Kansas University football coach Charlie Weis has made no secret of the fact that the best plan of attack when facing Baylor’s incredibly potent offense is to grind the clock by running the ball and play keep-away.
“That’s what we’re going to do,” Weis said. “They know it. We know it.”
That’s what the Jayhawks have done in each of their past two conference games, and both times KU found itself trailing by just a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Neither effort resulted in a victory for the Jayhawks, but they showed the players the plan could work and restored KU’s confidence in its rushing attack.
“I think you have to be willing to try to do things to try to get more production,” Weis said. “But at the end of the day, it wasn’t just a lack of scoring points against Texas Tech, it was how we played the game. ... I’m trying to play into our team’s strength right now, which is our defense, unlike the Texas Tech game, where we were on the short field the whole game. I don’t want to put our defense on the short field. I want to put them on the long field as much as I possibly can.”
Turning the KU-Baylor showdown into a battle of running teams certainly would not seem to bother Baylor. Not only do the Bears feature three dynamic running backs — two of whom average more than seven yards per carry — but they also have the fewest three-and-outs of any team in the country and often set up their potent offense with a heavy dose of the run.
“If they can line up and pound you, I really believe that’s their first choice,” KU linebackers coach Clint Bowen said. “They run the ball extremely efficiently.”
Bowen said the Bears run the ball about 62 percent of the time and are so talented across the board on offense that they base their entire philosophy on taking whatever the defense gives them.
So far this season, that has been 65 points and 714 yards per game.
With the ills of KU’s struggling passing attack well documented and stretching from the offensive line to the sideline and all areas in between, KU quarterback Jake Heaps was asked what he thought the quickest fix for that unit would be.
“If you’re gonna ask me, I’m gonna say that whatever I can do to be better is the quickest fix in my eyes,” said Heaps, who enters today’s game having completed 52 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and six interceptions. “Everyone else has to work on their own individual parts, and all I can do is worry about what more I can give to the team that can help our passing game be better.”
For Heaps, the former five-star recruit who set loads of freshman passing records at BYU, struggling to find success and rhythm is unfamiliar.
“It’s definitely new territory,” he said. “But the only thing you can do about it is continue to work and be positive about it. I’m not worried about having another repeat performance of last week (5-of-13 passing for 16 yards). I think that’s as low as you can get. We’re focused on getting better and continuing to improve.”
Baylor leads the all-time series between these two schools, 8-4, but is just 2-4 all-time in Lawrence. One of those victories came during the Bears’ last trip to Lawrence, when Robert Griffin III engineered a come-from-behind, overtime victory over then-coach Turner Gill’s Jayhawks in 2011.
Baylor has won the last three meetings in this series by an average score of 42-17.
Bears heavy favorites
The Jayhawks’ challenge this week against sixth-ranked Baylor is approaching historic numbers for college football. Although plenty of teams have been favored by more than the 35-point spread the Bears bring into tonight’s game, very few teams have ever seen that spread stacked against them and then won the game.
The biggest upset in terms of the point spread in college football history came in 2007, when Stanford shocked USC despite entering the game as a 41-point underdog. Prior to that, Oregon State, a 38-point underdog in 1985, also pulled off the unthinkable by topping Washington, 21-20.