The Kansas Jayhawks (3-8, 1-7 Big 12) have one more game this season, hosting the Baylor Bears (10-1. 7-1 Big 12) at home on Saturday. There’s more on the line for the Bears than the Jayhawks in this one, but pride and forward momentum for the program is still up for grabs for KU.
Kansas played one of its best games of the year last weekend against Iowa State, while Baylor is coming off of a dominant win over Texas at home. KU’s impressive offense had a resurgence a week ago, while BU’s Big 12-best defense was on full display again.
This time around it will take an even better effort from the Jayhawks on offense, plus a much better defensive performance, to snap their nine-game losing streak against the Bears.
Calling KU’s offense hot and cold is a simplistic understatement of the Jayhawks wild swings this season. Last week Kansas looked good on offense, racking up 493 total yards and 31 points against a good Iowa State defense. It’s efforts against Texas and Texas Tech are also well-known this season. However, it was sputtering at best and horrific at worst against Kansas State and Oklahoma State, with just 23 points total and 265.5 total yards per contest in those two games. Senior quarterback Carter Stanley has had mountainous highs and Death Valley-like lows of his own this year, but is coming off of a good game versus the Cyclones. The most important part of the Jayhawks’ offense is getting sophomore running back Pooka Williams to produce. If he’s effective like he was last week (19 carries, 154 yards rushing) the rest of the offense will follow.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Jayhawks haven’t had wildly varying defenses performances most of this year; mostly, they’ve just been bad. Kansas is last in the Big 12 in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense this season. The secondary has remained the lone relatively bright spot, although that group has struggled at times too. Senior safety Mike Lee will be making his final appearance in crimson and blue this weekend, and as is often the case you can look for him to make tone-setting plays in the secondary with some big hits.
Sophomore quarterback Charlie Brewer hasn’t been the flashiest Big 12 quarterback this season, but he has been one of the most consistently effective. He ranks third in the league in passer efficiency and is fifth in yards per game at 250.3. The important context for these numbers is that he hasn’t needed to make a play every time he takes a snap like some quarterbacks (read: Jalen Hurts). Senior wide receiver Denzel Mims is a top-five receiver in the Big 12 in terms of number of receptions, and he’s been a great weapon all year in the passing game. The Bears’ rushing attack doesn’t have one elite statistical back this year but still ranks in the top half of the league in rush yards per game.
The Baylor defense has been excellent all year, and not just by Big 12 standards. The Bears are giving up just 19.5 points per game, best in the conference, including just 21.4 points per games in league play. In addition to that, their third in the Big 12 in total defense. It’s been a strong unit both up front and in the defensive backfield, with Big 12 bests in sacks and takeaways.
Big 12 Football Power Rankings – Week 13
Can they generate a pass rush? That’s been arguably the weakest part of the Kansas defense all season. A lack of consistency and talent up front has kept the Jayhawks from hitting opposing quarterbacks often. However, the Bears have allowed the second-most sacks in the Big 12 this year (tied with TCU) at over 2.5 per game. Brewer is talented and has played well all year, but rattling him and forcing bad throws may be the best chance KU has to limit Baylor’s scoring. Whether it’s senior linebacker Najee Stevens-McKenzie, senior defensive end Darrius Moragne or anyone else in the front seven, someone needs to get consistent pressure for Kansas.
Can the defense get off the field? Baylor is allowing the fewest points of anyone in the conference, but it’s also third-worst in third-down conversion percentage allowed. For all of its off-and-on struggles, this Kansas offense isn’t one-dimensional by nature, and it’s able to pass or run on any given play. The Bears have to get off the field and force punts, because the more chances the Jayhawks get means more opportunities for Williams and the wide receiver group to break off big plays.
Stanley. One more time in his final game, Stanley is the player to watch because his ball security may be the deciding factor in this game. Baylor is first in the Big 12 in turnover margin and third in interceptions. Stanley has thrown just two interceptions in win and six in losses this season. If he gives the ball away the Jayhawks are going to be in trouble. He can make big plays with his arm and is shifty enough with his legs, but if he throws any number of interceptions Baylor is already winning.
Junior running back John Lovett. He only has one 100-yard game this season (in the opener versus Stephen F. Austin), but he’ll have opportunities to make big plays against a porous KU run defense. The Jayhawks are allowing 222.2 yards rushing per game this season, which is nearly 58 more yards than the next closest team. If Lovett, who averages 6.2 yards per carry, gets rolling it will help move the ball downfield in consistent chunks and will quickly wear down the Kansas defense.
We finally tallied another win this week, so we also have momentum going into the finale. Call it emotional attachment, but we’re operating under the assumption the Jayhawks will continue to play well offensively, at well enough to keep it relatively close.