At the conclusion of another eyebrow-raising day for the Baylor offense, multiple takeaways surfaced when assessing the College Football Playoff mettle of the second-ranked Bears after Saturday’s 45-27 victory over Iowa State.
Fact: Driving rain does not seem to slow this attack, which racked up 35 points in the first 22 minutes while playing in the equivalent of an outdoor car wash at McLane Stadium.
Bigger fact: A neck injury sustained by quarterback Seth Russell, who left the game with 5:36 remaining in the fourth quarter, should cause alarms to ring throughout Baylor Nation as the Bears (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) prepare to begin the defining stretch of their schedule.
X-rays and a CT scan showed a fracture in one of the bones in Russell’s neck, Baylor officials announced Saturday. He will see a specialist next week and no timetable has been announced regarding his return or his availability for the team’s next game, Nov. 5 at Kansas State.
Baylor officials also announced that receiver Chris Johnson, who began his college career as a quarterback, will return to quarterback in workouts next week and will add depth at the position behind Jarrett Stidham, a freshman from Stephenville who would become the starter if Russell is out.
You’re always concerned, 100 percent.
Baylor coach Art Briles on the status of injured QB Seth Russell
Before leaving the stadium, Baylor coach Art Briles acknowledged concern about whether Russell, who began the game as the FBS leader in passing efficiency and touchdown passes (27), would be able to participate against Kansas State.
“You’re always concerned, 100 percent,” Briles said. “First and foremost about his health, and then football. It’s hard to see tough guys hurt. That’s probably the main concern right now is for him from an emotional standpoint and physical next.
“Fortunately, we do not have a game for 12 days. We’ll see. I know if he can go, if he’s cleared, he’ll play, because he’s a tough hombre.”
Russell, a dual threat, rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown and averaged 8.0 yards per carry against the Cyclones (2-5, 1-3) before his departure. But he struggled as a passer (16-of-37, 197 yards, 2 TDs, 1 interception) and oversaw a second-half stretch when the Bears went six consecutive drives without scoring for the first time since the Texas game in 2013.
Baylor broke the scoreless drought one play after Russell departed, on Chris Callahan’s 34-yard field goal. Stidham followed on the next drive with a 12-yard scoring strike to Corey Coleman with 2:13 remaining.
But Baylor, the national leader in scoring (63.8 avg.) and total yards (719.7 per game) heading into the contest, finished with season lows for points and total yards (485). As a result, the Bears failed in efforts to score 60 points in a sixth consecutive game and remain tied with 2008 Oklahoma for the longest stretch of consecutive point-per-minute outputs (5) in NCAA history.
“We didn’t play Baylor football as we planned on it,” said running back Shock Linwood, who rushed for 171 yards and dismissed sloppy playing conditions created by 14 inches of rain over the past two days as a contributing factor. “That’s the main concern. We have to look at the tape and see where we made our mistakes and correct them.”
Linwood, like his coach, also harbors concerns about keeping this offense afloat without Russell, a fourth-year junior.
“I’m concerned because that’s my No. 1 quarterback,” Linwood said.
Stidham, an incoming freshman, has thrown six TD passes in limited action this season, including Saturday’s scoring strike to Coleman. He has completed 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards, giving him a higher passing efficiency rating (255.7) than Russell (189.7) through seven games. But all of Stidham’s action has come in mop-up duty.
Requiring Stidham to handle all nuances of the game plan for four quarters against K-State in Manhattan, Kan., would thrust more burden-of-proof onto the shoulders of a Baylor defense that struggled during the latter stages Saturday. Iowa State racked up 388 yards and scored touchdowns on four of its last nine possessions after facing a quick 35-0 deficit.
255.7 Jarrett Stidham’s passing efficiency rating this season (28 attempts)
Baylor cornerback Ryan Reed expressed disappointment at his unit’s inability to finish strong, which has been the defensive motto this season. He also said he would be seeking some divine intervention on Russell’s behalf.
189.7 Seth Russell’s passing efficiency rating this season (200 attempts)
“I’m going to pray for my boy,” Reed said. “But our offense has depth. I hope he comes back and I hope he’s ready to play. I also hope Stidham’s ready to step in and make some plays for us.”
All in all, Briles acknowledged Saturday was not the ideal way for Baylor to showcase itself in its final game before the CFP selection committee convenes to announce its initial rankings on Nov. 3. Briles said he will be “curious” to see how committee members assess his team, which has won every game by at least 18 points but has not faced a Top 25 foe.
But three ranked opponents loom on the horizon in November (No. 4 TCU, No. 14 Oklahoma State, No. 17 Oklahoma). After Saturday, there is serious doubt whether Russell will be the Bears quarterback in any of those contests.