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October 11, 2013

Game Up Close: Offensive assault

Breaking down this year's college football phenomena formally known as Baylor's offense is simply mind-blowing. The well-documented statistics are staggering and the highlights that go with them are just as jaw dropping. And although the topic has been beaten to an absolute pulp this week, there's a good reason why it's the main buzz in the Little Apple heading into Kansas State's home game with the 15th-ranked Bears on Saturday.

The reason is simple: Baylor's offense has been so good and so explosive and so efficient in 2013, it's fascinating. Sure, K-State, 2-3 overall and 0-2 in Big 12 Conference play, has faced its fair share of high-octane offenses in Bill Snyder Family Stadium over the years and, to a much lesser extent, this season, but perhaps nothing will compare to the type of juggernaut it will face with Baylor, 4-0 and 1-0, in the 2:30 p.m. contest. That's why there is so much attention surrounding it.

It's no secret Baylor wants to run the football first, but the problem is no one has been able to stop it in 2013. Led by junior Lache Seastrunk and using a combination of freshman Shock Linwood and senior Glasco Martin, too, the Bears average nearly 350 yards per game on the ground. Each of the running backs, and definitely Seastrunk, has the ability to bust open a long run at any time so it's vital for K-State's improving defense to not allow that to happen. Of course, that's easier said than done and although the Wildcats defended the run well at Oklahoma State, they could be in for a long, long night.
Big Advantage: Baylor
In a surprise move by K-State coach Bill Snyder against Oklahoma State, he allowed Daniel Sams to manage the offense and it gave an instant spark to its running game. Sams ran the ball 27 times for 118 yards and a touchdown and showed off his explosiveness, patience and vision. The Wildcats are, without doubt, a better running team with Sams in the game, but more production from and opportunities for John Hubert will be needed in this one because Baylor has been solid at stopping the run this season giving up just 112 yards per game.
Advantage: Baylor
This is where things are more than favorable for Baylor and very dicey for K-State. Junior quarterback Bryce Petty leads the country in passing offense at 337 yards per game and has completed more than 72 percent of his attempts this season with 10 touchdowns and just one interception. Not to mention, the Bears have a host of fast receivers that can get behind a defense with ease. The Wildcats have a bend-don't-break defense, but giving up the deep ball has been an issue throughout the 2013 campaign. This is a complete mismatch from the start.
Big Advantage: Baylor
Playing in most of the game for the first time in his young career, Sams proved to be an adequate passer by completing 15 of 21 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns. However, Sams didn't make great decisions on deep throws and was intercepted three times. If Snyder goes with Sams, and if K-State is without playmakers Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson, it will be key for the sophomore signal caller to make simple throws. If Snyder goes with Jake Waters, the junior will have to avoid making mistakes because Baylor's pass efficiency defense has been good all year.
Slight Advantage: Baylor
With Lockett and Thompson, K-State has one of the best special teams units in the country. Without them, as shown against Oklahoma State, they are rather pedestrian. If neither can go against Baylor, it will hinder the Wildcats' chances of a big return, which will hurt, but the slight advantage is still there because the Bears had some costly special teams mistakes against West Virginia and really hasn't been incredibly good all season except in punting situations which they rarely are in.
Slight Advantage: K-State
The roles have totally reversed since these two teams met in Waco last season. Baylor is the overwhelming favorite with all the momentum and the complete team to absolutely dominate K-State. But much like the Bears spoiled the Wildcats' season in 2012, the men in purple have a chance to get revenge and wreck Baylor's seemingly flawless start. Still, the upper hand lies with the team playing some of the best football anyone has ever seen from an offensive standpoint and not with a baffling mistake-prone K-State team.
Big Advantage: Baylor

But for K-State, a team returning home for the first time in a month after two road losses to Texas and Oklahoma State, the focus of its gameplan shouldn't be about attempting to stop the nation's top scoring offense at 70.5 points per game because, frankly, it appears to be a next-to-impossible task. Realistically, the goal should purely be about containing Baylor with its patented bend-don't-break defense and with young, fairly inexperienced personnel that's done nothing but improve since the start of the season. This all begins with crippling the Bears' rushing attack.

