Approaching its first Big 12 road game Saturday against Kansas State, Baylor received some crushing news as wide receiver Chris Platt is likely out for the season with a knee injury.
Platt injured his knee in the second half of Baylor’s 49-41 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma last weekend at McLane Stadium. The junior receiver was Baylor’s most dangerous deep threat as he made 16 catches for 401 yards and five touchdowns through Baylor’s four games, and ranked 10th nationally with 25.1 yards per catch.
Baylor coach Matt Rhule said several other receivers will have to step up in Platt’s absence. Sophomore receiver Denzel Mims enjoyed a breakout game against the Sooners with a career-high 11 catches for 192 yards and three touchdowns while Tony Nicholson made seven catches for 74 yards and Pooh Stricklin made six catches for 85 yards.
“I thought Denzel rose to the occasion last game,” Rhule said. “I think Tony Nicholson rose to the occasion. Pooh Stricklin will step into that spot, and I thought he played really well on Saturday. I don’t know if you can replace Chris’ big-time, big-play capabilities, but that’s where we are, so we’re going to have to rely on Pooh and Jared Atkinson and some other guys who have been waiting their turn and got in on Saturday.”
Rhule said Tuesday that he didn’t know yet if Platt would need surgery. He was the second Baylor player to go out with a potential season ending injury against Oklahoma as Rhule announced on Monday that defensive end Xavier Jones broke a bone in his leg.
After racking up 523 yards against the Sooners, the Bears (0-4) will need another inspired offensive performance to have a shot against Kansas State. The Wildcats own the stingiest defense in the Big 12 as they’ve allowed 286.3 yards and 13.3 points per game.
Kansas State (2-1) will also be fresh after a bye week following its 14-7 road loss to Vanderbilt two weeks ago. The Wildcats always play a tough, physical brand of football that wears down opposing teams.
“They’re exactly the type of team that I love to watch,” Rhule said. “They’re going to throw body blows and say in the fourth quarter that you’re going to flinch before they do. We know that this is exactly the type of team that they are, so we have got to get just a little bit tougher and pay a little more attention to detail this week, and hope that that’ll be enough, especially with them coming off of a bye.”
While Zach Smith hit 33 of 50 passes for a career-high 463 yards and four touchdowns, Baylor’s running game struggled against the Sooners with 60 yards on 35 carries.
Left tackle Mo Porter missed much of the game with an injury but is expected to return against Kansas State. Xavier Newman got his first start at left guard as he became the second true freshman offensive lineman to start for the Bears after Ryan Miller started the first two games.
“The thing about Xavier is that he’s a really competitive person,” Rhule said. “He wants to be physical. He wants to get the last shove. He has that demeanor and that personality that you’re looking for on the offensive line. I thought he went in there and made some mistakes and some good plays, and he’ll only get better from there. It’s a good place to start from.”
The Wildcats have been difficult to run against as they’ve allowed 132.7 yards per game and 3.5 yards per rush. The Bears need a more productive running game to take some of the pressure off Smith.
“We won’t be a great team until we can run the football, much like Oklahoma did against us,” Rhule said. “So that’s a challenge for us, and it couldn’t come at a better time as we’re facing a Kansas State team that’s going to line up and come right at you, and we’re going to have to become a much more grown up, physical team quickly to have a chance against them.”
With the Sooners rushing for 342 yards and Baker Mayfield passing for 283, the Sooners rolled up 625 yards total offense against the Bears. Giving up big plays was an issue as Abdul Adams broke loose for a 99-yard touchdown run and Mayfield hit touchdown passes of 52 and 48 yards.
“They had 10 plays for 490 yards, and then the other 60 plays we played pretty good defense,” Rhule said. “We’re trying to eliminate those big plays.”
While most Big 12 teams run a wide-open spread offense, Kansas State operates a ball control attack that relies heavily on the passing and running abilities of quarterback Jesse Ertz. The senior quarterback has passed for 587 yards and four touchdowns and he also leads the Wildcats with 237 yards rushing and two scores.
“This is much more of a zone-read, power run game with the quarterback, and he can throw it just as well, so we really have to hold up,” Rhule said. “This is another team like that where if the (defensive) guy who has the quarterback doesn’t play the quarterback, he’s out. We have to maintain our aggressiveness while also having tremendous attention to detail, because if not they will hurt you.”