Once thought to be the future at Kansas, Seth Russell is presently keeping Baylor’s relentless offense rolling along.
Russell and the third-ranked Bears take their prolific act to Lawrence on Saturday to face a downtrodden Jayhawks team about to start its fourth-string quarterback.
Baylor’s offense hasn’t missed a beat with Russell, a Kansas commit out of high school who switched to the Bears after the Jayhawks fired Turner Gill in 2011, at the controls in place of current New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty. Baylor (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) is averaging an NCAA-leading 63.8 points and 745.3 yards and is averaging better than a first down per play (10.8).
Russell’s 19 touchdown passes and 218.7 passer rating are both tops in FBS, and he’s thrown for at least four TDs in each game. The first-year starter also showed he can run with an 81-yard, two-touchdown rushing effort in last week’s 63-35 victory over Texas Tech.
"When coach Gill got released and coach (Charlie) Weis came in, it just didn’t have that same feeling," Russell said. "It didn’t have the same family atmosphere. It was more like a business-type deal. But when I came to visit Baylor it was just like Kansas all over again before coach Weis. I felt like it was a good fit for myself, and it was."
The Bears had touchdowns on seven of eight first-half possessions against Texas Tech, with Shock Linwood delivering a 79-yard score on the game’s third play from scrimmage en route to a career-high 221 rushing yards. Corey Coleman had seven receptions for 110 yards and three of his FBS-leading 11 touchdown catches.
"I thought our guys really responded against a dangerous and good football team," Bears coach Art Briles said.
Baylor has outscored Kansas 119-28 over the past two seasons and appears headed to another lopsided win. The Jayhawks (0-4, 0-1) surrendered 512 yards in a 38-13 defeat at Iowa State in last week’s conference opener and lost quarterback Montell Cozart to a shoulder sprain late in the third quarter, forcing freshman Ryan Willis into his first career start Saturday.
Willis entered the season third on the depth chart behind Cozart and Deondre Ford, who tore ligaments in his thumb during Kansas’ loss at Rutgers on Sept. 26. Michael Cummings, last season’s starter, tore his ACL in the spring game.
Willis was 8 for 16 for 100 yards after replacing Cozart.
"We’ve got to find a few things he can really do well and let him exercise those things on the playing field," Jayhawks first-year coach David Beaty said.
Kansas hasn’t done much right in Big 12 play in several years, losing 38 of its past 40 league games. It’s dropped five straight to the Bears, who won 59-14 at Lawrence in 2013 and amassed 326 rushing yards and 669 total in last season’s 60-14 rout.
The Jayhawks have lost seven straight and 12 of 13 dating back to Weis’ final season, though Beaty has remained upbeat through the growing pains and a daunting stretch in which Kansas’ next six games will feature four ranked teams.
"Our team is in a great place mentally and physically. We’re excited about our Big 12 opener right here at home," he said. "Our team has done a really nice job of rebounding, which is something I expected from them."
Coleman recorded 167 yards and two touchdowns on three catches in last year’s meeting. The standout receiver has 10 TDs over the last three games and five straight 100-yard efforts dating back to last season.