Something magical happened in Waco on Saturday night in front of a national television audience as the Baylor Bears dominated the #1-ranked Kansas State Wildcats from start to finish.
- Let me begin by stating again that I absolutely believe this was the biggest win in Baylor history. Not the most important win-- that's still OU last year for several reasons-- but the biggest. Very few people in the media expected Baylor to be able to compete against Kansas State. We were a double-digit underdog at home. We needed two wins out of our last three games to be able to go to a bowl and got the one deemed most unlikely. A season lost to disappointment was reclaimed in one fell swoop, and the negative momentum from four losses in five games turned around. That's what beating a #1 team does; it basically makes everything else go away. We can sell this game on the recruiting trail in a big way.
- Game-wise, I want to highlight something that I found simply astounding. About midway through the third quarter, one of the announcers for ESPN mentioned that Baylor had played the same 11 players for every single play on defense. I hadn't noticed it at that point because I didn't expect to; how many teams simply don't rotate at all defensively? By my count, I believe we ended up using 13 total after bringing out Ahmad Dixon because of helmet issues for one play and putting in Jamal Palmer for the pass rush on one series. Other than that, we played our base defensive personnel for the entire game with zero alterations. That we did it is incredible. That it worked is unfathomable. I had no idea going in that the "answer" (I put it in quotes because I don't totally mean it) to Baylor's defensive problems were to play fewer players? Against a team like Kansas State that pounds the ball, punishes opposing defenses, and ended up in our game running 82 offensive plays, most teams plan to rotate liberally to keep players fresh and increase effectiveness. We went the other way, never subbed, and actually performed much, much better than usual. Even the defensive line, the unit most likely to get tired over the course of the game, performed far above its norm. That, to me, is the most astounding part of a game filled with astounding parts.
- Speaking of the defense, Kansas State's offense gained only 362 yards of total offense on their 82 plays for an average of 4.41 yards per play. That is by far their worst game of the season in that department and our best outside of the game against Kansas. After halftime, Kansas State gained only 155 yards. Their only points came from a half-yard out after an interception. In terms of Baylor defense, this was a virtuoso performance the likes of which we haven't seen in as long as I can remember. We took the strong second half from OU and doubled down against an offense just as potent.
- The biggest part of that defensive improvement came on the defensive line. Rather than the weak group we've seen get blown constantly into our own linebackers, our DL consistently established or penetrated the line of scrimmage, allowing our linebackers to flow to and make plays time and again. The pass rush I referred to in my preview as "anemic" was hardly so, and Collin Klein took as much punishment or more than he probably has all year. Bryce Hager, in particular, probably owes Klein a steak dinner for the time he spent on top of him. There was another play-- and I'll have to go back to see who exactly was responsible, I know Gary Mason Jr. was extremely active inside, but it wasn't him-- where Kansas State's left tackle ended up in Klein's face about two seconds after the ball was snapped. Where has that been? The ability to close down throwing lanes and actually make Klein think about avoiding the rush made a huge difference and was at least partially responsible for the three interceptions. It's that resurgent pass rush that, if replicated, gives me more hope of our ability to stop the passing-oriented offenses of Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, neither of which has as good of an offensive line as KSU.
- Aside from Lache Seastrunk's amazing run, the single most impressive play or series was easily the goal line stand up 52-24 where Baylor closed the door on any hope Kansas State might have had of making the game respectable. After a 70+ yard drive that included two fourth down conversions earned the Wildcats a first and goal from the 6, Kansas State lined Heisman candidate Collin Klein up in the backfield and ran him right at Baylor's defense four times in a row. He gained four yards on the first play to the 2, one on the second to the 1, and then went no further. For a defense as maligned as ours to stand up in that moment and deny him the touchdown, when every possible indication said they wouldn't, was nothing short of amazing. And you could see in their faces as they streamed off the field how much it meant to them that they did it. We took the ball over at the 1, ran it 10 times in a row for 44 yards total, and then punted the ball away with the game over.
- Wrapping up the defense, Joe Williams (11 tackles, 2 interceptions), Bryce Hager (10 tackles, 2 for loss, 1 sack, and 2 passes broken up), Ahmad Dixon (10 tackles), and Eddie Lackey (8 tackles, 1 for loss) deserve special mention for their individual contributions. Terrance Lloyd also forced a fumble to go with his 4 tackles, and Chris McAllister added a sack and 2 tackles of his own.
- Switching to offense, there's simply not as much to say because the results were relatively less shocking. No, I didn't expect Baylor to rush for 342 yards on KState's defense, nor did I expect the deep ball to be as open as it was. If you told me beforehand those things would happen, though, I wouldn't really have been all that surprised. That doesn't make those stats any less impressive, though, and the offense deserves its props. Finally given the chance to perform without having to perform, if that makes sense, the offense responded overwhelmingly en route to 54 points against the #1 team. With the benefit of 4 turnovers from the Wildcats, Baylor limited its own to just 2 (one of which was that awful interception on our own goal line).
- Overall, our offense racked up 580 yards of total offense on 81 offensive plays for 7.2 yards per play. The tempo we set, especially early one, was extremely fast, even faster than we normally play, and it clearly rattled Kansas State. They weren't ready for the pace at which we called and executed plays, getting caught off guard in terms of alignment more than once and actually giving us several first downs by careless procedure penalties at least somewhat related to pace, as well. Briles' offense runs best when it runs, and we ran. That's why I say Art Briles is the Ricky Bobby of college football; he just wants to go fast, daddy.
- Having said the above, I'm going to contradict myself somewhat. I didn't expect Baylor's offensive line to dominate the line of scrimmage like it did. No matter who how good your running backs are-- and the combo of Glasco Martin and Lache Seastrunk was incredible -- you don't run for 340+ yards because of it. You certainly don't average 7.0 yards per carry as we did. You do those things with an offensive line that is opening holes, winning at the point of attack, and doing so consistently. Our offensive line got some credit after the game from more than a few sites/articles I read about, but they deserve more. They didn't give up a sack to a team with a good pass rush and played extremely well in all phases.
- Glasco and Lache, however, deserve special praise for their performances. Lache's 80-yarder will go down in the annals of great Baylor running backs. Glasco had his most physically impressive game of the season, I think. Before he's been a bruiser, but against Kansas State he was a total back. The thunder-lightning combo I've always hoped to see worked perfectly.
- Nick Florence was basically Nick Florence. He wasn't fantastic in that he missed a couple of deep balls he probably should have had, but luckily for us, we didn't need him to be. I was impressed with the way he ran the ball when asked, particularly on the second touchdown of the game. The throw to Terrance Williams (Terrence Williams) for the second touchdown of the game hit him in stride exactly as it should. I'm starting to get a little sad that the Nick Florence era is coming to a close, to be honest with you guys.
- From the reports before the game of the size of the crowd, I was prepared to be disappointed in Baylor's fandom as a whole. Once the game started, however, the fans that were there proved themselves more than equal to the task of cheering on our team and intimidating the opponent. Basically every player and coach asked about the crowd after the game went on and on about how important they were to the team's success. I don't think they were exaggerating at all since you could hear it clearly on the broadcast. Big third downs felt big. Fourth downs felt even bigger. And when something good happened for Baylor, you could see genuine passion from a group of fans that, however small, were having an incredible time.