The last thing Kansas State wants is a track meet with Baylor.
Don’t expect the No. 5-ranked Bears to willingly oblige.
With an offense built for speed and a defense adept at stopping the run, Baylor is well equipped to force the issue tonight when No. 9 K-State visits Waco, Texas, with a share of the Big 12 title on the line. Kickoff is set for 6:45 at brand-new McLane Stadium.
The Bears (10-1) and Wildcats (9-2) will share the national spotlight with ESPN’s College GameDay on hand as well, and the winner will at least tie for a league championship. K-State, Baylor and TCU all are 7-1 heading into the final weekend of the regular season with TCU (10-1) closing out at home against last-place Iowa State today.
“That’s going to be cool,” K-State quarterback Jake Waters said of the national exposure. “I’ve always watched the College GameDay, and I’ve always wanted to play and be the team they’re talking about.
“For them to be there this week is a great feeling in a way, but it also puts a lot of pressure on us. There’s no way around it, we need to go out and perform because it’s such a big game.”
The Wildcats have not fared well against Baylor in recent games, dropping two in a row and three of the last four. Two years ago in Waco, the Bears effectively killed K-State’s national championship hopes with a late-season 52-24 beating.
Job one for the Wildcats is to slow down a high-powered Baylor offense that leads the nation with 581.1 yards per game and a 49.8-point scoring average. The Bears also rank in the top 20 in both passing (sixth) and rushing (18th).
“They’re very fast at what they do,” K-State linebacker Jonathan Truman said. “Their tempo is second to none and they’ve got not only a great (offensive) line up front, but all their skill positions are always able to make big plays.”
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, who ranks third in the Big 12 in total offense with 302 yards per game, is expected to play tonight after suffering a mild concussion in last week’s 48-46 victory over Texas Tech. He went through a full practice Thursday but was still being monitored.
The Bears have a dangerous receiving corps, led by sophomore Corey Coleman with 53 catches for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns in just eight games. KD Cannon has 47 receptions for 800 and Antwan Goodley 42 for 621 in nine contests.
“From that perspective, we have to be able to defend against the long throws and long plays, and we didn’t do that very well last year,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said of Baylor’s big-play threats. “They had an 83-yarder and a 72-yarder and a 53-yarder — somewhere in that category.
“Three very significant offensive plays in the course of the ballgame and it was the difference in the ballgame because you don’t get those back. So we have to be able to eliminate big plays.”
But Baylor, which edged the Wildcats, 35-25, last year in Manhattan, also averages 240.9 yards rushing, led by sophomore running back Shock Linwood with 1,135 and 15 touchdowns.
“They can do what they want by running it on the ground and throwing it through the air and they’re very good at either of those two, so we just have to do well in our preparation throughout the whole week and execute,” Truman said. “It’s going to be a big challenge for us and we’re excited for it.”
K-State’s formula for success under Snyder has been to counter faster-paced opponents with a deliberate ball control offense. But this year’s Wildcats have struggled in the running game, ranking 89th nationally with 146.5 yards per game, and they’re facing a Baylor defense that’s No. 10 against the run at 108.1.
Should they get into a shootout, at least the Wildcats have thrown the ball effectively even as their running game declined. They now rank 22nd nationally with 281.6 yards through the air behind Waters and one of the nation’s most prolific receiving duos in Tyler Lockett and Curry Sexton.
Also, Texas Tech threw for 609 yards and racked up 712 total yards last week against what had been a solid Baylor defense, though Waters cautioned against reading too much into that.
“We watched the film and Texas Tech was making play after play after play,” Waters said. “(Baylor has) a good defense.
“Their defensive coordinator (Phil Bennett) is great and their front four and linebackers are good, too. So we’re expecting them to play a lot better.”