In a matchup of cellar-dwelling Big 12 teams, Baylor will try to break through with its first win of the season in Saturday’s game against Kansas.
But the Bears will have to overcome some tremendous odds since they will travel to Lawrence with a decimated roster.
With sophomore quarterback Zach Smith questionable with a sprained shoulder, freshman Charlie Brewer will get his first start for the Bears.
“We have confidence in him and we know he can go out and move the team, so we’ll try to build off that,” said Baylor coach Matt Rhule. “We’ll have to move some guys around and make sure we put guys in the best position to let them be successful, and we’ll try to do a good job for Charlie in terms of playing to his strengths. He got a little beat up (against Texas) and had a hard time running, so I think some of his running packages might be limited.”
Brewer won’t have anything close to a full cast surrounding him on offense. Pooh Stricklin might be out for the season with a foot injury, joining fellow receivers Chris Platt and R.J. Sneed, who are out with knee injuries. Wide receiver Tony Nicholson and running backs Trestan Ebner and John Lovett are questionable for the game with injuries.
Baylor’s defense will be without middle linebacker Clay Johnston, who will likely miss the rest of the season with a foot injury. Cornerback Harrison Hand is also questionable with an injury.
Additionally, graduate transfer quarterback Anu Solomon has withdrawn from school. Solomon hasn’t played since the second game of the season after suffering with concussion-like symptoms.
“He’s medically withdrawn from school so he doesn’t get all F’s in graduate school,” Rhule said. “He’s having a hard time keeping up academically, so he’s not in school anymore.”
If Smith isn’t ready to play, walk-on Preston Heard will be Baylor’s backup quarterback behind Brewer.
“We’ll see if Zach can get healthy enough as we move forward, but we don’t want to rush him and his shoulder,” Rhule said. “He’s been blessed with too great of an arm to put him in harm’s way, so Charlie will start the game.”
The Bears played one of their worst games of the season in a 38-7 loss to Texas last weekend at McLane Stadium to fall to 0-8 overall and 0-5 in the Big 12.
Though the Bears scored just one touchdown, Brewer had some good moments as he came off the bench to hit 17 of 27 passes for 181 yards. Two weeks ago, he came off the bench to lead the Bears to 23 unanswered points in the fourth quarter in a 38-36 loss to West Virginia.
“He played off and on last week,” Rhule said. “He made some mistakes but he did some good things. On the first drive, he forgets to send the guy in motion and he throws a screen out there and there are not enough blockers. Now we get to come back and figure out what he was doing. He got banged up and had to continue to play banged up.”
With so many receivers missing, Blake Lynch might be needed more offensively than defensively. He played both cornerback and receiver against Texas, and had the biggest offensive play of the day when he grabbed a 52-yard pass from Brewer to set the Bears’ only score in the second quarter.
“It’s just going to come down to where we have more guys,” Rhule said. “If we have more guys on offense, we’ll play Blake on defense, and if we have more guys on defense, we’ll play Blake on offense.”
After opening the season with a 38-16 win over Southeast Missouri State, the Jayhawks have dropped seven straight games, including all five Big 12 games.
But following a 45-0 loss to Iowa State and a 43-0 loss to TCU on the road, the Jayhawks played much better in a 30-20 loss to Kansas State last weekend in Lawrence.
Peyton Bender had seen the majority of the snaps at quarterback before last week, but the Jayhawks turned to Carter Stanley against the Wildcats. The sophomore responded by completing 23 of 48 passes for 418 yards and a touchdown, hitting Steven Sims with nine passes for 233 yards and a score.
“He’s athletic and he gets out on the perimeter,” Rhule said. “I think the big thing is that Coach (Doug) Meacham does a great job of having things built in each week that you haven’t seen before. They can take advantage of what you do.”
The Bears have had difficulty running the ball all season, and got almost nowhere against Texas with 31 yards rushing on 37 carries. Baylor needs a stronger ground game to take the pressure off Brewer.
“They’ve got as good of a defensive line as we’ve faced, so we’re going to have our work cut out for us to go play,” Rhule said.
With only four games remaining, the Bears are feeling more pressure to break through with a win. Kansas appears to be the Bears’ best shot with Texas Tech, No. 14 Iowa State and No. 10 TCU closing out the season.
“I definitely want them to win,” Rhule said. “I want them to win for them. I want them to be rewarded for all the effort and progress and everything that they’ve done. But you also have to understand what it takes to win. I know we want it to be easy, and when you’re way more talented than a team, you can do some fun things and win the game. But when you’re here or slightly below the other team, you have to play really well.”