Kansas at Baylor Football: Three Things to Watch

Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Kansas football team heads back out on the road trying to snap their 36 game road losing streak against undefeated Baylor. Can they find a way to pull off the upset?

Can the KU defense throttle the Bears high-powered offense? If there was any chance for the Jayhawks defense to catch Baylor by surprise, the strong performance against TCU will have the Bears on alert. Baylor has the 4th ranked overall offense and it is very balanced. They average 290.2 yards per game on the ground (5th in the nation) and 278.2 yards through the air (33rd nationally). This is truly a case of pick your poison. While the Big 12 is known as a passing league, Baylor is more of a rushing team led by running back Shock Linwood who averages just below 100 yards per game. While the total yards per game isn’t huge, the 6.8 yards per carry is impressive.

So far, the KU defense has been the most effective unit. Even against prolific offenses, they have held opponents 53 yards below their season average, according to Phil Steele Plus. That would mean holding Baylor to 515 yards, still a very potent offense.

Will Ryan Willis play to his potential? Against TCU, Ryan Willis played the entire game and ended the rotating quarterbacks experiment. He made a number of mistakes in the first half, including three interceptions and losing a fumble. There were no turnovers in the second half, but being sacked twice on the final drive forced the Jayhawks to burn two valuable timeouts. Now that he has a full game behind him, he needs to limit his mistakes and lead the Jayhawks on sustained drives. Once in the red zone, the ball needs to get in the end zone. Even made field goals aren’t enough to keep up on the scoreboard with a prolific team like Baylor.

The running game showed signs of life against TCU. Picking up yards on the ground is important to eat up clock and shorten the game. This also helps to give the defense enough rest so they aren’t worn out at the end of the game. Shakiem Barbel gave Willis another target against TCU and his production needs to continue. With Barbel, LaQuvionte Gonzalez and Steven Sims Jr.; Willis has three dangerous receivers to keep the Baylor defense guessing.

Scoring is very important against Baylor. Could the defense or the return game help put points on the board? No matter how well the offense plays, it is highly unlikely that it will score more than 28 points. If they Jayhawks are going to pull the upset, they are going to need points from other sources.

The defensive line has put a lot more pressure on quarterbacks this season and has racked up quite a few tackles for loss on the season. Could this lead to another safety like in the Texas Tech game? Or will the pressure lead to a fumble or interception returned for a touchdown? TCU gave the ball away four times but none of the turnovers was converted by the defense into points.

LaQuvionte Gonzalez is certainly capable of returning a kick if given even a little room. Such a return may give the team that extra bit of confidence needed. Instead of returning a kick, could the defense block a punt or field goal? Those are the kinds of lucky bounces needed for a big upset.

Bottom Line. After such a valiant fight against TCU, a letdown is expected on the road at Baylor. A huge underdog needs all the help available to get their first road victory in more than seven years. I do expect the defense to have another strong game, but Baylor will still light up the scoreboard. The only way for the Jayhawks to get a win is to find a way to outscore them. It isn’t going to happen in this game. Final score 45-21.