The sound of the school fight song. The thousands of screaming fans supporting their team. The traditions, the pageantry and the pride of two teams battling it out on the gridiron on a Saturday. This is what college football is all about. After months of hibernation it is back and bigger than ever. So fans fire up those grills for your tailgates and put on your school colors because college football season is here! Every week I will breakdown and preview the best matchup the Big 12 has to offer and for this week’s pick, I will be previewing the Oklahoma State Cowboys taking on the (16) Baylor Bears. Coverage will begin at 6:30 PM CT on FOX from McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas.
What’s at Stake?
There is no doubt right now that the Big 12 is one huge mess. I could call it worse but I think I’ll stick with the word mess for right now. The Big 12 title picture is about as clear your vision after drinking a 12 pack of beer (of your choice). With all the bumps and bruises the conference has taken, the time has finally come so the other conferences can stop beating us and we can start bashing on one another. Two high flying offenses will hit the gridiron Saturday to do their best to put on one hell of a show through the air. This game is going to be like a straight up old fashioned western shoot out from a John Wayne movie. When it is all said and done, the scoreboard will light up looking like there was a basketball game just played on the football field in Waco. There may be no rim rocking alley-ops, but there will be plenty of plays made that will make your jaw drop. As for both teams, anytime you can get a conference win is crucial, especially when the Big 12 is as wide open as ever.
For Oklahoma State, they are ready to show everyone that the loss to Central Michigan two weeks ago was just a fluke. Mike Gundy and his team are determined to show the rest of the Big 12 that they should be taken as a serious threat to win a conference title this season. After a big momentum win against Pitt, the Cowboys are more focused than ever to start their so called “second season”, which is conference play.
For Baylor, they much like their opponent, are set to showcase their fire power by taking down a conference foe. After 3 straight weeks of playing cupcakes (Northwestern State, SMU, Rice), the Bears look to take down their biggest challenge yet, the Oklahoma State Cowboys. After all the turmoil from a few months ago, a win here would silence some of the critics as Jim Grobe looks to win his first Big 12 game as the head coach at Baylor.
Oklahoma State Offense
The sheriff for the Oklahoma State offense is none other than QB Mason Rudolph. Rudolph has a 62% completion percentage as well as throwing for 6 touchdowns and 1 interception. The most eye popping number for Rudolph is his astonishing passing yards per game at 399 yards. Like other Cowboy quarterbacks before him, Mason Rudolph loves to sling the ball all over the field. This offense goes as Rudolph goes, as Mike Gundy leans heavily on the passing attack. Rudolph is a polished, experienced Big 12 QB and is the best QB Oklahoma State has seen since Brandon Weeden was taking snaps in 2010-2011. The one flaw Mason does have is that he can be a bit careless with the ball at times. He has had a bit of a fumbling issue since the 2015 season and there are throws on the field that he leaves to be desired. It seems like the tougher the throw the better he does, but when it is an easy throw he does not always make it look that way.
The Cowboys have almost a revolving door at RB. They have used as many as five this season but there are three that will get most of the time in the backfield. Getting the bulk of the carries is Justice Hill. Hill has 24 carries through three games and has a total of 102 yards. Next in line is Ronnie Childs with 14 carries and 128 yards along with 4 touchdowns. Number three of the group is Chris Carson with 12 carries and 50 yards. For as much of a buzz as Barry Sanders Jr. was getting in the offseason, he rarely is on the field and hasn’t become involved in the game plan at all. This is a running back by committee backfield, but expect to see Ronnie Childs as the starter Saturday.
The most impressive part of the offense is the wide receiver position. I had this group ranked as the number one wide receiving core in the Big 12 before the season started. James Washington is the X factor for this Cowboy offense. Washington has been lights out catching 19 balls for 399 yards and 3 touchdowns. He is the best receiver in the Big 12 and maybe the entire country. What separates him from other receivers is his ball skills. He is one of the best at catching the over the shoulder pass while running at full speed. The number two go to for Mason Rudolph is Jhajuan Seales, who has stepped up to the plate so far. Seales is key for the passing game and has done a fantastic job while Marcell Ateman is recovering from his foot injury. Last but not least is Jalen Mccleskey who has racked up 18 receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown. This trio has been marvelous for the passing attack and this position will only get better when Ateman gets healthy.
Up front is where the questions lay. The Pokes will use starters LT Victor Salako, LG Marcus Keyes, C Brad Lundblade, RG Larry Williams and RT Zach Crabtree. This lineup is a little different from before the year started as both guards Marcus Keyes and Larry Williams are the newbies of the offensive line. Salako, Lundblade and Carbtree all were starters in 2015 but that wont be enough to make this unit a dominate one.
Everyone who has ever watched this offense knows the it is a pass happy one. Mason Rudolph is carrying the offense on his back just like last season. Oklahoma State relies so much on him that when he does make a mistake it feels like a devastating one. If I had to compare how important he is to this offense to someone, it would be Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys before they had any sort of running game. Don’t get me wrong Rudolph has some outstanding weapons in Washington and Seales, but until Ateman gets back this is a three-man offense. This offense is averaging 98 rushing yards per game and the will have to improve so defenses actually respect the run game. This non existing rushing attack will come back and bite this team at some point in time this year like it did in 2015. Yes, they won 10 games in 2015, but they lost the final two by being so one dimensional on offense. Most of the blame should be put on the offensive line who has been sub par, but that will have to change if the Cowboys want to make a serious Big 12 title run.
