(TNS) — It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this game for Kansas. With a victory, the narrative of the 2017 season changes drastically even after an immensely disappointing start. A loss, though, and the Jayhawks would all but secure a last-place finish in the Big 12 while giving more ammunition to fans who believe that some sort of offseason change is needed.
KU key to success: Don’t get killed on special teams. KU outplayed Kansas State on both offense and defense last week, but it didn’t matter because the Jayhawks were so poor on special teams in a 10-point loss. Opponents have scored on return touchdowns in three straight weeks against KU — the kind of production that is unacceptable for Kansas coach David Beaty in his third year and also special teams coach Joe DeForest in his second.
Baylor key to success: Create big plays. Baylor’s offense isn’t good at stringing first downs together, but it has had success with getting chunk yardage in the passing game. The winless Bears are tied for second nationally with 15 40-plus-yard passing plays this season, and they’ll be testing a KU secondary that has had its share of issues.
Baylor player to watch: Receiver Denzel Mims is the go-to guy offensively, and he has nearly triple the yardage (727) of any other Baylor wideout. He also has four 40-plus-yard catches this season, which is tied for second-most among FBS players.
Key matchup: KU quarterback Carter Stanley against Baylor’s pass defense. Stanley threw for 418 yards last week, which was the most by a KU quarterback since Todd Reesing in 2009. He also gave KU’s offense some much-needed energy that appeared to inspire teammates. What he must guard against, though, is the costly mistake, as carelessness with fumbles and interceptions have been his biggest weakness through two seasons in Lawrence.
Jesse Newell’s prediction: Kansas 31, Baylor 28. This is a rare opportunity for KU, as the Jayhawks don’t often get to face a Big 12 team that has fallen to Baylor’s depths. The Bears are 114th in Bill Connelly’s S&P+ advanced ranking (KU is 122nd), which means even with the struggles of this season, the Jayhawks should compete in Saturday’s home game. Center Mesa Ribordy’s return was a huge positive for KU last week, and Stanley’s leadership and production seemed to get the Jayhawks’ offense back to early-season form. If the defense continues its gradual improvement, and kicker Gabriel Rui can remain consistent with field goals, KU should have a great chance to get its first conference win.