Simply put, this is the biggest game in McLane Stadium history. Yet, we are in year-1, but this could be said about a 20 year old stadium as well. This would arguably be the biggest game in Floyd Casey’s history as well. With the Baylor Bears a single win away from a 2nd consecutive Big 12 title, and a possible berth into the College Football Playoffs, it doesn’t get any bigger than this. Add a Top-10 team with a legendary head coach and ESPN’s College GameDay present for the festivities, it just got turned up to 11 here.
The Wildcats enter the game at 9-2, with losses at home to Auburn and on the road to TCU. The Horned Frog game got away from the Wildcats, as they lost 41-20 in a game was pretty much always out of reach for Coach Bill Snyders’ Wildcats. Their other loss was to a Top-5 (at the time) Auburn team at home where the Wildcats just had too many miscues and lost a close game that they probably would have won with a better kicking game (Lost 20-14, missed 3 field goals).
So, who are the Wildcats? Pretty much every preview will start out with the mastery of Coach Bill Snyder, and they aren’t wrong. One of the finest coaches in college football, Snyder has earned his nickname of “The Wizard”. With a team full of junior college transfers and walk-ons, Snyder has built a program that is disciplined, fundamentally sound, and wins a ton of football games in a place that has never won before.
The Fighting Snyders are once again competing for a Big 12 championship, just like the Bears are in this one. With a win by either team, they will tie TCU if the Frogs win or win the title outright if TCU loses. This is a team with just as much to play for as the Bears, and one that might be looking for some payback from 2 years ago when the Bears upset a top ranked Kansas State late in the year.
So, what players do the Wildcats have that could give the Bears some issues? The list starts with Tyler Lockett, one of the most talented wide receivers in the nation. After a slow start to the season, Lockett has been on fire the last three games, catching 30 passes for 511 yards and 4 touchdowns in that 3-game span. He is one of the best deep threats in the Big-12, and a player that no one has been able to single cover all year.
Outside of Lockett on offense, the Wildcats have fellow senior Curry Sexton, who is second on the team with 67 catches. He is a 3d down conversion machine, and lines up in the slot quite a bit when the Wildcats go into a 3-WR set (with Deante Burton coming in to play on the outside). The Wildcats really are a pass heavy team now, ranking 23rd in the country in passing. Their run game has not been nearly as strong this year with Charles Jones and QB Jake Waters pacing the ground attack. This is a team that will take its time and slow the tempo down, but they are a much more pass-heavy team than the Bears have seen in the past.
They still run the ball more than they pass, but only average 3.99 yards per rush on the season. In their win over West Virginia, they rushed for 1 total yard on 29 carries. Read that again…ONE YARD. In the loss to TCU, they had 34 yards on 19 carries. They were slightly better in their loss against Auburn, rushing for 40 yards on 30 carries. The rushing attack got back going against Kansas with 194 yards and a 4.97 yards per rush average, but their run offense has struggled at times this year.
The offensive attack is run by senior quarterback Jake Waters who has been excellent all year. He is completing 64.9% of his passes, and averaging 8.9 yards per pass attempt. He has 18 touchdowns against 5 interceptions and does a good job of managing this passing attack. He is also a very dangerous threat with the ball in his hands, as he is second on the team with 440 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns. He did most of his damage on the ground in two games (138 yards against Iowa State, and 105 yards against Texas Tech) but he is excellent at keeping plays alive in the pocket and finding targets down the field.
This is a good offense, one that moves the wall efficiently despite their low yardage totals. They are ranked 23rd in offense according to FEI and 31st according to S&P+ (both from Footballoutsiders.com).
The defense is a standard 4-3 formation, with star Ryan Mueller at defensive end making the big plays for the Wildcats. Bears fans might remember him from last year’s game in Manhattan, where he stripped sacked Bryce Petty right on the sideline and still recovered the ball in bounds. Mueller, a former walk-on, is a high energy player who makes big plays when the Wildcats need them.
Their defense is much stronger against the run, with linebacker Jonathan Truman being excellent against the run game, and safety Dante Barnett good at coming up to help stop the run. While they give up a lot of completions underneath, the Wildcats do not get beat deep often. They have allowed only 4 plays longer than 40 yards all season in the passing game. That is tied for 7th fewest in the country. With Morgan Burns and Danzel McDaniel manning the cornerback positions, the Wildcats give them help over the top with Dylan Schellenberg and make teams run on a very good front-7.
Overall, this is a classic Bill Snyder team, with maybe a bit more passing capability. Jake Waters is a very good quarterback that can beat you with his arm or his legs and he has one of the best wide receivers in the nation in Tyler Lockett. Defensively, they play sound, don’t make mistakes and force you to work the ball down the field slowly.