After losing some key components from last year, this Baylor defense has not been too shabby this year in certain areas. I know they aren’t they best the Big 12 has to offer, but they look better than I though they would be at this point and time. The defensive line has two of three new starters up front. At defensive end the Bears will use Jamie Jacobs and K.J. Smith. In the middle will be Ira Lewis, who has done a good job at being a space eater in this three-man line. Smith is the most experienced of the unit having started some games back in 2014 while both Lewis and Jacobs are new.
At Linebacker the starting bunch will consist of Raaquan Davis, Aiavion Edwards and Taylor Young. Davis is a new starter this season as he saw very little time last year and saw most of his action on special teams. Edwards and Young have been solid for the Bears defense through the first three games. Taylor Young is the only returning starter at linebacker from last year and has been good since, while Aiavion Edwards has had 21 tackles and has been impressive thus far. A name to keep an eye on here is linebacker Patrick Levels who currently leading the team in tackles but is sitting behind Edwards on the depth chart. Levels has 22 tackles with 4 of them going for losses. Look to see him out on the field plenty on Saturday.
In the back end, this secondary is young but it does have a few bright spots to look forward to. It all starts with NB Travon Blanchard who is all over the field for the Bears. He can cover the slot and help make plays in the run game. He currently has 3 TFLs and a sack and looks to be a force to recon with on this defense. At cornerback postion will feature two new starters this season in Tion Wright and Jameson Houston. Wright saw some time last year as a backup while the tall (6’2) Houston was redshirted in 2015. Orion Stewart and Davion Hall will be the ones in charge at the two safety spots. Stewart started 9 games last season and has had 2 INTs on the young season. Davion Hall is a former wide receiver who actually started 4 games at receiver before making the switch to safety in the offseason.
The Bears have yet to play a true offense that will test their skills thoroughly. The defense is holding opponents to under 100 yards passing, which says a lot about the secondary since most teams they have played have been down big and have had to pass to get back into games. The run defense however had been kind of suspect at times. They have given up 152 yards a game with some teams that do not have exactly what I would call a good rushing attack. Out of the defensive front only 3 have have stood out to me in Lewis, Young and Levels, who is a backup. This defensive front will have to show me something down they road if they want to be a good one. The back end of this defense has been the bright spot for this side of the ball, but they will have their biggest work cut out for them now that Big 12 play has arrived.
Oklahoma State will throw the football all over the place as much as they can. That will mean Baylor will need a good solid performance from their defensive secondary which has not been truly tested in it’s first three games. Baylor has yet to see a receiver like Washington and will most likely have to keep more than one set of eyes on him at all times. If Baylor is able to keep Washington under control I feel like they will have a very good chance at winning this battle. With Washington being the number one priority for the Baylor defense, it will be up to Oklahoma State wide receivers Jhajuan Seales and Jalen Mccleskey to step up and make some plays. Baylor’s weakest part of the defense is their front, but Oklahoma State does not have the fire power on the ground to make the Bears pay for it. Expect the Cowboys to take their fair share of shots downfield but to also use the short passing game to try and open up the run for the backfield.
Last season before Seth Russell got injured, this Baylor offense was a high powered, well oiled machine. This year is a bit different. The Bears have lost their biggest playmaker and first round NFL draft pick in Corey Coleman, as well as losing some key pieces on the offensive line.
Calling the signals for the Bears will be QB Seth Russell who was phenomenal last season before getting injured. He is averaging 253 passing yards per game with a completion percentage of 59%. He has also thrown for 9 touchdowns along with 3 interceptions. These aren’t the eye popping numbers that we are accustomed to seeing from a quarterback in this offense, but Seth is in the upper echelon of the Big 12 quarterbacks in my opinion.
Even though this is a spread offense, the Bears have been able to run the ball and produce some nice running backs in the past couple seasons. Leading the way in the backfield is the all time leading rusher in Baylor history, Shock Linwood. Linwood is a small shifty back who can take it the distance from anywhere on the field. He is averaging over 5 yards a carry and only getting around 13 carries per game. Behind him is Terence Williams who actually has two more carries than Linwood, and has been a really nice piece for this offense. Lets not forget about JaMycal Hasty who leads the Bears in rushing yards per game at 79. This trio in the backfield is something the Bears have been dreaming of for awhile as all of them are averaging at least 70 yards per game on the ground.
What most call “Wide Receiver U”, this wide receiver group hasn’t lived up to that hype. I knew coming into the season that KD Cannon would be the man in Waco, but I thought he would at least have someone else to help him out. Cannon is averaging 117 receiving yards per game as well as hauling in 4 touchdowns scores. Behind him is where I have some question marks. There is only one other receiver on this roster that has over 80 yards receiving through three games is Blake Lynch. Lynch has been a pleasant surprise for this offense catching 13 passes for 152 yards and 2 touchdowns. He has been the second go to for QB Seth Russell and is raising some eyebrows after redshirting last season. The other receivers like Quan Jones, Chris Platt and Lynx Hawthorne have been very lackluster so far and will need to help out the cause.
