Baylor football's bowl hopes remain alive after mopping up Kansas

By Zac Byrd

People were saying it couldn’t be done. After the Bears had lost to the Duke Blue Devils again, and this time in Waco, and again rather decisively, even most Baylor fans had given up on this season. The Bears will never go to a bowl this season, they said. Even some sports writers said that, and put it in writing. But not me. I quoted some of those writers but deep down I always thought the Bears still had a chance to make a bowl trip. The Baylor-Kansas game will be the tell-tale game, I thought. I even told that to some of my friends.

And lo and behold, the Bears beat Kansas. They beat the visiting Jayhawks with room to spare. Beat them, 26-7. So the Bears ain’t dead yet.

Indeed, I now will go out on a fragile limb and make this prediction: this season’s make or break for the Baylor Bears will be the Nov. 24 game against Texas Tech on the neutral grass in that big AT&T Stadium in Arlington where the Dallas Cowboys play their home games, the game that is sponsored traditionally by the Texas Farm Bureau. You see, the Bears traditionally play great games in Waco against Kansas State and Oklahoma State. I can see them winning those two games. Remember that 2012 Baylor-Kansas State game played at old and now-torn-down Floyd Casey Stadium? Kansas State came to Waco unbeaten and ranked No. 2 in all of major college football. Coach Art Briles’ Bears beat the visiting Wildcats in a thunderous upset, 52-24. In 2005. Coach Guy Morriss’ Bears beat visiting Oklahoma State, 44-34, when both teams were unranked.

So neither Wildcats nor Cowboys traditionally are at their best when they have to play in Waco. And this year they have to play in Waco. And both teams lost last Saturday. So how will it be when Baylor Bears play Texas Tech Red Raider this season? Right now Texas Tech, a big winner over Oklahoma State last Saturday, 41-17, in Stillwater, Okla., would appear to be too good for Baylor. But who really knows? One or both starting quarterbacks may be hurt and unable to play by then. One, two or three players on either or both teams may be hurt and unavailable to play. Let’s wait for that Nov. 24 game date before making any predict tions.

As for the here and now, we can say this: the Baylor Bears do know how to beat Kansas in football. They did it last season in Lawrence, 38-9. They did it this season in Waco, 26-7.

In other words, they put all the memories of how poorly they played against Duke two weeks ago in the trash basket, and played more like coach Matt Rhule and his staff had been expecting them to play this campign. They and put the hammer to the favored-in-some-quarters Jayhawks and left with a that’s-more-like-it Baylor victory, 26-7.

So now the Bears have won three games. To be eligible for a bowl, they need three more. I have felt rather confident they could win two of those three. So I think it will all come down to Baylor vs. Texas Tech in Baylor’s last game of this regular season.

As for last Saturday (and I did NOT see the game; my 94-year wife -- I am 93 -- fell last Friday, fractured her femur and had to have surgery, so I was at the hospital with her). But hospitals have big TV sets. So I was able to see some of the Baylor-Kansas game.) And I was sent the play-by-play chart. So and I know the Bears had the visitors by the throat, 23-0, before the Jayhawks scored a point in the third quarter. Then the Bears’ Connor Martin kicked a 27-yard field goal later in that quarter to make it Baylor’s victory, 26-7. There was no scoring in the final 15 minutes of play.

Baylor’s scoring came in this sequence: swift Chris Platt caught a 22-yard pass from Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer and Martin kicked the PAT to put the Bears ahead, 7-0, in the first quarter. In  second quarter, true freshman Tyquan Thornton (6-3, 165, very fast, from Miami, Fla., received numerous college offers before deciding on Baylor) caught a 39-yard touchdown pass from Brewer and Martin again kicked true to make it a 14-0 game; and then Martin kicked a 45-yard field goal and fast true freshman Josh Fleeks (5-11, 181, from Cedar Hill in the Dallas area) caught a 34-yard pass from Brewer; however, Martin’s PAT that time was no good. But the Bears still led, 23-0 at halftime.

In the third quarter Kansas’ Jeremiah Booker caught a 10-yard pass from Kansas passer Peyton Bender, Gabriel Rui’s kick was good and the Jayhawks’ had the only points they would score against the Baylor Bears this season. Then with 5 minutes left in the third quarter, Baylor’s Martin kicked another field goal, that one a 27-yarder, and the two team’s scoring was done for the afternoon.

Now in the facts-and-figures department, Baylor led in first downs, 22 to Kansas’ 14; the Bears led in net rushing yards, 189-Kansas’ 122; and it was Baylor by yards to spare in total offense, 446 to 271.Baylor had more penalty yardage assessed again, 140 yards to Kansas’ 55. That’s going to cost the Bears a victory one of these days, just like it cost the Bears a victory over Michigan State (42-41) in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day of 2015.

Statistically, Kansas had the game’s leading rusher, Pooka Williams, with 103 yards, but the Baylor defense trapped him for 14 yards in losses. So he had to settle for 89 yards. Give the Baylor defense some credit for last Saturday’s victory. Bruin defenders tackled Kansas runners for 46 yards in losses. Williams and Kendrick Miles both lost a total of 14 yards and QB Peyton Bender was sacked twice for 12 yards.

Baylor QB Charlie Brewer was sacked twice for 18 yards and QB Jalan McClendon once for 4 yards. But it clearly was Brewer’s day both overhead and on foot. He rushed for a net of 56 yards and completed 19 of 27 passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns, and never mind the sacks. He had no fumbles and no interceptions. JaMycal Hasty led Baylor rushers with five carries for 60 yards (an impressive 12-yard average). John Love had 23 yards on 9 carries and Trestan Ebner 20 yards on five carries. And Chris Platt, exploiting his speed, turned an end-around play into a 19-yard gain.

Josh Fleeks led Baylor receivers with 5 catches good for 65 yards and one score, and Tyquan Thornton caught three passes good for 50 yards and a score. Chris Platt turned three receptions into 29 yards and a touchdown; Jalen Hurd caught four passes for 60 yards; and Denzel Mims caught two for 32 yards.

Both teams had excellent punters on display. Baylor’s Drew Galitz averaged 45.6 yards on his five punts bur Kansas’ Kyle Thompson was even better, averaging 46.7 yards on his seven boots.

Kansas’ senior linebacker Joe Deneen put on a show defensively, making 13 tackles (11 solo), more than anybody on either team. Junior safety Bryce Torneden had 9 tackles (8 solo) and both junior linebacker Keith Loneker and junior safety Mike Lee had 8 stops (5 solo)

Baylor’s improved defensive play was led by senior safety Verkedric Vaughns with 7 tackles (6 solo) and redshirt freshman linebacker Terrel Bernard 7 stops (5 solo). Senior linebacker Clay Johnston, junior safety Chris Miller and junior linebacker Jordan Williams were also prominent in Baylor’s defensive stands.

Coming up next for the Bears is a tough one: they go on the road to play unbeaten Oklahoma. But the Sooners may not be as powerful as last season. They had to win in overtime to beat Army last Saturday in Norman, 28-21.

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