Baylor once again controls its own fate in Big 12 with win against Kansas

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WACO, Texas — More than once during pregame interviews last week, Baylor coach Art Briles mentioned that an underrated Kansas defense had yet to allow more than 34 points to a Big 12 opponent this season.

Briles’ Bears needed less than two quarters to top that total Saturday during a feel-good blowout that featured 11 consecutive scoring drives and, combined with other results around the league, gave No.

13 Baylor (7-1, 4-1) control of its destiny in the Big 12 championship race.

The Bears eventually tapped the offensive brakes in the fourth quarter and coasted to a 60-14 victory in McLane Stadium that included a season-high 326 rushing yards, 343 passing yards, and three fumble recoveries by the Baylor defense.

But the numbers that mattered most to Briles included an uptick in third-down conversion rate (11 of 18, 61.1 percent) and a cutback in penalty yards (54). Those digits represented a significant turnaround in the areas that harpooned Baylor’s potential perfect season in the team’s last outing, a 41-27 loss to No. 20 West Virginia on Oct. 18.

BIG 12 STANDINGS
Team Overall Conference
Kansas State 5-0 7-1
Baylor 4-1 7-1
TCU 4-1 7-1
West Virginia 4-2 6-3
Oklahoma 3-2 6-2
OK State 3-3 5-4
Texas 3-3 4-5
Texas Tech 1-5 3-6
Iowa State 0-5 2-6
Kansas 0-5 2-6

In that contest, the Bears converted only 3 of 16 third downs and racked up 215 penalty yards, a Big 12 record. Making strides in those areas on the same day that No. 7 TCU knocked off the Mountaineers 31-30 created a double dose of good vibes for the Bears, who need only to win their four remaining games to secure the bowl berth reserved for the Big 12 champion.

The trek won’t be easy, starting with this week’s game at No. 19 Oklahoma (6-2, 3-2) and concluding with a Dec. 6 matchup in Waco against No. 9 Kansas State (6-1, 4-0). But the Bears took an impressive first step in that direction against Kansas (2-6, 0-5).

“I liked our attitude, and that’s the thing we worked on the last two weeks,” Briles said. “It was about controlling us and earning respect for us. It was about giving the effort that it takes to be a dynamic football team. We came out and played with a lot of passion, a lot of effort and a lot of energy.”

That translated to both sides of the ball. In addition to the offense, which failed to score points on only two of its 13 possessions, the defense held Kansas to a season-low 16 rushing yards (0.6 per carry), forced five fumbles and collected three sacks.

“We definitely put some big pieces together that we needed,” said defensive tackle Andrew Billings, who ran down Kansas running back Corey Avery to make the tackle after one 36-yard completion. “It felt good. We have some more pieces to put together before [playing] OU.”

Already, the Bears’ focus has shifted to the Sooners. After the game, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty channeled his inner Bill Belichick. Petty fielded six questions. Regardless of the topic, he answered each with the phrase, “Just ready for OU.” Or something very close to it.

Briles chuckled when told of Petty’s antics after throwing for 277 yards and three touchdowns.

“I like it. I should do the same,” Briles said. “I’m proud that his focus and his energy and his vision is directed right there, right now. Because he understands it’s going to be a great college football game with two great college teams playing.”

But only one elite team took the field Saturday in Waco. Baylor made that clear early and often. After punting on its opening possession, the Bears put together 11 consecutive scoring drives (seven touchdowns, four field goals) ranging from 6 to 88 yards. Baylor’s longest drive, an 89-yarder, killed the final 7:43 but did not produce points.

The only postgame nitpicks involved two short-field possessions following turnovers that yielded field goals rather than touchdowns. Otherwise, Baylor rolled behind a reshuffled offensive line (replacing two starters lost to season-ending injuries) and the running back tandem of Devin Chafin (112 yards, 2 TDs) and Shock Linwood (81 yards, 1 TD).

For Briles, it marked a welcome change from what he saw in the team’s last outing in Morgantown, West Virginia.

“We got caught in a situation a couple of weeks ago where the cloth was flying,” Briles said, reflecting on the team’s penalty problems. “Today, it was a little bit different. I think some of the game is determined by how the flow of the game is going from that standpoint.”

For Baylor, things flowed smoothly enough to emerge as the first team to score more than 41 points against Kansas this season. But the value-added came courtesy of TCU (7-1, 4-1), which lost to Baylor 61-58 on Oct. 11. The Horned Frogs’ victory against West Virginia (6-3, 4-2) dropped the Mountaineers behind the Bears in the league standings, meaning Baylor is back in control of its destiny in efforts to defend last year’s Big 12 title.

“That definitely helps,” receiver Corey Coleman said of the reshuffled league standings. “Now, we’ve got to keep on playing the way we can play.”

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