The Kansas State Wildcats take the field at Bill Snyder Family Stadium one last time for the season Saturday afternoon when they host the No. 11 Baylor Bears. It will be the last home game for the Wildcats’ 32 seniors.
Baylor is currently third in the Big 12 at 8-2 (5-2 Big 12). They have beaten ranked Oklahoma and BYU teams and their two losses are to TCU and Oklahoma State.
Head coach Dave Aranda is in his second season at the helm in Waco, Texas, after winning a National Championship in 2019 as the defensive coordinator at LSU. He did not play football in college because of injuries but served as an assistant coach in undergrad at Cal Lutheran.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes has an impressive resume. He played under Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid at UTEP — Reid was the offensive line coach — and has been an offensive line coach or coordinator at several Power-Five schools. He won a National Championship at Auburn and coached under legends like Les Miles and Frank Beamer.
This is not the Baylor team of old. These Bears run a spread offense full of power running schemes and play-action passes off those runs. The offense boasts the league’s top rusher in Abram Smith, who averages 120 yards on the ground per game. They run the ball 61 percent of the time.
At quarterback is Gerry Bohanon, who has a really strong arm. He’s right behind Skylar Thompson in terms of yards per game but sits middle of the Big 12 inefficiency and completion percentage. Bohanon has two very talented wide receivers in Tyquan Thornton and R.J. Sneed.
He’s athletic like Thompson but is not asked to use his legs much. He got up over 100 yards on the ground for the first time this past week against Oklahoma. He got into the end zone twice on the ground, showing a willingness to scramble and run a little option.
The Bears’ two-deep is formatted like 3-3-5, but they typically have a fourth rusher in the form of a linebacker lined up on the ends. Their pass rush works more as a unit trying to trap the quarterback instead of individual rushers.
Aranda asks his pass rushers to defend the run first and then get to the quarterback rather than focusing on the passer and stopping the runs on the way to do that. In his midweek press conference, Aranda mentioned that focusing on the run first and snuffing out play-action passes will be a major emphasis for the defense this week.
Their starting linebackers and secondary are very experienced — nearly all seniors and redshirt seniors. They are the second-best defense in terms of opponent passing efficiency in the Big 12.
Wildcats look for statement win against No. 11 ranked Baylor
Don’t get fooled again:
K-State’s defense has to be aggressive to be successful, and Baylor’s offense is built to punish that same type of aggression. Between play-action passes and the increasing trust in Bohanon’s scrambling ability, Baylor will be primed to take advantage of overplays and missed reads.
The Wildcat defense will need to be prepared to defend the play action and figure out whether a play is truly a run or pass early to limit that threat.
Aranda made it sound like they were increasing the amount they were going to let Bohanon run. Whether that means option, scrambling or designed quarterback runs, a running quarterback creates several problems for the defense.
The ability of K-State’s defensive line to get pressure and maintain containment with just three guys on passing downs is a key. If the Wildcats can pressure and sack Bohanon without committing an extra body on the rush or having a linebacker to spy, they will have a better shot at keeping Baylor from being explosive.
Home field advantage:
Between Senior Day, a ranked opponent coming in and Baylor’s road struggles this year, the Wildcats will lean on a raucous atmosphere and use the crowd to their advantage. This past week, that looked like early momentum-swinging plays to get the crowd jazzed up.
This week, a big play early on defense or special teams can help K-State play with a lead (a key to allowing them to run their game plan on offense) and get the afternoon crowd into the game.
Seriously, Thanksgiving Break can wait a day and your tailgate beverages will still be there after the game. Show up, be loud and please don’t go back to your tailgate at halftime.
This game will go by quickly. Between both offenses’ proclivity to run the ball, it should be a real ground-and-pound type game. I think K-State finds just one extra big play on defense or special teams to give them an edge. K-State wins 24-21.