By Michael Haag | Sports Editor, Braden Murray | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor football avoided a three-game losing streak and held off a second half effort by the University of Kansas, winning 35-23 Saturday morning at McLane Stadium during Homecoming weekend.
The Bears (4-3, 2-2 Big 12) put their foot down early, as they hoisted a 28-3 lead over the Jayhawks (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) by halftime. But 20 unanswered second half points from KU cut Baylor’s lead with nearly six and a half minutes left in the game.
In a gut-check moment for the Bears, they responded with a seven-play, 69-yard drive to put the game away.
“To build that and close out the game when it’s needed was good to see, but we would all like to not be in that situation again,” head coach Dave Aranda said.
Freshman running back Richard Reese got his first career start and exploded for over 200 yards from scrimmage.
Reese had 186 rushing yards on 31 attempts to go with two scores. It was career-highs in both yards and carries. The 31 rushes were also the most for a Baylor athlete since Terrance Ganaway had 42 versus Texas Tech University in 2011.
“There’s a humbleness about him and there’s just a matter-of-factness about him,” Aranda said of Reese. “And when you put both of those things together, then you can see the journey that he’s had from where he started to where he is now. If he can keep that humbleness about him — which I’m sure he will — and he can continue to have a learner’s mindset and really apply it, sky’s the limit for him. We’re way excited that he’s on our side.”
Sophomore quarterback Blake Shapen struggled on Saturday, completing 17 of 26 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown but two interceptions. Shapen also committed a costly fumble early in the third quarter, making it back-to-back games he coughed up the football.
“There’s improvement he can have with his ball security, for sure,” Aranda said. “There’s also decision-making improvement. Both of those are kind of combining for the turnovers that we’re seeing. I know out of everybody, it hits Blake the hardest. And I know he’s going to work really hard to improve on it.”
The Bears took the early lead, capitalizing on the Jayhawks’ mistakes. KU shanked a punt following a three-and-out on its opening drive. That led to a 14-yard touchdown reception for sophomore wideout Monaray Baldwin.
Redshirt freshman linebacker Jackie Marshall then forced and came up with a fumble, putting Baylor right back in business. This time, Reese darted up the middle for a 14-yard score to extend the Bears’ lead, 14-0.
The Jayhawks marched back and drilled a 30-yard field goal to trim their deficit, but those three first quarter points would be all they’d get for the first half. Baylor’s next drive featured some uniqueness, as redshirt freshman backup quarterback Kyron Drones entered the game near the goal line and plunged forward from four yards out.
It was the second rushing touchdown of Drones’ career, who came in for the injured Shapen a week ago.
After both team’s traded possessions a few times, including one of Shapen’s picks, Baylor put together a back-breaking 15-play, 99-yard drive. It was freshman wide receiver Jordan Nabors who cashed in from ten yards out, sprinting down the left sideline for the rushing touchdown.
The Bears had another chance to score before the end of the half, but Shapen tossed his second interception of the game in the red zone.
KU came out of the intermission with 20 unanswered points, exposing a Baylor defense that held it to 61 total yards of offense in the first half.
The Jayhawks first scored on a two-yard rush up the gut before redshirt super senior slinger Jason Bean threw a 24-yard dart to make it 28-16 after a failed two-point conversion. The Bears were then stuffed on a fourth-and-one, and KU was back in business.
Bean scampered just inside of the left pylon, making it a 28-23 ballgame with six and a half minutes remaining. Needing points for insurance, Baylor came up huge with the game-sealing long drive that saw Reese score from two yards out.
“It felt good,” fifth-year senior tight end Ben Sims said of the drive. “We really didn’t have a choice. We had to do that. But it feels good. And with an offensive line and a couple of tight ends and a strong back all working as one, there’s no other feeling like it.”
The Jayhawks’ head coach Lance Leipold was complimentary of the Bears’ rushing attack following the game.
“They do a really good job with their zone scheme and things like that and how they are able to add gaps at times,” Leipold said. “But also their stretch play and the play action off of it. We’re running laterally a lot but we’re also losing ground sometimes, you can see on replays.”
Fifth-year senior linebacker Dillon Doyle said it was an important win for the team but that there’s still lots of areas to improve.
“Definitely some things there that we need to look at and improve upon if we want to go where we want to go,” Doyle said. “Just knowing that, trying not to get too high off of this win, because Kansas is a good football team. They had an unbelievable start to the year, and we respected them quite a bit coming in here.”
The Bears now look ahead to a nighttime road contest versus Texas Tech University. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. on ESPN2.