The football team (4-4) will head to Waco, Texas, on Saturday to take on the Baylor Bears (1-5) in a game that features two teams in the bottom half of the Big 12 Conference standings.
The Bears sit at 1-5 on the season, all of which are Big 12 games because of early-season COVID-19 problems that nullified their non-conference schedule. Their lone win came in the first game of their season, a 47-14 whopping of Kansas.
Kansas State head coach Chris Klieman said at his press conference on Tuesday that the record may not be indicative of how good Baylor is. The Wildcat’s lead man pointed out that the Bears were very competitive in three of those losses, including leading most of the game against Texas Tech in the team’s most recent loss.
The head coach for Baylor is Dave Aranda, who had the unenviable task of taking over his first head coaching job just before a global pandemic. He was previously the defensive coordinator for the National Championship-winning Louisiana State Tigers last season.
The signal-caller for Baylor is senior Charlie Brewer — a four-year starter who is not super consistent. However, when he’s on, he can be a top-tier Big 12 quarterback. Brewer throws an accurate short game, but he does not pose much of a deep threat despite his arm strength.
In offensive coordinator Larry Fedora’s spread offense, Brewer is responsible for distributing the ball to his playmakers in space. He is capable of that and displays leadership and toughness on the field.
Junior receiver RJ Sneed leads the team in receiving yards and sits at seventh in the Big 12 with just over 58 yards per game. With 27 receptions on the year, he is Brewer’s favorite target.
The Bears are a little beaten up at running back right now. Sophomore Craig Williams was ruled out for the season after an injury against Iowa State and senior John Lovett was held out in their last game against Texas Tech.
Lovett was back at practice this week, but he may share the ball with senior Trestan Ebner on Saturday. The Bears average around 107 rushing yards per game, which is dead last in the Big 12.
Baylor is banged up on defense too. An injury in the Iowa State game left the Bears without the conference’s best tackler — junior linebacker Terrel Bernard. The pre-season All-Big 12 tackler was averaging 11 tackles per game prior to his injury.
The Bears’ 3-3-5 defense is interesting because, not only does it utilize a safety-linebacker hybrid, but it also features a linebacker-defensive end hybrid — called, in this case, a jack linebacker.
The jack typically lines up like a stand-up defensive end and helps the Bears get a four-man pass rush and bolster the rush defense while offering a more athletic option to drop into pass coverage if needed.
Holding down the other end of the defensive line is graduate transfer William Bradley-King, who gets 0.58 sacks per game. That makes the Arkansas State transfer the ninth-best quarterback rusher in the conference.
K-State’s offense has struggled to move the ball on the ground or in the air this season, but if the run game is ever going to get back on track, this will be the Wildcat’s best chance for it to happen. Baylor’s rush defense ranks eighth in the Big 12 and is the worst one left on K-State’s schedule.
Freshman running back Deuce Vaughn and the rest of the running backs have a chance to break out against the Bears. Vaughn and company will have to do so for K-State to stand a chance at winning.
Third and long
K-State needs to have success on early downs on both sides of the ball. That’s a blanket statement that applies to every team and every game, but it will be especially important this week.
Neither team is likely to have explosive offensive plays, so the team that can manage to stay on the field on third down and get the other team’s offense off the field will have a great chance to win.
Perform in the red zone
K-State has a better red-zone offense and defense than Baylor. K-State gets a score of some sort on 92 percent of its visits and only gives up scores 77 percent of the time. Baylor scores 76 percent of their visits and concedes 84 percent of the time.
K-State needs to get into the end zone when it manages a red zone trip. Frankly, K-State cannot afford to leave a single point on the field with the way its offense has played as of late.
PREDICTION: K-State’s offense manages to move the ball on the ground, and that frees up the passing game a little bit. The return of a couple of key players helps K-State win 21-17.