Kansas State football grades: What went right against Baylor and a look ahead to KU

Scott Sewell/USA TODAY Sports

It’s funny how quickly things can change in college football.

Last week, K-State suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss against Texas and appeared to need a lot of help to get back in the Big 12 championship race. This week, the Wildcats demolished Baylor 59-25 and now have a much clearer path to the conference title game thanks to UCF pulling off an upset against Oklahoma State.

If K-State can win its final two games against Kansas and Iowa State there are several scenarios that could lead Chris Klieman’s team back to AT&T Stadium in December.

The Wildcats don’t control their own destiny. Right now, they would actually lose head-to-head tiebreakers with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas. But a three-or-four way tie would likely favor K-State.

“Everything is still in front of us,” K-State quarterback Will Howard said.

“We have an opportunity to continue to do something pretty special,” Klieman added, “and write a legacy and finish the story of the 2023 season.”

K-State (7-3, 5-2 Big 12) is now in a four-way tie for second place in the Big 12 standings with Iowa State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. They are all one game behind Texas.

Now, it’s time to analyze the game and look ahead to a huge game against Kansas ...

Play of the game

Cody Stufflebean hit Baylor quarterback Blake Shapen from behind for a sack and jarred the ball free in the process, which allowed linebacker Desmond Purnell to scoop up the fumble and score an easy touchdown.

It was an impressive play that gave K-State a 21-7 lead in the first quarter. The game already felt out of reach at that point.

Player of the game

Will Howard is once again the choice here, but Cody Stufflebean and DJ Giddens deserve honorable mention.

Howard threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a touchdown. The K-State offense has been playing at a high level lately, and Howard is the main reason why.

Stat of the game

This was the first time in college football history that a game ended with a score of 59-25, according to a web site called scorigami, which tracks such things.

How about that?

Quote to note

“This is the bottom. You can’t get any worse than this with the score and the feeling that you have.” - Baylor football coach Dave Aranda.

K-State football grades

Offense: A. Collin Klein likes to say that the Wildcats try to score 50 points every time they step on the field. Well, they accomplished that goal for the first time under his guidance with a dominant effort against Baylor. K-State could do no wrong on Saturday. Will Howard threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns. DJ Giddens rushed for 115 yards. Ben Sinnott, Garrett Oakley, Christian Moore and Giddens all caught touchdowns.

Defense: A. The Bears effortlessly scored a touchdown on their first drive of the game, but that was not a sign of things to come. Baylor could do little right from then on. The Wildcats scored a pair of defensive touchdowns. Cody Stufflebean and Desmond Purnell teamed up for the first one on a scoop-and-score. Keenan Garber took an interception to the end zone for the second.

Special Teams: B. The Wildcats gave up more return yards than they would like. But it was a solid day for special teams in every other area.

Coaching: A. You don’t want to play K-State in Manhattan right now. You also don’t want to play K-State when the Wildcats are coming off a loss. No team in the Big 12 is better at protecting its home field and bouncing back from defeats. Klieman had his team ready to play on Saturday.

Next up: Kansas

This will be the most anticipated Sunflower Showdown that we have seen on the football field in quite some time.

Kansas is having its best season in years under coach Lance Leipold. The Jayhawks have already earned bowl eligibility at 7-3 and own an impressive victory over Oklahoma.

K-State is once again pushing for a 10-win season and remains in the Big 12 championship mix. The Wildcats don’t have any signature wins yet, but they can change that in Lawrence, where a sellout crowd of both blue and purple is expected to watch Saturday’s game at 6 p.m on Fox Sports 1.

The biggest question surrounding this edition of the rivalry revolves around the KU quarterback. Who will lead the Jayhawks on offense?

Is Jason Bean healthy enough to play? Will Jalon Daniels return from a long injury absence? Or will we see more of freshman Cole Ballard, who threw for 124 yards during a 16-13 loss to Texas Tech this weekend?

Bean was forced to leave the Texas Tech game with an injury on Saturday. Ballard looked serviceable while replacing him, but the Jayhawks would much rather have Bean or Daniels at quarterback for a game of this magnitude.

The Wildcats have dominated this series in recent years. They have won 14 straight against the Jayhawks. KU has only defeated K-State four times since 1993.