By Michael Haag | Sports Editor
Through the first three games of conference play, the odds of Baylor football making it back to Arlington were seemingly all but dwindled away. Back-to-back losses had the Bears on the outside looking in, expected to not hit the mark on preseason predictions to repeat as Big 12 champions.
But a three-game win streak, highlighted by two consecutive road wins, has Baylor (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) back in the driver’s seat with the ability to control its own destiny. The Bears’ final three opponents are No. 19 Kansas State University, No. 4 Texas Christian University and No. 18 University of Texas.
The top four teams in the conference consist of those three teams along with Baylor. TCU can clinch a Big 12 championship game berth with a win this weekend at Texas, but the other spot is open for the taking. The green and gold needs to win out, and it starts with a nighttime matchup against Kansas State (6-3, 4-2 Big 12) this Saturday at McLane Stadium.
“What a challenge we have in front of us,” head coach Dave Aranda said. “Looking forward to recognizing where we’re at and what’s at stake, and excited to tackle it.”
Saturday’s 6 p.m. contest marks the first time the Bears have played host for a Big 12 night game since Nov. 28, 2020 when the Wildcats came to Waco. That was before McLane Stadium was back to full capacity due to COVID-19.
Sophomore quarterback Blake Shapen urged students and fans to show out this weekend. He said the team could really use a strong home field advantage in order to keep the team’s Big 12 title chances alive.
“We need to have as many fans as we can get out to the game,” Shapen said. “It’s going to be a night game — it’s going to be a big game. We need everyone there. We’re on a roll, and we got to keep it going.”
Senior kicker Noah Rauschenberg said the team “expects a lot” from the Baylor faithful this weekend and that “we hope they can make a difference in this game.”
The Wildcats are coming off a loss to Texas in Manhattan, Kan., but have won four of their last six games, highlighted by a 48-0 rout of Oklahoma State University on Oct. 29. Some of those games were with their backup quarterback, junior Will Howard. KSU’s starter, senior Adrian Martinez, is back though, having played versus the Longhorns last week.
Martinez had over 300 yards passing and totaled three touchdowns, tossing a lone pick. Aranda said he saw “a lot of good things on tape” regarding Martinez’ outing.
“He’s definitely a threat and someone we totally see,” Aranda said.
Martinez is a dual-threat quarterback, as he’s posted 617 yards on 106 rushes this season. He has thrown for 1,236 yards and six touchdowns to just one interception.
The Wildcats certainly gain from Martinez’ rushing ability, but their biggest threat comes in the form of junior tailback Deuce Vaughn, a sure-fire NFL prospect and one of the best backs in all of college football. Vaughn has amassed 975 yards on 173 carries (108.3 yards per game) to go with five touchdowns.
Aranda spoke highly of Vaughn and his ability, as he said that’s a given. But Aranda also noted how KSU does “a great job of creating angles and getting leverage for their run game.”
The third-year head coach said K-State will alter its gameplan week by week, looking quite different each time. He said the Wildcats make it hard to scout against because opponents don’t know exactly what they’re getting.
Aranda found a way to create an analogy for this with food.
“There’s not a lot of prepackaged meals,” Aranda said. “You’re not in the drive thru; you’re going to have to pull off to the side and wait a little bit because they’re cooking it right there.”
Aranda called the K-State ground game “to this date, the best running attack we’ve faced for sure.”
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Josh Cameron said the team is ready for the upcoming challenge, especially after executing on the road the last two weeks.
“Even in practice today, the energy level was probably the highest it’s been this whole season,” Cameron said. “Everybody was coming together, flying around. I’d say we’re really confident right now.”
Kickoff between Baylor and Kansas State is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday at McLane Stadium and will be broadcast on FS1. The Bears are riding high off their second-ever win in Norman, Okla., against the University of Oklahoma.
Shapen said the team has been able to string together some tough wins because of the slow start to conference play. He said those early losses left a bitter taste in their mouths and that they do what it takes to prevent that.
“That just shows how close we are as a team,” Shapen said. “We’ve faced so many different obstacles and struggles throughout the season. We’ve lost some games that we feel like we should have won. We’ve got that feeling; we’ve had that feeling. That only makes us know that that feeling can happen again and we do our best to not let that happen again.”
- Regarding the flu issues that arose late last week, Aranda said “as it stands now, we’re in good standing.” He did add that the current status is similar to how it was last week before the game against OU. He said the team is placing an even stronger emphasis on washing hands and routine cleaning.
- Sophomore wide receiver Monaray Baldwin (hamstring) was limited last week as a precautionary measure. Aranda said he feels like Baldwin will “be in really good shape for this next one.”