MANHATTAN, Kan. — Handed the keys to the Ferrari, Baylor freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham looked like he was born to sit behind the wheel.
Making his first college start before a national television audience, Stidham handled the white hot spotlight with remarkable poise as he passed for 419 yards and three touchdowns and ran for a score as the No. 2 Bears hung on to a 31-24 win over Kansas State on a chilly Thursday night.
Playing before 52,108 fans in a tough road environment at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Stidham looked as comfortable as he did as a senior at Stephenville High School last fall. The gifted 19-year-old hit 23 of 33 passes with no interceptions and wowed the crowd with many of his perfectly-placed passes.
It was the inspiring performance Baylor (8-0, 5-0) needed from Stidham after junior Seth Russell went out for the season with a broken neck in a 45-27 win over Iowa State on Oct. 24.
“We told him to show the nation what we already knew,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “Our hearts and souls go out to Seth. He did a great job getting us here. But Jarrett has talent and instincts. He played just like we knew he would.”
After the Bears opened up a 31-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Wildcats answered with a pair of touchdowns. They got the ball a final time with 51 seconds left after Baylor kicker Chris Callahan missed a 41-yard field goal.
But Baylor finally put the game away when Terrell Burt intercepted Kody Cook’s option pass along the sideline at Kansas State’s 49 with 44 seconds remaining.
“We feel like we’re a team of survivors,” Briles said. “You can slap us around and talk about us all you want, but in November we’ll still be around.”
The Bears will now hit the most grueling stretch of the season with three consecutive games against Top 25 teams, including No. 5 TCU, No. 12 Oklahoma State and No. 14 Oklahoma.
Kansas State (3-5, 0-5) tried to control the clock with quarterback Joe Hubener doing most of the heavy lifting as he rushed for 153 yards on 29 carries and two touchdowns and hit 12 of 21 passes for 151 yards and a score. But it wasn’t enough to match Stidham’s starting debut.
Stidham fired a laser to KD Cannon over the middle for a 55-yard touchdown in the first quarter before spiraling an 81-yard scoring pass down the left sideline to a wide open Corey Coleman in the second quarter. Coleman grabbed a 3-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter.
“I felt a little amped up coming into the game, but it was good once it started,” Stidham said. “It was my first start in a tough environment and I’m glad we got the W. I did a lot of growing up. I’m glad I got this experience under my belt.”
Stidham looked confident from the opening drive when he hit three of four passes for 64 yards to lead the Bears to their first touchdown.
On the Bears’ first play, he fired a short pass to Coleman along the left sideline which he turned into a 36-yard gain. After Stidham found Cannon for 7 yards and Shock Linwood for 21, Linwood blasted 11 yards to the 1.
Stidham fooled the defense with a fake to Linwood and ran for a 1-yard touchdown with 13:14 left in the first quarter.
Kansas State’s game plan was to take as much time off the clock as it could to keep the ball away from Baylor’s offense. The Wildcats did just that on their first drive as they methodically moved 88 yards on 17 plays and erased more than nine minutes off the clock.
Converting two fourth downs on the lengthy drive, Hubener finished it off with a 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7-7 with 3:53 left in the first quarter.
The Bears needed just 56 seconds to score their next touchdown. After Linwood ran three times for 20 yards, Stidham made one of his most memorable passes of the night.
With Cannon racing across the middle, Stidham fired a bullet for a 55-yard touchdown to give the Bears a 14-7 lead with 2:57 left in the first quarter.
“I was looking for KD and I made a horrible pass, but he made a great adjustment,” Stidham said.
The Wildcats put together another solid drive on their second possession as they moved to Baylor’s 22. But Jamal Palmer forced Hubener to fumble and Grant Campbell recovered at the 23.
After Baylor moved into Kansas State territory to the 43, linebacker Will Davis sacked Stidham for a 4-yard loss to stop the drive.
But after the Wildcats failed to move the ball, Stidham went back to the air and perfectly led Coleman for an 81-yard touchdown down the left sideline to give the Bears a 21-7 lead with 7:06 left in the first half.
“We talked about that in the huddle and I got a perfect look,” Stidham said. “I put it out there and he got it.”
Following an offensive lull, Stidham guided the Bears on a 68-yard touchdown drive to open up a 28-10 lead with 5:10 left in the third quarter.
Coleman made the biggest play of the drive when he caught a short fourth-down pass from Stidham and raced down the left sideline for 38 yards to the 3.
Coleman completed the drive by making a 3-yard touchdown catch from Stidham over Kansas State cornerback Duke Shelley to open up a 28-10 lead with 5:10 left in the third quarter. Coleman finished with 11 catches for 216 yards.
Stidham led the Bears on a 15-play, 58-yard drive that ended with Chris Callahan’s 39-yard field goal with 12:20 left in the game.
The Wildcats still had some energy left as they drove 84 yards on five plays with Hubener again doing most of the damage. He broke loose for a 34-yard touchdown to cut Baylor’s lead to 31-17 with 9:47 remaining.
After Baylor failed to score, Kansas State kept it interesting by moving 77 yards for another touchdown. The big play was Hubener’s 46-yard pass to fullback Winston Dimel.
Hubener completed the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Deante Burton cut Baylor’s lead to 31-24 with 4:07 remaining.