Up front Baylor is replacing 4 starters from last year. The starting five for the Bears will be is LT Dom Desouza, LG Ishmael Wilson, C Kyle Fuller, RG Blake Blackmar and RT Patrick Lawrence. C Kyle Fuller is the anchor for the offensive line as he is the only returning starter from 2015. The other four are new and haven’t seen a ton of time last year, but they will have their biggest test going up against a good defensive front.
With no Art Briles on the sidelines, it will be up to his son and Baylor offensive coordinator Kendall Briles to be paving the way for the offense. Seth Russell hasn’t looked the same since his injury, but he is the engine that makes this offense run. The Bears have been able to run the ball all over their first three cupcake opponents averaging over 200 yards per game. This offensive scheme is all about finding matchups and running the football a lot more than what people give them credit for. The concerning issue for this offense is the pass protection and the wide receiver group. This has to be more than a KD Cannon show in the passing game. Lynch has been a reliable target to go to but Jones, Platt and Hawthorne have got to step up. I can’t remember the last time I was ever concerned about playmakers on the outside for Baylor. Also the main goal for this offense is keeping Seth Russell up right and healthy.
Oklahoma State Defense
On the defensive side off the ball, the Cowboys will use DE Jarrell Owens, DT Vincent Taylor, DT Motekiai Maile and DE Cole Walterscheid to start on the defensive line. Owens and Walterscheid have been very impressive so far, both racking up two sacks apiece and have a combined 8 TFLs. They are a force to be reckoned with on the edge. Inside, Taylor and Maile have also done a good job in their respective roles.
At linebacker, SLB Jordan Burton is the man in charge. Burton is leading his team in tackles as expected, and was a former All Big 12 performer last year. Alongside him will be MLB Chad Whitener and WLB Devante Averette. Whitener has played well in his first few games and Averette is trying to follow his two teammates by playing well also. Averette played a lot on special teams last year but so far I can’t complain about any of his performances.
The secondary for this defense has been a bit troubling at times, but rebounded some and made a big play to seal the victory last week against Pitt. At corner the Cowboys will feature Ashton Lampkin and Ramon Richards. Lampkin was injured a lot last season and Richards has been the man who has to face the opponent’s best receiver week in and week out. Richards has ben burned a few times but that is expected when you face the best your opponent has to offer, but it was him that had the game winning INT last week. The NB positon is held by Darius Curry who hasn’t been tested much and still unproven. The best player in this secondary is FS Jordan Sterns who has broken up 3 passes so far and is a stud at his position. It seems like Sterns is always there to make the right plays. With Sterns at FS, Tre Flowers is the SS for the defense. Flowers, much like Sterns is a pass breakup machine and he led the team in them in 2015.
It all starts with the front seven for the Cowboys, but mostly their defensive line. That front four for Oklahoma State has beyond exceeded my expectations considering all that they lost up front from last season. The linebackers have played ok so far, but to make this a true run stuffing defense they will need to play at the level like their defensive line is playing right now. The corner positon makes me think twice at times but they do have two good safeties in the back end. Richards and Lampkin are the two key players for this defense as the Big 12 is a very pass happy conference.
Baylor is going to throw their fair share of passes for sure, but the Bears offense is at its best when they get the run game involved like they have been doing. The only problem is this is the best defensive front Baylor has seen so far and it may be one of the best ones in the conference. The Baylor offensive line is going to really have to show me something on Saturday if they plan on successfully running the football. The defensive line for Oklahoma State is no pushover and if Russell doesn’t get rid of the ball quickly, expect to see defensive ends Jarrell Owens and Cole Walterscheid in his face. A key for Baylor will be finding a reliable passing target besides KD Cannon. I expect CB Ramon Richards to cover him all game while FS Jordan Sterns will have his eyes on him as well trying not to get beat deep. This means WR Blake Lynch or someone else will have to step up big to take some of the heat off of Cannon. Also Keep an eye on Baylor RB Shock Linwood, who they may try to get involved in the passing game if Baylor isn’t able to find another target for Russell.
Oklahoma State wins if they are able to keep QB Mason Rudolph on his feet and slow down Baylor WR KD Cannon. If Rudolph has enough time in the pocket (Run game or not) he can absolutely pick your secondary apart with his wide receivers. Defensively the game plan will have to be keeping WR KD Cannon in check. The secondary can not get beat deep or else this will turn into a shootout that may not favor the Cowboys. Make someone else besides Linwood or Cannon beat you, if they can do that I like their chances at winning this football game
Baylor wins if they are able to run the football and create pressure on QB Mason Rudolph. If they can run the football, that will take some pressure off Cannon and help open up the offense for other guys to step up such as Blake Lynch. It doesn’t matter which back they use as long as the line can create running lanes against a good Cowboy defensive line. Defensively it will all be about disrupting the timing of Rudolph and his receivers. They need to get a pass rush on Rudolph because if they do, he can be a bit careless at times with the football.
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