Going on three years now, McLane Stadium has moonlighted as a race track, pitting the Baylor Bears against their conference foes in a footrace. It’s a race Baylor has only lost twice, averaging 45 points per game against Big 12 teams at home. The last time Kansas came to Waco, things looked awfully familiar with the Bears ranked No. 12 in the nation compared to their No. 11 billing during homecoming week.
Kansas lost that battle before the game started, falling 60-14. The Jayhawks also happened to be the second conference team to visit McLane, just as they are this year.
But the focus for Kansas heading into this storm is to break these parallels bound to repeat history. At the top of the to-do list is to limit Baylor on the ground, learning from last week’s blown 23-24 loss to visiting TCU.
As the everlasting optimist that he is, coach David Beaty has clung to his team’s ability to limit the run. Kansas ranks first in the conference with 9.6 tackles for loss per game. Baylor’s a close second at 8.6 TFLs, but this is where Kansas reigns supreme and that production has actually accelerated in conference play. But the catch is that unlike Baylor which ranks fourth in rushing yards allowed, Kansas places eighth against the total run.
For as much as Kansas has broken through the trenches led by defensive linemen Cameron Rosser and Dorance Armstrong’s 14 TFLs, plenty of runs have broken for big gains.
As a general guideline, a team will allow twice as many passes over 10 yards and that multiplier only grows with every 10 yards. Kansas has allowed 45 passes over 10 yards this season (seven last week) and 39 runs (seven last week) for the same gains.
Baylor’s stable of running backs has made a habit of breaking loose for big yardage, combining for 42 rushes over 10 yards and 13 attempts for an additional 10 or more yards. But it’s not just Shock Linwood, Terence Williams, or JaMycal Hasty putting in work. Quarterback Seth Russell has added seven such runs and Kansas learned firsthand how hard it is to contain both an agile quarterback and running backs against TCU, even along a 34-yard scamper to Kenny Hill evading the pocket.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Thanks to forcing three interceptions and recovering a fumble, Kansas had the win in its sights before a missed field goal as time expired. Now against Baylor, it’s about finding a delicate balance of stopping the pass but holding strong in the trenches. Players like senior safety Fish Smithson will be integral for that.
Coming off an All-Big 12 season in 2015, Smithson once again leads the Jayhawks in tackles, passes defended and interceptions. He already has two interceptions, matching his total from last season. Smithson can play back deep or crowd the line, but most importantly against Baylor, as the most reliable playmaker for Kansas, has to play damage control.
If Armstrong or Rosser miss tackles up front being pushed by Baylor’s aggressive offensive line, Smithson has to be the goalie to stop big plays in their track. Bringing him up to the line will only allow Baylor to attack over the top with its group of track star wide receivers.
What the offense has to do to overcome Baylor’s impressive defense in its own right is another situation to tackle, but if the Baylor offense can be slowed down, there won’t be as much ground to cover, as shown last week when Kansas kept tripping up the Horned Frogs on their turf.