The Kansas State Wildcats will travel to Waco this weekend in a Big 12 conference showdown with the Baylor Bears. K-State showed defensive improvement but failed to move the football consistently in a 14-6 loss to Texas last week. Now 2-3 overall and 0-2 in Big 12 play, the Wildcats face an uphill battle to achieve bowl eligibility. Baylor has made its biggest strides on offense this season, but the Bears struggled to slow down Oklahoma and fell to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in conference action following a 66-33 loss in Norman. With several top Big 12 contenders still on the schedule, BU can’t afford a letdown if it hopes to make it back to the postseason.
Can one team put it all together, and put itself back into the bowl picture?
Kansas State at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 6 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Baylor -4
Three Things to Watch
1. The quarterbacks
It’s been a tale of two quarterbacks for both Baylor and Kansas State this season. While both squads have played two signal callers at times, one has found its man, while the other is still struggling with inconsistency under center.
The Bears shuffled both Charlie Brewer and Jalan McClendon in the opening weeks of the season, but Brewer has emerged at the top of the depth chart. The sophomore has completed 63 percent of his passes for 1,262 yards and eight touchdowns with just one interception. His lone pick came all the way back in Week 1. Last week against Oklahoma, Brewer completed 38 of 60 attempts for 400 yards and two touchdowns.
Kansas State gave Alex Delton the start last week against Texas, but he didn’t move the offense much in the first half and didn’t play well enough to cement himself as the unquestioned starter. Delton, who played well in relief against West Virginia a week earlier, threw for only 14 yards on 3-for-7 passing and added 27 rushing yards on 16 carries against the Longhorns. He has completed just 47.4 percent of his passes through five games, passing for 273 yards with a 1-to-2 TD-to-interception ratio. Delton has also run for 143 yards this season.
Skylar Thompson started each of the first four games this season. He completed 8-of-18 pass attempts against Texas and leads the team with 601 passing yards and four touchdowns with only one interception this season. The sophomore has completed 56 percent of his passes and is the second-leading rusher with 175 yards on the ground and is tied for the team lead with two rushing TDs.
2. Rushing the passer
Kansas State’s two quarterbacks have combined to attempt 122 passes in 2018, which is the fewest in the Big 12. Nevertheless, the Wildcats have allowed 17 sacks, which is more than any other team in the conference. As a result, K-State has surrendered a sack on an extremely ugly 12.2 percent of its pass plays this season. Every opponent the Wildcats have played this year has recorded at least three sacks. Yikes. Meanwhile, the Kansas State defense has managed only five sacks in 196 opportunities for a 2.6 percent sack rate that falls on the complete opposite end of the spectrum.
Things might not get better against Baylor. Led by defensive linemen Greg Roberts and James Lynch, who have recorded three sacks apiece, the Bears have 11 sacks this season. The unit has gotten better in recent weeks, as all 11 have come in the last four games. In Big 12 play, Baylor has recorded six sacks in 50 pass attempts, a 12 percent sack rate.
3. Red zone success
Baylor is one of 12 FBS teams to score every time it has reached the red zone this season. The Bears are 18-for-18, second only to Penn State in red score scores overall as well as second in touchdowns (14). Baylor’s 77.78 percent touchdown rate ranks 17th nationally and is second to West Virginia (80 percent) in the Big 12.
On the other side of the coin, Kansas State ranks 129th out of 130 FBS teams in touchdown percentage (28.57 percent), having found paydirt in only four of 14 opportunities. The Wildcats settled for field goals seven times and failed to pick up points on three red zone trips. Overall, K-State’s 78.57 percent scoring rate is second worst in the Big 12 and 101st in the country.
It’s also worth noting that both teams have struggled to keep teams off the scoreboard once they reach the red zone. Kansas State has allowed 11 red zone touchdowns in 17 attempts, which is second most in the conference in both total TDs and percentage (64.71 percent). Baylor ranks second to last in the league in red zone scoring percentage (91.67), just behind Kansas State (88.24), after allowing points in 11 of 12 opportunities. But the Bears have been better at forcing opponents to settle for field goals. BU has allowed a 58.33 percent touchdown rate in the red zone, which ranks eighth in the league, slightly ahead of the Wildcats.
Kansas State has a long history of overachieving under Bill Snyder, and the Wildcats have proven themselves worth the benefit of the doubt over the last two decades. Also, all of K-State’s losses have come against ranked teams. However, the 2018 K-State squad feels different. The Wildcats haven’t been able to move the ball consistently and haven’t taken advantage of scoring opportunities. Also, the offensive line has been dreadful in pass protection. Defensively, Kansas State hasn’t been able to generate a pass rush, which is a major flaw in the pass-heavy Big 12, and opponents have been able to find the end zone far too easily.
On paper, Baylor is the more talented team. The Bears have found their quarterback, and he has a wealth of offensive weapons at his disposal, including Denzel Mims and Jalen Hurd, who both rank in the top six in the Big 12 in receiving yards per game. Baylor has also done a great job punching the ball into the end zone in the red zone. Though Kansas State will likely attempt to dominate time of possession and keep the surging Baylor offense off the field, the Bears have an edge on both sides of the football.
Prediction: Baylor 24, Kansas State 21
— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasIAllen.