Preview: Baylor at Kansas

Kansas looks to move to 6-0 on the season, but the visiting Baylor Bears hope to get in the way. Kevin Flaherty with a look ahead - inside.

Last year, the Baylor Bears accounted for the low point in the Kansas Jayhawks’ season.

The Bears’ revival from a 35-17 fourth quarter hole not only summed up the Jayhawks’ fourth quarter woes, it magnified them. Most of the other Jayhawks’ meltdowns came from a score or two away, but the Bears struck often through the air over the fourth quarter, scoring 21 points to come away with the 38-35 victory.

You can be sure that the scene will still be fresh in the minds of the Jayhawks, but this is a new season, and this is a different Baylor team. Gone are the stars of last year’s game, quarterback Shawn Bell, running back Paul Mosley and receivers Dominique “Ziggy” Ziegler and Trent Shelton.

But that doesn’t mean this year’s Baylor (3-3, 0-2) team isn’t capable of putting up big offensive numbers. The Bears are averaging more than 390 yards per game, with more than 300 of those coming through the air through their spread passing attack.

The catalyst for that passing attack is quarterback Blake Szymanski (6-foot-4 200 pounds). Szymanski has thrown for more than 400 yards in three games this year, and averages 302.5 yards per game. He has also thrown 15 touchdown passes, just four off the Baylor single season record. Szymanski isn’t especially accurate, completing under 54 percent of his passes with nine interceptions, but he’s also a threat on the ground, accounting for 131 yards rushing.

The Bears don’t run the ball all that well — running back Brandon Whitaker (5-10 197) is the team’s leading rusher with 186 yards through six games. He is a threat in the receiving game though … Whitaker leads Baylor with 24 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns. He was especially effective through the air last week, when he caught 11 passes for 166 yards against Colorado. Jay Finley (5-11 190), is a more than capable backup, who has 251 combined rushing and receiving yards, along with three touchdowns.

But Baylor’s strength comes through the passing game, and Szymanski has no shortage of targets to throw the ball to. Sixteen players have caught passes this season, with eight players boasting double-digit reception totals. The big play guy is X-receiver David Gettis (6-4 213), who has 10 catches for 187 yards in the last two games. He has major league track speed — the 45.84 seconds he clocked in the 400-meter dash as a high school senior was the best prep time in the nation that year.

The Bears have achieved their most success through the slot though, with Justin Akers (6-5 223) and Brad Taylor (6-3 231) combining for close to 550 yards receiving. Akers has proven a valuable weapon in the red zone, catching four touchdowns. Krys Buerick (6-1 179) mans the other outside spot, the Z-receiver, and has 15 catches for 195 yards and two touchdowns.

The offensive line is also built for the pass. The line is long and lean, with only one starter, center J.D. Walton (6-3 296), at under 6-4. But don’t expect to find any 300-pounders — Walton is the heaviest lineman on the two-deep. The strategy has worked — the Bears have allowed just seven sacks in six games, and haven’t allowed a sack in 87 consecutive passing plays.

While the Bears have been strong offensively, on defense they have struggled, giving up about 420 yards per game. They’ve been almost equally abysmal against the run and the pass, ranking among the Big 12’s worst in both categories.

Baylor employs a 4-2-5 defense in an effort to battle some of the Big 12’s better pass defenses. Defensive ends Jason Lamb (6-6 260), Geoff Nelson (6-2 260) and Leon Freeman (6-2 240) have combined for 10.5 tackles for loss and four sacks on the year. Nose tackle Trey Bryant (6-3 310) attempts to clog up the middle, while defensive tackle Vincent Rhodes (6-2 290) has 3.5 tackles for loss, including three sacks.

The defense may only utilize two linebackers, but they are the strength of the defense. Joe Pawelek (6-3 236) was a Freshman All-America last year, and is backing that up with a strong sophomore campaign. He’s a playmaker who ranks second on the team with 48 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and two sacks. Nick Moore (6-1 223) has 39 tackles with 4.5 behind the line.

Rovers Dwain Crawford (6-0 194) and Jake La Mar (6-0 194) have combined for 53 tackles. La Mar is a particularly good blitzer, accounting for four tackles for loss and three sacks to go with one interception. Cornerbacks Josh Bell (6-0 180) and Alton Wildeman (5-11 182) have had their struggles this year. Jeremy Williams (5-10 205) and Brandon Stiggers (6-0 202) play the strong safety position. Free safety Jordan Lake leads the Bears in tackles — his 9.2 per game is good for sixth best in the Big 12 — and interceptions.

Baylor’s special teams are nothing to write home about. Shea Brewster handles the kicking, and he has been erratic, making just three of seven field goals this year. Meanwhile, Derek Epperson is among the Big 12’s worst punters. Gettis returns kickoffs, while Joe Bennett serves as the primary punt returner.

Even without the revenge factor, Baylor faces an uphill battle against a 5-0 Kansas team. They’ll need another huge performance from Szymanski to keep it close, and even then, it might not be enough.

Home team has won all five meetings


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