Baylor gets early Big 12 test in Oklahoma State

Baylor remains the only undefeated team in the Big 12 Conference. But the 16th-ranked Bears will get a better gauge of how just good they are when they open Big 12 play on Saturday night against visiting the Oklahoma State Cowboys at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas.

The Bears played arguably the weakest nonconference schedule in the Big 12, romping to a 55-7 win over FCS Northwestern State, a 40-13 win over SMU and a 38-10 victory over Rice.

“The best measuring stick is going to be on the field Saturday,” Baylor wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne told the Waco Tribune. “We'll hopefully come together and put some points on the board and get our first conference win.”

Oklahoma State went 2-1 in nonconference play but would be 3-0 if not for a botched call by the officials that allowed Central Michigan an extra play two weeks ago in Stillwater. The Chippewas were inadvertently awarded an extra play after the Cowboys committed intentional grounding on what would have been the game's last play. Central Michigan then pulled out a 30-27 victory when quarterback Cooper Rush threw a Hail Mary pass to Jesse Kroll who then lateraled to Corey Willis for the touchdown.

Oklahoma State bounced back for a 45-38 win over Pittsburgh last weekend as junior quarterback Mason Rudolph completed 26 of 46 passes and set an Oklahoma State record with 540 yards, averaging 20.8 yards per completion.

Any reservations or doubts that lingered from the confusing, and controversial loss to Central Michigan were wiped with a 91-yard strike to wide receiver James Washington on the very first play. Washington finished with nine receptions for 296 yards in the contest.

“Mason came back. It's tough being a quarterback when you lose a game like that,” Oklahoma coach Mike Gundy said of the Central Michigan fiasco.

“I don't think anyone who watched that game wasn't impressed with how well the quarterback throws the deep ball,” Baylor acting head coach Jim Grobe said. “He gets great height on the ball and that makes it really tough on the defensive backs. They have good speed at all the skill positions offensively and a couple of running backs that are very talented.”

Baylor's defense is off to an outstanding start, ranking third nationally in scoring defense by allowing 10 points per game and seventh in total defense by allowing 249.3 yards per game. Opponents have completed just 31 of 90 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown through the first three games.

The Bears, who led the nation in both scoring offense and total offense for the last three years, have sputtered at times so far this season. Baylor is averaging 557.3 yards in total offense — nothing to sneeze at — but that ranks just fourth in the pass-happy Big 12 and eighth nationally. Part of the reason for that have been some unusually slow starts to games.

“We'd like to figure things out a little quicker,” Grobe said. “Slow starts are a little bit of a problem but we've played pretty good overall. I think going forward, with the Big 12 games getting cranked up, we probably would like to start faster.”

The Bears failed to score in the first quarter last week at Rice — that's headline material for this offense — but quarterback Seth Russell, inconsistent at the start for the second straight game, rebounded to pass for 337 yards and three touchdowns. KD Cannon continued to show he can be Baylor's go-to receiver as he hauled in nine passes for 213 yards and two TDs.

Baylor's ground game is averaging 282 yards per game which leads the Big 12 and ranks ninth nationally. Three running backs — Shock Linwood, Terence Williams and JaMycal Hasty — are averaging at least 71 yards per game. Linwood finished with 57 yards rushing at Rice and passed Walter Abercrombie's career rushing mark at Baylor in that contest. He now has 3,674 yards for his career with nine games left.

Oklahoma State leads the all-time series with Baylor, 19-15. The Bears won 45-35 last year in Stillwater, Okla., however, and are hoping for more of the same Saturday.