Playing in its first game without starting quarterback Seth Russell, out for the season with a fractured bone in his neck, No. 6 Baylor remained undefeated with a 31–24 win over Kansas State in Manhattan on Thursday night. With true freshman Jarrett Stidham making his first start of the season, the Bears' offense hummed along at its typical breakneck speed.
Here are three thoughts on Baylor's win:
1. Stidham passes his first test
Stidham has been thrown into the fire as a true freshman, expected to lead a team with national title hopes. But he entered his first start under very good circumstances. The Bears were coming off a bye and facing a Kansas State team that had already been picked apart by several other Big 12 offenses. Stidham passed his first test with flying colors. In the first half, he excelled at getting rid of the ball quickly—Stidham didn’t waste much time in the pocket, and he delivered the ball accurately all over the field.
Then, late in the fourth quarter, he came up with his most impressive play of the game. After a Wildcats touchdown cut the score to 31–24, Stidham delivered a strike to KD Cannon for a 40-yard gain on the first play of the drive, immediately handing momentum back to the Bears. Stidham eased the pressure so quickly that it's hard to get a true sense of how he'll handle a late drive with the game on the line, but in a tight moment, he wasn’t afraid to let the ball fly. The freshman finished 23 of 33 for 419 yards with three touchdowns.
2. Baylor will not go quietly
The Bears could have been a nominee to fold after the release of the first playoff rankings, especially given Russell’s injury. Baylor was ranked outside of the top four and has season-defining matchups looming against Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU in its next three games. But Stidham proved the Bears will not fall apart without Russell. If anything, Baylor should be more worried about its defense. With an explosive offense the Bears don't need to shut their opponents out, but they didn’t inspire much confidence by allowing a plodding Kansas State offense to put up 24 points, including two relatively quick scores in the fourth quarter. If Baylor does fade in the last month of the season, it won’t be with a whimper. Expect some good old-fashioned shootouts to come in the Big 12.
3. Corey Coleman could be the key
A new starting quarterback can often change the production of a team’s top receiver. That doesn't appear to be the case with Coleman. The fringe Heisman candidate had another huge game, catching 11 passes for 216 yards with two touchdowns, including an 81-yard score in which the junior simply outran everyone on the field. Coleman is a special player who will present problems to Big 12 defenses no matter who is playing quarterback. He’s the kind of receiver who can bail out Stidham when the inevitable rough patches hit. Ultimately, the Bears’ roster is still talented enough to enter the top four by the end of the season. With players like Coleman, Cannon and a massive offensive line, the pressure won’t fall entirely on Stidham to keep the Bears afloat.