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Seriously, I want to know – can K-State run against Baylor. And K-State may only have an outside chance of winning on Saturday, but if it hopes to pull out a victory, the answer to this question must be yes. Let’s examine, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, our knowningly unknown knowns (or something to that effect) and why they’re important.
Gauging Baylor’s run defense is difficult at this stage of the season – although you’d be surprised how many attempts its seen this year. You’d assume that with Baylor putting up 70.5 points per game and holding opponents to essentially nothing, the team would be forcing throw after throw as opponents attempt to score quick touchdowns and get back into the game. And through four games Baylor has allowed 449 yards on the ground (average of 112.5/game) and 836 yards through the air (209 yards/game). Opponents are averaging 4.2 yards/play and an obscenely low 321 yards/game given how quickly Baylor scores and returns the ball.
Yet more troubling is that teams are only averaging 2.5 yards/rush against the Bears. Once again, you have to figure the occasional draw play after 10 consecutive passes would catch the defense off-guard and go for a big gain. However, Baylor is seeing the third most runs per game in the Big 12 (teams appear to quit passing on Baylor as the game goes on in an attempt to run down the clock and get off the field as quickly as possible). So Baylor sees 33 passes and 45 rushes per game – it’s possible they lead the league in yards allowed per run simply because they stack the box, knowing what’s coming.
Then again, maybe the immensely experienced defense (especially compared to K-State’s) is that much better this year. K-State has more potential to run the ball than Baylor’s first four opponents, but as we’ve seen this season, talent doesn’t always translate into wins (calling Mack Brown. Mack Brown, are you there?). Still, the biggest mistake K-State could make is trotting out Jake Waters to trick a Baylor team expecting to see Daniel Sams. They expect to see Sams because he gives K-State the best chance to win, and that’s who should start.
K-State’s run game has been up and down in 2013, but when Sams is playing, it seems to trend up more than not. He may still be working on not throwing into coverage, but the boy’s a playmaker with the ball in his hands, pure and simple. He’s able to spin out of tackles and outrun defenders unlike any of the running backs on the squad – for those forgetting last Saturday, he had 27 rushes. There’s no way he can keep that up without breaking down (and thank god Jake Waters is waiting in the wings just in case), but there’s a reason he had that many attempts: he’s the best playmaker in the backfield.
Hopefully he’ll have some assistance on Saturday. First of all, Boston Stiverson may finally be back on the field. Named a starter at the beginning of the year, the sophomore offensive lineman has yet to play due to a injury. However, this Twitter exchange happened on Tuesday when someone wished Stiverson happy birthday and said they hoped he was ready for Saturday:
Am I using the flimsiest evidence ever to assume someone isn’t too injured to play? Probably – but I’m clinging to every bit of hope I can dig up right now. I’m also not sure where the hubbub surrounding John Hubert’s discontent is stemming from, but hopefully he’s worked up and ready to play against the team that held him to just 43 yards last year while crushing his (and the rest of the team’s) dreams of a National Championship.
So these are threads I’m braiding together to hope for a successful rushing outcome on Saturday:
- Is Baylor’s defense for real? Possibly. I have no idea. I’m not accepting it at face value – I need to see to believe first.
- Unmentioned above, but Baylor plays a nickel defense…
- Sams, practicing as a starter all week, will slice and dice into the second level throughout the game because he’s simply too talented not to.
- Stiverson may be playing. Plus, the offensive line showed more life against Oklahoma State than through the first four games of the year. Maybe it’s finally returning to its 2012 form.
K-State must attempt to make running the ball a cornerstone of the game plan. Keeping Baylor’s offense off the field will keep the defense fresh and limit opportunities. Taking the Bears off their game and not being forced to play from an early deficit will be crucial to the Wildcats’ chances Saturday. If that happens, can K-State pull the upset? Well, last year a team sporting one of the nation’s worst defenses while having lost five of its last six took on the #1 ranked team in the BCS, and Baylor ended up destroying K-State. Stranger things have happened…