The roots of an offensive juggernaut began in Stephenville, Texas, a dusty little cowboy town that sits 88 miles northwest of Baylor University.
It was there in Stephenville, population 17,123, where a high school coach named Art Briles first earned the reputation as a mad scientist of offensive football, mixing different chemicals and brewing new concoctions of the spread offense.
Briles would eventually tote his offensive philosophy to Texas Tech, then preach the gospel of the spread during a five-year stint as the head coach at Houston. Now in his seventh season at Baylor, Briles’ offense has appeared to reach critical mass. Really, how much better can it be?
The Bears have won 21 of 24 games, rank first in the country in total offense (579 yards per game) and are lighting up opposing defenses for 49 points per game.
“Like a track meet,” says Kansas senior cornerback JaCorey Shepherd.
At 3 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, the Kansas Jayhawks, 2-5, will take the field at McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas, and attempt to do the implausible: They will try to slow down No. 12 Baylor.
But if you think that familiarity would provide comfort — that opposing Big 12 defenses would find flaws and weaknesses after watching seven years of Briles-ball in the conference — Kansas interim coach Clint Bowen sees it a different way.
“No, they keep adding things to it,” says Bowen, who doubles as Kansas’ defensive coordinator. “And they’re always kind of looking for new ways to push the envelope offensively. What they’ve been able to do there is recruit some really good players.”
In other words: Familiarity does not breed comfort. It breeds fear. And why not? Playing defense against Baylor’s spread offense is a little bit like juggling an assortment of flaming spears while running a 100-meter dash. And then doing it again.
Consider the staggering numbers: Baylor, 6-1, has gained more than 500 yards in 14 of its last 20 games, including 11 performances with at least 600 total yards of offense. Last season, the Bears set an NCAA scoring record with 681 points in 13 games, and of course, starting quarterback Bryce Petty returned for his senior season.
“They got playmakers all over the field,” KU linebacker Ben Heeney said. “From the quarterback to the running back to the wide receivers, so everyone is really going to have be on their A-game this week.”
If the sheer volume of offense wasn’t enough to worry a defensive coordinator, it’s also the pace at which the controlled chaos unfolds. Baylor is averaging 88 plays per game, the result of a relentless tempo offense that never seems to stop coming.
“The tempo is something that has taken over this league and been a big part of it,” Bowen said. “The challenge is always what we talk about — you have to play with urgency, and you have to match their urgency.
“The bottom line is their players have to get back to the line of scrimmage as well, to run the next play, and if their players are doing it quickly enough, you have to match their urgency and their tempo.”
If there is hope for Kansas, which averages just 16.6 points per game, it came on Oct. 18 in Morgantown, W.Va. On that day in West Virginia, Baylor was held to just 27 total points in a 41-27 loss to the Mountaineers.
What happened? Petty was just 16-of-36 passing for 223 yards. The Bears committed an astounding 18 penalties for 215 yards. And somehow, West Virginia limited Baylor to just 2.3 yards per rushing attempt.
More than a week later, Bowen was not taking too much solace in Baylor’s relatively quiet performance at West Virginia. This is still Baylor after all, and the same challenge still awaits.
“It doesn't really ever get any easier against them,” Bowen says, “and they know what they’re doing.”
To reach Rustin Dodd, call 816-234-4937 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @rustindodd.