Briles preaches full faith in his young QB thrust into the fire

Freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham will make his first start for No. 2 Baylor on Nov. 5 at Kansas State.
Jerome Miron/Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

True freshman Jarrett Stidham left Stephenville High School a semester early last year so he could join the Baylor Bears for spring workouts and get a head start on Baylor coach Art Briles' offense.

The Bears are about to find out if his early tutorial will pay off.

Stidham, a 6-foot-3, dual-threat quarterback, will make his first start in place of the injured Seth Russell on Nov. 5 at Kansas State. He'll benefit from this week's bye to ratchet up his reps and become more familiar with the explosive weapons all around him such as running back Shock Linwood and the nation's touchdown leader wide receiver Corey Coleman.

All-America left tackle Spencer Drango protecting his blind side should also be rather comforting.

“It makes all the difference in the world, especially with the offensive line we have and the dynamic skill people we have,” Briles said Monday during his weekly press conference. “It certainly takes a lot of pressure off that position. We wouldn’t put a guy out there who is not capable, and he’s good and he’s ready.”

All Stidham is expected to do is keep No. 2 Baylor (7-0, 4-0) undefeated until it travels to Fort Worth on the night after Thanksgiving for what is anticipated to be the Big 12 Conference's de facto championship game.

But there are hurdles to leap well before then (and for TCU as well), including No. 12 Oklahoma State on Nov. 7 and No. 14 Oklahoma on Nov. 21. The Bears finish the season against Texas on Dec. 5. 

After missing out on the College Football Playoff last season, the Bears vowed to get in this year, and they were well on their way with the junior Russell at the helm. Baylor's offense leads the nation in total offense, averaging just under 700 yards a game, and scoring at more than 60 points a game. 

Now Stidham is tasked with keeping the juggernaut rolling, and Baylor's playoff dreams alive. 

“We certainly have a ton of confidence in Jarrett,” Briles said. “He doesn’t perform like a freshman. He’s instinctively and athletically ready. He’s a guy we felt all along that was in line to be a really productive player for us.”

Stidham starred at Stephenville High School more than a decade after Briles first became a household name in Texas while leading the school to four state championships and forever changing offense in a state where three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust ruled for a century.

The strapping right-hander initially committed to former Air Raid ace QB Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech before changing his mind less than two months before signing day to play for Briles. That led Baylor commit Chad President, a four-star dual-threat QB from nearby Temple, Texas, to follow Briles' longtime offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery, who became the head coach Tulsa.

It left Stidham as the clear backup to Russell, who had bided his time to take over as the starter this season. In seven games, Russell accumulated 29 touchdown passes with just five interceptions while throwing for 2,104 yards.

Briles played Stidham in all seven games to mop up big Baylor victories, and those experiences loom large now. How'd the true freshman perform? He completed 24-of-28 passes for 331 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.

Perhaps what would seem like a significant loss for Baylor will be nothing more than the passing of the torch just a little earlier than expected.

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