After its bye week, the Kansas football team is rested, energized and still hopeful as the Jayhawks enter November battling against four of five nationally ranked teams.
First up is No. 12 Baylor in Waco, Texas, at McLane Stadium on Saturday at 3 p.m. on Fox Sports 1.
KU (2-5, 0-4 Big 12), which is riding a four-game losing streak after its loss to Texas Tech two weeks ago, faces a Baylor team which is coming off a bye week as well after losing its first game of the season at West Virginia, 41-27, on Oct. 18. BU was penalized a whopping 18 times for a Big 12 record 215 yards.
But make no mistake, the Bears (6-1, 3-1) feature a powerhouse offense which has eclipsed 60 points three times this season, including racking up 70 points against Northwestern State on Sept. 6. BU ranks No. 1 nationally in total offense (579.0 ypg) and No. 2 in scoring offense (49.0 ppg), while No. 42 in scoring defense (23.0 ppg) and No. 18 in total defense (325.3 ypg).
Baylor has won 13 straight games at home (second-best in nation) and has the nation’s best home record since 2011 at 22-1.
Kansas interim head coach Clint Bowen has tremendous respect for Art Briles’ Bears, who have beaten KU four straight and are 6-0 against Kansas in Waco.
“If you look at where they're at this year, climbed as high as No. 4 before that loss (to WVU), but on offense they are leading the Big 12 in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, pass efficiency, first downs; name it, they lead the Big 12 in a lot of offensive categories,” Bowen said. “Obviously a combination of really good players, a really good scheme, and Art Briles has always been an innovative and creative guy when it comes to offense, and that continues.
“And then on defense, they lead the Big 12 in total defense, as well, coming in second with their rush and second with pass defense, so Phil Bennett, another well-respected defensive coach, has done a nice job with their defense, and they're a very disruptive group. In all, you've got a well-coached team with a good plan and good players.”
On offense, it all starts with senior quarterback Bryce Petty, one of the best signal callers in the land. He’s completed 117 of 214 passes with only three interceptions for 1,757 yards and 17 touchdowns. Petty, who ranks No. 7 nationally with 20.0 points responsible per game and No. 10 with 15.02 passing yards per completion, has thrown a TD in 19 straight games.
“There's some things that the kid does that you really have to admire that are impressive,” Bowen said. “There's some reads that he makes -- there's other defenses in this conference who are trying to make things difficult for him, and they're disguising things, they're throwing the box off, they're rotating safeties, and his ability to pick it up and throw it to the right spot all the time, and it's happening on the fly. He has a great understanding of their system. He's an accurate thrower. Obviously he's a smart kid that can make quick decisions. He's one of the more impressive guys we've had in the league for a while.”
The Bears also feature a potent running back in Shock Linwood, who leads the Big 12 with 99.4 rushing yards per game. On defense, cornerback Xavien Howard paces the nation with 2.0 passes defended per game, while defensive end Shawn Oakman is No. 11 nationally with 1.5 tackles for loss per contest. Middle linebacker Bryce Hager, an All-America candidate, leads the team with 55 tackles.
Bowen knows KU will have to play its best game of the year to beat the Bears. He believes the bye week was great for Kansas as it heads into Waco.
“It was an important week for us,” Bowen said. “We were able to put a big emphasis on an improvement in a lot of areas, our fundamentals, special teams, just across the board, and at the same time allowing a few of our players to get healthy and kind of get their feet back underneath them.”
KU will be looking to improve its third-down and fourth-down conversions Saturday. The Jayhawks have failed, in large part, to get that one or two yards needed for a first down this season. They’ve completed just 38 of 120 third-down attempts for 32 percent and only 2 of 12 fourth-down conversions for 17 percent.
“(You got to be) able to be physical and finish off blocks,” Bowen said. “A lot of those times you're talking about can you knock a guy back enough just to get a crease, and we unfortunately haven't been able to do that, and that's been an emphasis and something we've talked about for a couple weeks now, that up front being able to get some push.”
The Jayhawks definitely need a better performance from the offensive line and the entire team to have a chance to break their 30-game road losing streak against one of the best teams in the nation.
Bowen believes his team will be prepared.
“(This) is a great challenge for our program,” he said. “Obviously it's the kind of game that our players, we tell them all the time, 'you're Big 12 football players, this is the kind of game you came to Kansas to play in.' We're excited and looking forward to a good week getting ready for them.”