Kansas hopes to play spoiler to Baylor's perfect season
Baylor has been inconsistent on both sides of the ball this season, but the 11th-ranked Bears have found a way to win and remain in the discussion for the College Football Playoff as the undefeated Big 12 Conference leader.
"It's reflective of a team that knows how to finish and that's a tribute to our coaches and our players," Baylor interim coach Jim Grobe said.
"The players, once they see more formations and the plays, running plays and throws from a defensive perspective, you kind of figure things out a little more. And on offense, once you've seen coverages and fronts enough, you kind of get it figured out."
Baylor (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) comes off a bye week and rolls into Saturday's homecoming game against Kansas as a five-touchdown favorite. The Jayhawks (1-4, 0-2) nearly ended their 13-game Big 12 losing streak last week but missed three field goals in the fourth quarter -- from 37, 41 and 54 yards -- before losing 24-23 to TCU.
View from the sidelines: College football cheerleaders 2016.
"Man, we got in a position to where we could take a shot at it, and as a coach that's all you really want," said second-year Kansas coach David Beaty. "We gave ourselves a chance to win, but, man, I am burning inside with the fact we weren't able to get the win because I felt like I gave it away in a lot of ways."
Baylor, whose toughest games figure to come after October -- TCU, at Oklahoma, at West Virginia -- appears to have its entire offensive arsenal coming together. Wide receiver KD Cannon is expected to be back from a groin injury this week, and running back Shock Linwood had his best performance of the year last time out at Iowa State, when Baylor eked out a 45-42 win in Ames, Iowa.
Linwood rushed for 237 yards against the Cyclones. He had only two carries for four yards a week earlier against Oklahoma State. Terence Williams and Jamycal Hasty help give Baylor a formidable backfield combination. The Bears are fifth nationally, averaging 290.2 rushing yards per game.
"You go week-to-week," Grobe said of the running back situation.
"Whoever plays the best one week is probably the lead sled dog the next week. The thing I'm happy about is to see how Shock handled not many carries against Oklahoma State and was just on fire against Iowa State."
Quarterback Seth Russell has been a dangerous dual threat, but he hasn't been lighting up defenses in the manner of recent Baylor teams under former coach Art Briles. Russell has completed 92 of 155 passes for 1,326 yards, with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions. He is averaging 265.2 passing yards per game.
The Jayhawks' secondary played well against TCU, with three interceptions of Kenny Hill, including two by cornerback Brandon Stewart. Kansas held Hill to 206 passing yards.
"We're developing. I love our team," Beaty said.
"They're showing improvement in a lot of different things. If we continue to do that, I think we'll continue to play competitive football and give our fans something they can be proud of. We're going to stay the course."
Part of the reason for last week's failed upset bid was that Kansas had to settle for field goal attempts, and part of that problem was Beaty admitted to calling conservative quarterback keepers for Ryan Willis. The sophomore, making his first start of the season, was responsible for four turnovers.
Nonetheless, Willis had his moments after replacing Montell Cozart as the Kansas starter. He completed 31 of 45 passes for 348 yards. But three interceptions and a lost fumble taxed the Kansas defense, which played at a level good enough to win a Big 12 game.
Willis was KU's starter for most of last season after Cozart suffered a season-ending injury in the fourth game.
"He is going to probably make a big jump in this game and the next game, just in his pure execution," Beaty said. "Once you get to where it's second nature, now you can pay attention to what's going on down field."
The Jayhawks have dropped six straight games against the Bears. One matchup was close -- a 31-30 overtime decision in 2011 -- but the other five games were decided by an average of 56-11.