Baylor’s defense shines against Wildcats

Baylor cornerback Kalon Barnes, left, breaks up a pass intended for Kansas State wide receiver Malik Knowles, right, during the first half of Baylor’s 31-12 win in Manhattan, Kan. on Saturday. The win marked the Bears’ first Big 12 road victory in two years. Baylor was ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll on Sunday afternoon. Associated Press

By Jessika Harkay | Sports Writer

Baylor’s defense held Kansas State to only one touchdown in its 31-12 win in Manhattan, Kan. on Saturday. After giving up 21 points to Iowa State in the fourth quarter two weeks ago, head coach Matt Rhule and his defensive unit emphasized that it was important to play hard to the last second. And the Bears did just that.

Baylor clinched its second consecutive conference victory, marking the first back-to-back Big 12 win under Rhule. With six sacks, 15 tackles for a total loss of 40 yards and an interception, Baylor’s defense was the highlight of the game. Yet, according to Rhule, it was nothing less than a team effort.

“The biggest thing on our defensive line is the young guys,” Rhule said. “[Junior defensive end] Niadré Zouzoua, [freshman defensive tackle] Gabe Hall and having [freshman defensive tackle] TJ Franklin back today. They’re playing well enough that we don’t have to play the three starters the whole time and wear them down. We knew it was going to take a lot of people to play today against Kansas State, and those guys hung in on their battle.”

The team mentality is something the players can see too, as senior defensive lineman Bravvion Roy added to Rhule’s statement, saying the biggest change in the line is “having a brotherhood like no other.”

“[The biggest difference is] the experience and the amount of trust we have in each other,” Roy said. “We’re just closer than I’ve ever been with a D-Line since I’ve been here.”

The defense held their ground on the field, playing for nearly 37 minutes, including nearly 75% of the third quarter. Ten players contributed to stalling the Wildcats’ momentum, forcing a loss of yardage. The Bears were led by sophomore defensive lineman James Lynch, who had a career-high day with three sacks for 11 yards, and his first career forced fumble.

Lynch wasn’t the only player with a career day, as junior cornerback Grayland Arnold hauled his first interception of the year along with his first career sack.

The Bears tied their program record with six sacks and lead the Big 12 with 18 on the season. Even though Rhule’s team won the “turnover battle,” Roy said he believes there is still room for improvement.

“It can be even more,” Roy said. “We didn’t play to our full potential, and people look at that as a good thing. We know what we can put on tape, so we just have to get that ready for next week.”

Offensively, K-State was led by senior wide receiver Dalton Schoen, who brought in seven receptions for 69 yards. The receiver said it was difficult to gain any momentum after being unable to finish drives in the red zone.

“I feel like negative yard plays are just drive killers, and it’s just hard to come back from that sometimes,” Schoen said. “But you just got to bounce back and get out the next play. But it’s tough offensively when you can’t get the ball in the end zone when your defense is playing like they were.”

The Wildcats’ defense was unable to keep up with the Bears as they only shut out Baylor in the first quarter. As the run game began to establish in the second half, the Bears’ offense finished the afternoon with 194 yards on the ground along with 268 receiving for a total 426 yards of offense.

What looks to be the start of Baylor gaining momentum on both sides of the ball will be tested in their homecoming game this weekend against Texas Tech. The Bears have the opportunity to claim bowl eligibility with a win over the Red Raiders.

Baylor hosts Texas Tech for homecoming at 3 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium.