For a second consecutive season, Baylor heads into a matchup against Kansas State with plans to start an incoming freshman quarterback because of a season-ending injury to Seth Russell in the previous contest.
Heading into Saturday’s game in Waco, the starting role falls to Zach Smith, who played last season at Grandview High School and has completed 45.7 percent of his passes (16-of-35) in spot duty as the Bears’ backup this season. Almost half of those throws came in last week’s 45-24 loss to No. 8 Oklahoma after Russell, a fifth-year senior and team leader, suffered a broken ankle.
Smith completed 6-of-15 passes against the Sooners and will be backed by Preston Heard, a freshman walk-on who is 1-of-2 as a passer this season and has served primarily as the Bears’ scout-team quarterback in practice.
“I hope we can get him ready in a hurry,” Baylor coach Jim Grobe said in regard to Smith during Monday’s teleconference with Big 12 coaches. “He’s not gotten a lot of reps. He’s got a lot of work to do this week.”
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Baylor (6-3, 3-3 in Big 12) heads into Saturday’s game against K-State (5-4, 3-3) with a three-game losing streak. That is a far cry from the situation last season when Russell sustained a season-ending neck injury against Iowa State with the Bears at 7-0 and ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press poll.
A year ago, Baylor turned to heralded freshman Jarrett Stidham, a Stephenville graduate, who led the team to a 31-24 victory over K-State by throwing for 419 yards in his first college start. But Stidham left the team after the May dismissal of former Bears’ coach Art Briles, putting Smith in position to be Russell’s replacement for the remainder of the season.
Grobe, like most fans, is unclear what to expect from Smith (6-foot-4, 235 pounds) in an expanded role.
“He didn’t look like a freshman as far as his demeanor on the field,” Grobe said of Smith’s effort against Oklahoma. “He didn’t have that deer-in-the-headlights look you often see from a freshman put in that position.”
Grobe, named the Bears’ acting coach after Briles’ dismissal as part of the administration’s response to an ongoing sexual assault scandal that involved some football players, acknowledged there are aspects of Smith’s game he will “find out at kickoff” against K-State because the quarterback has such limited experience at the college level.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said Smith showed some notable intangibles against OU.
“I was impressed with the velocity he put on the ball and his accuracy was not bad,” Snyder said. “He plays with a lot of poise.”