Jayhawks Open Big 12 Play in Waco

Turner Gill (Steve Puppe photo)

Kansas had high hopes last season of winning the Big 12 North and advancing to the conference championship game. It didn't happen as the Jayhawks lost their last seven games and finished last in the North division.

A year later in 2010, KU (2-2) starts fresh and begins Big 12 play at Baylor (3-1) on Saturday with high hopes of making a strong run and competing for a conference  championship.

Kickoff at Floyd Casey Stadium in Waco, Texas, is 11 a.m. (CT) on FSN.

"I'm excited to start playing all the Big 12 teams," KU junior receiver Daymond Patterson said. "When conference (play) starts, it's like a new season is starting. You get a chance to get ready to get the wins in conference and try and fight for that Big 12 North title and try and make it to that Big 12 Championship. The excitement level does rise. You go out to every game being excited and being confident but I think when conference (play) comes you turn it up a level."

The Jayhawks look to "turn it up a level" against Baylor, which is off to a fine start and loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball. Like Kansas, the Bears are coming off their best showing this season last Saturday in a 30-13 victory over Rice. Baylor racked up 456 total yards, while limiting the Owls to 296 yards. BU posted three sacks and forced two turnovers as well.

The Bears also have wins this year over Sam Houston State (34-3) and Buffalo (34-6), while losing their only game at TCU, 45-10, on Sept. 18.

KU, meanwhile, is looking to win consecutive games for the first time this season after an impressive 42-16 victory last Saturday over New Mexico State. The Jayhawks will be searching for their first Big 12 victory since beating Iowa State last year on Oct. 10 and also aiming for their their first conference road win in seven tries. KU's last Big 12 road victory also came against the Cyclones, a 35-33 thriller in 2008.

Kansas coach Turner Gill knows his team will be severely tested in their conference opener at Waco. Baylor, which hasn't won a Big 12 home opener since 2006, features star dual-threat quarterback Robert Griffin III, who spearheads the Bears' spread offense. Griffin had his best game this season against Rice, completing 20 of 28 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore is also an explosive runner; he's already rushed for over 1,000 yards during his young career and is the only 1,000-yard rushing quarterback in BU history. Griffin, who needs just one more rushing touchdown to become Baylor's quarterback career leader with 19, is also BU's career leader in touchdown responsibilities with 45 pass/rush TDs.

The Jayhawks must contain him in a similar manner as they did standout Georgia Tech QB Joshua Nesbitt in KU's 28-25 victory on Sept. 11.

"You have to have a lot of people around the ball," Gill said. "They're going to try and get (Griffin) in a situation where he is one-on-one with somebody, and I'd say that more times than not, he's going to win that battle on-on-one. We have to try and prevent him from having that opportunity. We have to have at least two, three or four guys around the ball and make tackles. When we have an opportunity to make that tackle, we need to make (it)."

Gill stressed that tackling their "whole football team" will be a critical key to the game.

"I think this team has some good, skilled people," Gill said. "I think this game is going to give our guys a good opportunity to make some good open field tackles."

In addition to Griffin, head coach Art Briles' Bears feature an 1,000-yard career rusher in senior Jay Finley and All-Big 12 wide receiver named Kendall Wright. He had seven receptions for 106 yards against Rice, including a 40-yard TD.

Defensively, Baylor is led by senior safety Byron Landor, who's recorded 33 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery. BU has allowed just 7.3 points per game, five field goals and one touchdown in its three wins this year.

"That tells me something about some things they are doing defensively, so we're going to definitely have to be very, very efficient on our offensive side of the ball," Gill said.

Another big key for Kansas will be holding Baylor under 30 points. BU is 3-0 this season when scoring at least 30 points, and 0-1 when scoring under 30.

KU defensive coordinator Carl Torbush said Baylor's offensive talent reminds him of potent Southern Mississippi. The Golden Eagles beat KU, 31-16, on Sept. 17.

"They have the same type of people that Southern Mississippi had in the skill positions and that is something we need to make sure everybody understands. I thought Southern Mississippi had excellent people in the skill positions," Torbush said. "Baylor's offensive line is a very physical, nasty bunch and they will get after you. I have known Coach Briles and his offense for a long time and they will spread you out and move you around and try to keep you off-kilter with a multitude of things. But we need to go back and stop good football players from making big plays."

KU, which is ranked No. 5 in the nation in pass defense, seems up for the challenge.

"As a group, if each of us takes care of our responsibility, we will be OK," senior safety Olatian Oguntodu said.

The Jayhawks, who have 38 players from Texas, would certainly like to make a  great showing in the Lone Star State at Baylor. It didn't work out the last time in Waco, when KU fell to BU, 36-35, in 2006 despite leading by 18 points less than 10 minutes remaining in the game.

But that's the past and Saturday is the present. A victory will help recruiting in Texas, and most important, give the team a great road win as they look to move on and win a Big 12 North title and conference championship.

"Winning the conference is just like everyone else, that's a goal of ours and this is our first step to get the opportunity to do that," Gill said.

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