Assessing how the Bears managed to take down the Wildcats.
Upsets tend to happen due to a confluence of factors -- taking an opposing team out of their comfort zone, forcing them into uncharacteristic mistakes, exposing weaknesses other teams hadn't exposed, and capitalizing on the momentum.
The Baylor win over Kansas State two weeks ago was no different. And though it is often difficult to broadly apply what works for one team to another that runs a much different offense, there are some takeaways worth examining that stem from an analysis of what the Bears did to pull off what many called the biggest victory in the history of the Baylor program.
Underdogs have an extremely difficult time taking down favored teams without creating an unusual number of turnovers, exactly what Baylor did against Kansas State.
On the season, the Wildcats have only turned the ball over nine times.That isn't a typo, it's just pretty incredible. Against Baylor, Collin Klein threw three of his interceptions, half of his season total.
Falling behind early didn't help, which put Kansas State in a position to throw the ball more than they wanted, without the help of the play-action game that is so concerning to the Texas coaches entering the game on Saturday.
However, two of those interceptions came when the game was still within two scores or less, so they weren't exactly late desperation throws from Klein -- he was just making mistakes, helped by a Baylor pass rush that sacked him twice and harassed him all night, an uncharacteristic performance from a Kansas State offensive line that has protected Klein well in virtually every other game this season.
Uncharacteristic mental mistakes also characterize upsets and Kansas State was certainly a victim of those, with procedural penalties a problem early in the game as the Bears came out in a fast tempo that the Wildcats seemed unprepared to match.
On the season, Kansas State is one of the least penalized teams in the country, committing only 3.2 on average in every other game. In Waco, the Wildcats committed seven, accounting for close to 20% of the season total in one game.
Considering that a hallmark of Bill Snyder teams is discipline and an ability to avoid those mental mistakes that can hurt teams so much, there's no better way to describe those miscues than uncharacteristic.
A raucous home crowd
Even though the infamous tarp was still in place and Floyd Casey still several thousand fans short of capacity, the crowd was at full throat throughout the entire contest, prompting head coach Art Briles to remark after the game that it was the best atmosphere he's had in his time at Baylor, which apparently included the Oklahoma victory last season.
Other than sacking a quarterback who rarely gets sacked and producing big plays against a defense that doesn't give them up, Baylor was also remarkably successful stopping the Kansas State run.
Klein has scored 35 touchdowns in goal-to-go situations in the last two seasons, but was stuffed on four consecutive plays in the 4th quarter, including the final two from the 1-yardline.
Overall, a Baylor rush defense that ranks 81st in the country in S&P+ managed to hold Kansas State to 2.5 yards per carry, mainly by limiting Klein, who couldn't manage even 40 yards on his 17 carries.
The calls for defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's job had reached a crescendo in the weeks before the game as the longtime coach struggled to find any answers. A reduced defensive rotation may have helped, but overall it was a surprisingly strong performance from a defense that has struggled to even come close to competent this season.
Good defenses don't give up big plays, a major reason why Texas featured an elite defense last season -- until facing Baylor, the group hadn't allowed a touchdown pass of more than 20 yards.
Going into the Baylor game, the Kansas State defense wasn't giving up long rushing plays or long passing plays. In fact, they hadn't given up a single touchdown run of longer than 15 yards.
The enduring image of the game was probably Lache Seastrunk's 80-yard touchdown run in which he split the middle of the Kansas State defense and outran defenders into the end zone.
However, that wasn't the only long run of the day, as Baylor scored the only other touchdown run of longer than 15 yards against the Wildcats and recorded 16 of the 49 runs given up by Kansas State of more than 10 yards -- 32% of the season total.
The Baylor offensive line dominated at the point of attack against a Kansas State front that is one of the best in the Big 12, gaining 25% of the yards given up by the Wildcats on the ground the entire season.
Take out that game and Kansas State is only giving up 3.2 yards on the ground per attempt, which would be good enough for 13th in the country. In no other games did Bill Snyder's team give up even close to four yards per attempt and three times has held opponents under three yards per carry.
Of course, teams don't get to just take out their worst effort, but it's worth illustrating just how good the Kansas State defense has been in every other game.
Kansas State just doesn't give up big plays, even through the passing game, but they did against Baylor, perhaps in part due to the loss of star safety Ty Zimmerman, who missed the game due to a leg injury, as Nick Florence was able to take advantage of some supbar play by Zimmerman's replacement and the other Kansas State safety, who were both slow to provide help over the top on some big Baylor passing plays.
To pull off the upset on Saturday, Texas won't have home-field advantage to provide a boost, instead dealing with the emotion of a capacity crowd sending off 27 seniors, including leaders like Klein, linebacker Arthur Brown, and defensive end Meshak Williams.
The Longhorns will need to get off to a fast start, perhaps with a gameplan that eschews tendencies to catch the Wildcats off-guard. With Baylor taking the early lead and holding it for most of the game, Klein had to throw 50 passes, nearly twice the second-highest total this season -- the Wildcats typically prefer to attempt a little over 20 per game.
If Texas can force 30 or more passing attempts by Kansas State, the odds of winning increase significantly.
Surprisingly, though, Kansas State has a top-20 offense in the country on passing downs, so putting them behind the chains is no guarantee of success, something of a surprise given Klein's reputation, even if he has improved markedly as a passer this season.
In the run game, Baylor had most of their success in one-back packages, which isn't exactly the preferred method of attack for Texas. Kansas State will surely load the box and the Texas offensive line had little success after the first two drives against a similar front from TCU. Can the Longhorns take advantage of the same creases that Baylor found?
It may take some success in the passing game to achieve that, particularly taking shots down the field up the seams.
One weakness throughout the season has been in allowing methodical, those that take 10 or more plays, ranking 100th in the country in that metric. Part of the reason for that appears to be a willingness to give up passing plays between 10 and 20 yards, as well as runs of those lengths.
If Texas can sustain drives and convert 3rd downs, they may be able to march down the field against the Wildcats, especially if they opt to play two deep safeties to take away long passing plays and play soft man or zone coverage underneath.
The good news for the 'Horns is that Zimmerman is unlikely to play on Saturday, though speculating about the injury status of Kansas State players is a notoriously difficult proposition. However, if Kansas State self-scouts well, and it the defensive results in every other game suggest that they do, than they may have discovered and addressed those issues.
One of the biggest problems for Texas heading into the game may be the fact that Kansas State played so poorly and did so many things that they rarely do that Snyder has been able to coach his team hard over the last two weeks.
Add to it the fact that Texas was not as well-prepared as TCU when both teams came out of the bye week before Thanksgiving and that the Longhorns didn't seem to work on their tackling before the Oklahoma State game doesn't bode well for success on Saturday. Then add in the fact that Kansas State has out-coached Texas for years.
It will be an extremely difficult task to come out of Manhattan with a win on Saturday and Texas doesn't have the same offensive capabilities in terms of a back with the explosiveness of Seastrunk or a passing game that can spread-and-shred like Baylor, but the Bears were able to exploit some weaknesses that hadn't previously been revealed.
If Texas can do some of those same things and get some help from some more sloppy play by the Wildcats, another upset is possible.