LAWRENCE, Kan. — It may be hard to believe, but Baylor was once an awful football program. We’re talking Kansas-awful.
As Kansas got swallowed up by Baylor, 59-14, Saturday night, it marked the Jayhawks’ 25th straight conference loss. But just over 10 years ago, it was Baylor that was that bad, dropping 29 straight conference games.
Distant memory, to say the least.
These days, the juggernaut that is Baylor is worth watching — no matter the anticipated blowout — for the sheer offensive spectacle the Bears have become. This is a team that, coming into Lawrence, had broken the 70-point barrier four times in the last five games.
And truly, that was the game’s only suspense as Baylor sped to a 38-0 halftime lead. Would the Bears get to 70 again?
That’s when Kansas coach Charlie Weis, who now owns 13 of the dreaded 25 straight conference defeats for Kansas, issued an ultimatum to his beleaguered and clearly overmatched troops.
“I challenged them,” Weis said. “I said, ‘It’s 100-0. Do you want it to be 200-0? If you do, then keep playing the way you are.’
“You don’t win awards by playing it close in the second half of games, but you do evaluate your players that way. At least a bunch of the guys fought back.”
That was part of the explanation for the relatively soft Baylor second half. The other truth is that Baylor downshifted dramatically with just under five minutes left in the third quarter and leading 45-7. Out went starting quarterback Bryce Petty (20 of 32, 430 yards, three touchdowns) along with the other starters.
The Jayhawks’ starters against the Baylor second- and third-teamers at least allowed for a competitive second half.
“I don’t care that they had their backups in,” Weis insisted. “We had guys that fought back.”
And naturally, that is important for Weis as he tries desperately to find at least the tiniest amount of traction in his second season here. Saturday’s blowout dropped his overall record at Kansas to 3-15, and perhaps represented just how Grand Canyon-ish the gap is between his squad and Baylor’s.
Baylor, now 7-0, at times appeared to be simply toying with the Jayhawks, its fast-break offense seemingly impossible to defend, especially for any program still struggling to attract gifted athletes.
“You can watch all the film you want on them,” Jayhawks safety Cassius Sendish said afterward, shaking his head, “but you can’t simulate their tempo or their speed. It’s so different on the field.”
Indeed, no one dares take their eyes off the Baylor offense, whether you’re on defense or even in the stands — Baylor scores too fast to indulge the slightest lack of attention.
Consider Baylor’s first five touchdown “drives:” Four plays, 76 yards, 68 seconds; four plays, 84 yards, 51 seconds; seven plays, 82 yards, 92 seconds; five plays, 70 yards, 41 seconds; and four plays, 80 yards, 77 seconds.
“It’s their tempo,” Weis said. “But they also spread you out. They have guys lined up two yards from each sideline. Now you have to defend that, or try to, sideline to sideline. Then when they break something up the middle, you may have one guy back and if he misses the tackle, it’s over — they’re bouncing their head off the goalpost.”
It got so bad late in the first half that the biggest reaction from the home crowd was when the Jayhawks faithful booed Baylor for taking a defensive timeout with 32 seconds left after Kansas came up short on a third-down try.
The crowd seemed to be asking (begging) Baylor coach Art Briles for mercy, which he then granted: After receiving the Kansas punt, Baylor simply ran out of the clock.
But even as Briles continued to grant mercy in the second half, he couldn’t ask his players to simply stop trying — Baylor still racked up 743 total yards and won by 45, which was slightly below their 50.1 average margin of victory.
“It’s just so hard to defend them,” Jayhawks nose tackle Keon Stowers said. “They spread you so wide, and then they seem to have their receivers read the corners on each play, like they watch where the corners set, and if they set outside, the pass goes in. If they set in, the pass goes out. It’s tough. They’re a great team.”
Stowers, in fact, can’t think of any offense he’s seen that trumps Baylor’s.
“Maybe Florida State,” Stowers said, before almost interrupting himself. “Nah, that’s not right. I don’t even think Florida State is that good. They can’t keep up with Baylor.”
Perhaps no team can.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.