Here is everything you need to know as the Kansas Jayhawks take on the Baylor Bears in Big 12 action.
6:30 p.m. Central Time, Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020, McLane Stadium, Waco, Texas
TV: ESPNU (Roy Philpott, Kelly Stouffer)
Radio: Jayhawk Radio Network; Baylor IMG Sports Network / ESPN Central Texas; Sirius 121, SM 199, Internet 953.
RB Pooka Williams
If you’re going to slow down the Kansas offense, the first task is to slow down the junior back, who is etching his place in the Kansas record book. Per the team’s media notes, in just 23 career games, he has 2,253 yards and 10 touchdowns on 376 carries. Last season he became just the second Jayhawk to rush for 2,000 or more yards in his first two seasons, joining Kansas legend Gale Sayers (1962-63). Williams was also just the second Jayhawk to rush for 1,000 or more yards in consecutive seasons, joining James Sims (2012-13). In the opener against Coastal Carolina, Williams rushed for just 67 yards, as he shared carries with Velton Gardner. Expect Williams to get more work against Baylor.
QB Miles Kendrick
If there is any debate about who should start at quarterback against Baylor it should end now. Kendrick should get the nod after throwing for 156 yards passing and 2 touchdown passes in the season opener. He completed 62.5 percent of his passes and he got the offense moving after the Jayhawks fell behind Coastal Carolina. With Thomas MacVittie at the controls to start the game, the offense stumbled. In a normal season the Jayhawks would have a three-game sample size. But this isn’t a normal season. Head coach Les Miles likes going with his gut. After one game, his gut should be saying take a shot with Kendrick.
LB Dru Prox
Prox ended up with a lot of work against Coastal Carolina, registering 11 total tackles (8 solo), half-a-tackle for loss and a pass break-up. Prox missed much of last season, so the Jayhawks were just happy to see him on the field, much less have him lead them in tackles for the night. In fact, his total tackles amounted to a career high. The Jayhawks are hoping they can keep him healthy for the entire season in 2020, because his four-game totals in 2019 showed a lot of promise — 39 tackles and two double-digit tackle games before missing the rest of the season.
QB Charlie Brewer
With a new head coach in Dave Aranda, the stability Brewer brings to the quarterback position is a bonus, and after two false starts we will finally get to see that in action against Kansas. Brewer is the first four-year starter at Baylor since JJ Joe did it from 1990-93. Brewer is coming off a 2019 in which he led the Bears to the Big 12 title game and threw for 3,161 total yards on 215-of-389 passing with 21 touchdowns passes to just 7 interceptions, and also rushed for 344 yards on 147 carries and 11 touchdowns. Brewer should put up similar, if not better numbers, in 2020. Plus, Brewer has made a number change from 12 to 5 for his senior season.
WR Tyquan Thornton
In his third season at Baylor, Thornton is poised to become a national star, not just a Big 12 second option, now that Denzel Mims is off to the NFL. The All-Big 12 Honorable Mention selection started 11 of Baylor’s 12 games in 2019, finishing with 45 receptions for 782 yards and five touchdowns. All of those numbers were second-best on the team behind Mims, but Thornton had a better yards-per-catch average (17.4) than Mims (15.5). The Bears have built a tradition the last decade of developing highly-productive wide receivers who move on to the NFL. Thornton hopes to build on that legacy.
LB Terrel Bernard
If you’re looking for a Big 12 defensive player ready to take the step toward national acclaim, Bernard would be a good place to start. Baylor’s leading tackler as a sophomore in 2019, he finished the season with a team-high 112 total tackles (53 solo), 4.5 sacks for 33 yards, 3 fumble recoveries, 1 interception, 5 QB hurries and 2 pass breakups. An All-Big 12 Second Team pick last year, he could end up being the conference’s defensive player of the year. And that could lead him to the NFL sooner rather than later, as Bernard wrapped up his undergraduate degree in August. After two straight weeks of having the season opener postponed, Bernard is likely chomping at the bit to get started.
The Jayhawks’ loss to Coastal Carolina — the program’s second straight to a school that is in its fourth season in FBS — underscores just how far the Jayhawks have to go in order to be respectable under head coach Les Miles. And it really starts with finding a quarterback that can bring the offense some stability. Last season the Jayhawks actually fired well offensively — for them — averaging 377.3 yards per game, their most in a decade. Perhaps Miles Kendrick is that player. He absolutely gave the offense a spark after a sluggish first half, and is a big reason why it outscored the Chanticleers 20-10 in the second half. The program has pockets of real talent, and presents 12 seniors at the top of its depth chart going into the Baylor game. But KU is making a concerted effort to recruit freshmen and develop them, which means the players behind those seniors are young and need time to develop for 2021. And that likely means more growing pains in 2020 for a program that won just one Big 12 game in 2019.
So, the Bears finally get to start the season. Their season opener on Sept. 12 with Louisiana Tech, and a hastily scheduled follow-up game with Houston on Sept. 19, were both cancelled due to COVID protocols. The Bears and TCU are the only two Big 12 teams that haven’t played a game yet, which isn’t ideal when you have a new head coach. Dave Aranda is Baylor’s fourth head coach in six seasons, and that sounds worse than it is. Art Briles was fired after the 2015 season in the wake of Baylor’s sexual assault scandal. Jim Grobe stepped in as a temporary replacement in 2016, followed by Matt Rhule. He rebuilt the program in three seasons and then followed his heart to the NFL and the Carolina Panthers. This is Aranda’s first head-coaching job, and his adjustment to calling the shots will be one of the significant threads of this season. Like Rhule, Aranda’s background is on defense, as he was LSU’s defensive coordinator during its national championship run last season. His only contact with the Big 12 before Baylor was a three-year stint as a graduate assistant at Texas Tech.
Baylor 47, Kansas 20
There isn’t a lot to work with here, in terms of prognostication. Kansas is coming off a loss to a Coastal Carolina team that isn’t nearly as talented as Baylor, and that doesn’t bode well for the Jayhawks. This game really comes down to talent and stability, and despite the head-coaching change the Bears have the checkmarks in both categories. I expect the Bears to lead early and not be challenged, despite the lack of a dress rehearsal. And, just for the record, Baylor has won the last 10 meetings and has never lost to KU in Waco.
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