MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) – Jarrett Stidham knew his lack of experience was probably a big reason Baylor was only ranked sixth in the initial College Football Playoff poll this week.
In his first start, the freshman showed he can keep the high-powered Bears humming.
Stidham threw for 419 yards and three scores in place of the injured Seth Russell, Corey Coleman caught two touchdown passes and Baylor held on for a 31-24 victory over pesky Kansas State on Thursday night to prove it isn’t going anywhere.
“I think that motivated the whole team, but especially Jarrett,” Baylor running back Devin Chafin said about the rankings. “We definitely came out here with a chip on our shoulder.”
Russell broke a bone in his neck two weeks ago against Iowa State and had surgery last Friday, and many wondered how the Bears would handle his loss. And while the Wildcats made sure Stidham’s debut wasn’t easy, the reigning Big 12 co-champions kept their playoff hopes alive.
“We feel like our team is a team of survivors,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who have been through a lot. A lot of coaches who have been through a lot.”
They went through a lot Thursday night, too.
Kansas State closed to 31-24 on Joe Hubener’s touchdown pass to Deante Burton with 4:07 left, and Chris Callahan’s missed field goal with 51 seconds remaining gave the Wildcats a chance.
But on their next play, Hubener threw a lateral to wide receiver Cody Cook, who then threw down the sideline. The sometimes-quarterback’s pass was picked off by Terrell Burt, who managed to get his right foot down inbounds, and the interception stood after an official’s review.
Baylor (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) ran out the clock to drop Kansas State (3-5) to 0-5 in conference play for the first time since 1989, the first season for coach Bill Snyder on the sideline.
“We have to do something about being a good football team. The capabilities are there,” he said. “I’ve always believed that, but you have to do something with it. That means you have to develop it. That falls into my lap. I have to help those young guys understand what it takes in order to get off the matt and win a ballgame. I haven’t done that yet.”
Hubener ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns, but he was just 12 of 21 for 151 yards with an interception. Charles Jones added 76 yards rushing for Kansas State.
Coleman finished with 11 catches for 216 yards, and has a nation-leading 20 TD catches this season, making life a little easier on his 19-year-old quarterback from Stephenville, Texas.
Stidham completed his first three passes to lead Baylor on an 81-yard scoring drive to open the game. And after the Wildcats answered with a methodical, 88-yard march that took 10 minutes, Stidham hit KD Cannon with another 55-yard touchdown strike.
Meanwhile, the beat-up Wildcats kept making too many mistakes.
Hubener fumbled the ball away deep in Baylor territory early in the second quarter, then threw an interception into double coverage on the next possession. Penalties, blown blocking assignments and dropped passes kept scuttling otherwise promising drives.
The Bears seemed to put the game out of reach when Stidham threw a short TD pass to Coleman in the third quarter, and Callahan hit a 39-yard field goal in the fourth. But Kansas State kept right on fighting, getting a 34-yard TD run from Hubener before his touchdown toss to Burton.
It wasn’t until one last mistake on a trick play that the Wildcats’ fate was sealed.
“Coming to into this game, my mindset and the whole team’s mindset was, ‘Hey, we got a chance,'” Kansas State linebacker Elijah Lee said. “We don’t have nothing to lose, and we want to show that we can compete whether our record is bad or good.”
While the victory lacked the pizazz of the Bears’ nearly 60-point shellacking of Kansas, or similar blowouts of Texas Tech and West Virginia, it was a solid start to Stidham’s tenure.
Baylor was ranked sixth in this week’s initial playoff ranking, due partly to a soft early scheduled but also the uncertainty at quarterback. And while Stidham was far from perfect – he did have a delay of game penalty – he proved to be capably in control most of the game.
That bodes well for a season-defining stretch beginning Nov. 14 against Oklahoma, and continuing with back-to-back games at Oklahoma State and TCU.
“People,” Stidham said, “don’t need to be counting us out.”