In Baylor's unparalleled rise to offensive stardom, running the football has been key and the emergence of junior running back Lache Seastrunk has been the catalyst to opening the floodgates for everyone and everything else. The combination of speed and power the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder possesses is just that dangerous and his dominating performances since bursting onto the scene late in 2012 has arguably made him the best running back in college football and Baylor's offense quite deadly.

"Adding Seastrunk to the lineup late in the season last year and getting his presence on the field opened up the pass game much more than it had been," K-State sophomore safety Dante Barnett, who made his first career start against the Bears last season, said. "Now you really have to respect the run from Baylor."

Respect might be an understatement, though, because what Seastrunk has shown he can do in amassing 589 yards on 53 attempts -- an average of 11.1 yards per carry and 147.3 yards per game -- in 2013 is downright scary. There's no question Seastrunk, the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week after racking up 172 yards on 15 carries in only one half of action against West Virginia, is the heart and soul of this offense and it's no coincidence that his eight consecutive 100-yard rushing games have all resulted in Baylor wins.

However, none of that will matter to K-State's players come Saturday.

"We're not necessary worried, but we're going to be ready for him to get the ball because he's quick and he's got breakaway speed and he can move around real good," K-State sophomore Marquel Bryant said. "We're really going to be watching him."

"He's a really downhill runner," sophomore defensive tackle Travis Britz added. "He really likes to go off the guards and tackles and it's really important for us to wrap up and not reach this week."

Limiting Seastrunk, who leads the Big 12 with eight touchdowns scored, is a task in and of itself, but by no means is he alone in the Bears' ground game. In fact, and partly because he has been so effective early in games, Seastrunk doesn't even account for half of the 347.3 yards per game average that ranks second in the 123-team Football Bowl Subdivision. It's been a combination of freshman Shock Linwood and senior Glasco Martin that's gotten the job done during the second half of nearly all four games. It's a three-headed monster that has destroyed everything its path and will be looking to do the same against a K-State team that ranks No. 75 in the FBS by giving up 165.4 rushing yards per game.

"The running back, Seastrunk, and there's two or three running backs that are pretty decent," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "Obviously Seastrunk is a very, very talented young fellow and they run the option, or zone read as what most people call it, very well and they run a power play pretty well."

Unfortunately for Snyder and the Wildcats, the Bears do everything well so zoning in solely on the run or trying to make them completely one-dimensional might not be in their best interest.

"If you take away the run, they can throw the ball extremely well and if you take away the pass, they can run the ball extremely well," Snyder added. "So you have to have some balance in what you do. Part of it becomes a little bit of guesswork but that's the nature of the game I guess."

For a team really needing a win, K-State has a major predicament and challenge on its hands, but there are promising signs. Not only will the Wildcats be the best opponent the Bears will have faced this season, but they also enter the game playing their best and most confident defense of the season after slowing down an Oklahoma State offense with a fast-tempo and quick-score mentality like Baylor's.

"For the most part in the ballgame, the speed of the game or the tempo in which they ran their offense really wasn't a detriment to us," Snyder said. "We just made some bad decisions from time to time and made some bad plays… but I was really proud of our defense and the times in the second half when our offense turned the ball over."

"We played the run pretty well against OSU and that's going to be a big deal this week also and playing the run and keeping Seastrunk in the backfield," Bryant added. "We're going to have to really hold those edges because Seastrunk has pull away speed. He can get around those corners and he can find the hole so we're really going to have to play our keys and keep him back there."

If K-State continues to show vast improvement and can somehow contain Seastrunk and this potent rushing attack, it will give the Wildcats a puncher's chance to get revenge from last year or, at the very least, make the game much more respectable than some people are already predicting.

"We're really ready for these boys this week," Bryant said. "They have it coming. They took something precious from us last year and I feel like we should do the same to them."

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