By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
The No. 9 Baylor Bears are closing out the regular season on the road against Kansas and according to head coach Matt Rhule, this is the biggest game of the year.
“The day of our guys thinking, ‘This is a big game because we are playing these guys,’ that’s gone — It has been gone all year,” Rhule said. “It’s a big game because we are playing in it and this is the biggest game this season and the preparation so far has felt that way and will continue to feel that way.”
Kansas (3-8, 1-7) may be the Big 12’s cellar dweller, but that doesn’t mean it’s a team that can be brushed over. The Jayhawks trounced Boston College in non-conference and managed a homecoming win over Texas Tech. They also took the fight to Texas in a three-point loss and put up major points against Iowa State.
Kansas is nearing the end of a transition year with the legendary “Mad Hatter” at the helm of the program. After watching Les Miles win championships throughout his young coaching career, Rhule is sure the Jayhawks’ first-year coach still has some tricks up his sleeve.
“I love college football and I love college football coaches,” Rhule said. “As a young coach I was watching ‘The Mad Hatter’ with tremendous respect. He has been good to me the times that I have met him and I am looking forward to having a chance to compete against him.”
Baylor’s elite defense will have to focus on limiting plays out of Jayhawks running back Pooka Williams Jr., who had more rushing yards (154) against the Cyclones last Saturday than all of Baylor’s offense (104) had in the conference opener.
Miles praised Williams’ running ability in his Monday press conference.
“All you have to do is watch Pooka run one run and you realize that he is a special individual,” Miles said. “He’s got a quick first step and his change of direction is better than I have ever seen.”
Rhule said Williams is the one player in the Big 12 that his team might have the most respect for.
“He’s just dynamic,” Rhule said. “Coach [Phil] Snow made a highlight film of him for the defense at the beginning of the week and it was scary.”
The Bears will also have to continue pressuring the quarterback as they have throughout the season. Kansas senior QB Carter Stanley is a patient guy according to Rhule and will “take what you give him.” Stanley threw a season-high 415 yards and went 26-for-27 in completions in the Jayhawks’ only conference win against the Red Raiders.
On the other side of the ball, Baylor might have to change its strategy and limit the quarterback run. With a “banged up” Charlie Brewer and a Kansas defense that likes to play physical, Rhule said establishing the run will be more of a challenge.
“They’re a well put together defense,” Rhule said. “I like teams that play that way — that kind of try to knock you back and stop the run and try to overload you in terms of leverages. We’re kind of an inside zone team. That’s kind of what they’re built to take away.”
With a win over the Jayhawks, the Bears will have 11 wins and a shared regular season Big 12 title if the Sooners get out of Stillwater, Okla. with a win as well. The symmetry of Baylor’s current record compared to two years ago doesn’t escape the third-year head coach.
“I told our guys there’s not many times in life that you’re going to have a chance to win 11 games,” Rhule said. “ It’s an opportunity for us to go 1-0 this week — go on the road and understanding the symmetry of being 1-11 the first year and have a chance to be 11-1 is certainly not lost on me or our guys.”
The Bears will face the Jayhawks at 2:30 p.m. in Lawrence, Kan. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.