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Baylor-Kansas Football Preview and Prediction

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The Bears have to win this game

NCAA Football: Baylor at Kansas Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

What seemed like a guaranteed win before the season, now seems less certain after Saturday. Baylor just got worked by Duke in the first half of a 40-27 loss. And Kansas just knocked off Rutgers 55-14.

Don’t be fooled though. A loss to Kansas on Saturday would be a catastrophic defeat for Baylor. Kansas opened the season with a loss to Nicholls State. David Beaty is 5-34 in four seasons in Lawrence. His roster remains the worst in the league.

Anything can happen in college football, and credit to Kansas—and especially their football fans that have put up with Turner Gill, Charlie Weis and David Beaty’s decade of losses—but the Jayhawks have no business beating the Bears. There would be no acceptable spin for a loss on Saturday. Matt Rhule has to find a way to win this game.

We’ll start with a look at playing offense against Kansas, then turn to playing defense. Finally, we’ll close with a prediction.

Offense:

Kansas has a pretty solid defense. Clint Bowen is the defensive coordinator, and his unit has succeeded for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, Kansas leads the country with 13 turnovers. They’ve recovered six fumbles and have intercepted seven passes. Through three games, the Jayhawks have as many turnovers as they had all of last season.

KU’s defense is led by two returning players, linebacaker Joe Dineen and defensive lineman Daniel Wise. Those two will put immense pressure on a Baylor offensive line that could not get any push against Duke. If things go really poorly, expect that duo to create a big problem.

Kansas plays a lot with three down linemen. They’re content to drop eight into coverage, and they picked Rutgers off multiple times:

Kansas’ defense can leave some lanes open over the middle of the field, and their corners sometimes focus too much on the backfield in cover two. Charlie Brewer, Jalan McClendon or whatever duo of quarterbacks Baylor decides or doesn’t decide to play, need to make quick decisions:

Baylor has to get something going in the run game this week. Kansas gave up a few big runs to Nicholls State, and Rutgers had some opportunities on the ground. But the Bears’ offensive line remains a very weak group, and Kansas held Central Michigan to just 3.7 yards per carry. JaMycal Hasty and John Lovett should have chances though:

When Kansas dials up blitzes, Hasty’s blocking could be big in this game. Dineen has wrecked Central Michigan and Rutgers the past two weeks. He’s going to get past Baylor’s line plenty of times. When that happens, Hasty and Lovett need to give Brewer or McClendon a little more time to throw over the middle:

Watch out for QB runs and option plays this week. Kansas drops defenders quite a bit, and when they blitz, sometimes there are gaps open. Central Michigan had a few nice passes moving the pocket. Baylor moves the pocket a lot, by necessity, given the offensive line issues. Brewer or McClendon should make a few nice plays outside the pocket.

If Baylor loses this game, Kansas will probably have another week where they force a few turnovers. Baylor dropped a host of passes last week, and the Bears have sometimes been a little loose with the ball. Kansas is recovering fumbles at an unsustainable rate, but they’re pretty solid at forcing them. Bill Conelly has explained that Kansas shouldn’t be quite this good at forcing turnovers:

Translation: Kansas had a turnover margin that was +4.4 ahead of where national averages suggest it should have been. As each turnover is worth approximately five points, that means Rutgers suffered about 22 points’ worth of bad turnovers luck. Rutgers is horrible, but I guess they’re not necessarily “lose by 41 points to Kansas” horrible. Merely “lose by 19 points to Kansas, then get unlucky” horrible.

Defense:

Pooka Williams, Kansas’ 4-star freshman running back, has changed the team. He did not play in their opening game loss to Nicholls State. In the last two games, he has 283 yards on 8.8 yards per carry.

Williams is great, but he’s especially great at breaking tackles. That’s super concerning, given the Bears have failed to wrap up way less talented backs from ACU, UTSA and Duke. The man is a monster:

The Bears have struggled with tackling and can’t have a repeat of their worst problems:

Baylor has to have their gap assignments down. On a 3rd and 7 against Duke, the Bears didn’t have anyone lined up to cover the “B” gap. Duke’s running back scampered into the end zone after Baylor’s three lineman front didn’t have anyone attacking that gap:

Williams has been exceptional on draw plays. The Bears need to balance not looking into the backfield—something they’ve struggled with in cover three—while also making sure they are prepared for KU’s delayed rushes. The Jayhawks last two opponents haven’t struck that balance. They’ve been killed by it:

I’m a little worried about how well Baylor will defend Kansas in the red zone. Kansas usually plays Peyton Bender at quarterback. He’s likely the worst of second worst starting quarterback in the league. But he’s a decent passer with some mobility. Kansas also throws Miles Kendrick on the field some in the red zone. They botched a quarterback draw against a cover one defense against Nicholls State, but they did a better job with Kendrick against Rutgers. The Jayhawks looked pretty good with this fade:

And Baylor didn’t stop that play against Duke:

Baylor is going to have to play an aggressive defense against Kansas. They’re going to have to dare Bender to beat them down field. Steven Sims Jr. had over 800 yards receiving his sophomore and junior seasons. He got open and dropped a touchdown pass against Nicholls State. He won’t do that often. Baylor will have to gamble that Grayland Arnold, Harrison Hand, Jameson Houston and Derrek Thomas can live in one-on-one coverage. I’d prefer a more aggressive defense.

This is also a contest where Baylor can’t make too many mistakes. If the Bears are in their Tampa 2 alignment, then safeties have to available over the top. Kansas doesn’t have a very explosive offense, especially when Williams doesn’t have the ball. This could be a much lower scoring game.

Baylor does have a decent talent advantage on this side of the ball. James Lynch is going to be a huge struggle for the Jayhawks line. They struggled with a more athletic Nicholls State front. The non-Lynch members of the line have some longer droughts, so a big week from James Lockhart or Greg Roberts could help the Bears keep some distance. Texas lost to Kansas by letting them hang around. You generally have to flirt with disaster before it happens in football. Baylor needs to build a decent lead and not let a little bit of bad luck ruin our ability to say “Texas lost to Kansas in football.”

Prediction:

Baylor has a pretty big talent advantage over Kansas. Denzel Mims also returns this week. The Jayhawks are in for quite the challenge defending Mims, Chris Platt and Jalen Hurd. Their first three opponents haven’t had a receiving corps like that.

Kansas does have a chance to make this one close. Williams is an exceptional back, already it seems like the top 150 player was embarrassingly underrated by the recruiting services. Baylor’s struggled to tackle, and he’s a man that won’t give Baylor time to acclimate themselves to tackling him.

The Bears have no business losing this game. Rutgers football is terrible. Central Michigan is not good. Wins over those programs aren’t going to change that Beaty’s time in Lawrence will end this season. The Jayhawks have been abysmal. This team is still not good.

Baylor has to win this game. They’re the better team, and Matt Rhule said before the season that he expected the team to go bowling. I like the man; I hope that he’s the head coach of Baylor for a long time. But a loss on Saturday would really be a turning point. It’d be hard to imagine Baylor getting close to a bowl with a loss. And recruiting really could tumble. There are some games you just can’t lose. This is one of them. I can’t even begin to imagine the trolling I’ll hear in Kansas City, if the Bears lose this one.

I feel pretty confident that Baylor will win this game. The Bears won’t make some of the same awful mistakes they made against Duke. The offensive line remains a concern against any team, and Kansas will get their share of wins against that unit. But Baylor has too much talent, and despite the loss to Duke, this is still a good group of coaches. I’d expect Brewer to throw a couple of big touchdowns, while the Bears key in on stopping the run. I’ll take Baylor to win this one 31-17.