed in and focused, and locked into doing your job to win on the road,” Rhule said. “There’s a lot of distractions there. You know when you’re at home everyone is cheering for you, but when you’re on the road, you got to be locked into the details of your job.”
What Rhule described as “dialing in” will be important, as Kansas State in week five checked in at No. 24 in USA Today’s weekly polls before being bumped off in week six after a 26-13 loss to Oklahoma State.
The matchup will be a test for Baylor’s defense as the Wildcats’s quarterback, redshirt freshman Skylar Thompson, has a 62% completion rating with 151 throwing yards per game. On the ground, Kansas State averages 241.5 rushing yards, typically racking up around 36 points against opponents.
In contrast, the Bears are second in the Big 12 with defensive yards allowed per carry (3.13) and have held opponents to an average of less than 103 rushing yards. Yet, of the 65 points scored against Baylor this season, 45 have come in the fourth quarter alone.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Terrel Bernard said the key for the defense to hold the Wildcats and shut down their offense is to model this week’s game similar to Iowa State and learn from their errors.
“[Thompson]’s pretty similar to [Brock Purdy]. They’re both really mobile, they both have strong arms,” Bernard said. “[We] just got exposed a little in the fourth quarter. We’re playing hard. We’re playing physical and stuff, it’s just little mistakes here and there that showed up.”
Bernard’s veteran teammate, junior linebacker Jalen Pitre, agreed, saying that the defensive team has to “work on putting the game away.”
“I think that’s a big emphasis for the defense, that just going forward, just finishing the fourth quarter as strong as we started,” Pitre said. “That killer instinct is something we’re trying to instill into the defense.”
Last year the Bears knocked off the Wildcats 37-34 after scoring 17 fourth-quarter points. But Kansas State is a different team this year under first year head coach Chris Klieman, who previously led North Dakota State to a 15-0 record in 2018. Although there’s changes on both sides of play for K-State, Rhule said the Wildcats philosophy of playing tough looks the same.
“Defensively they’re a lot more man coverage, different pressure packages […] a lot of the same guys but different defense,” Rhule said. “A lot of the same philosophy. A lot of the same players, who we know how good they are.”
The game will kick off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.