Shortly after Baylor’s playoff and Big 12 title hopes shifted squarely on to the shoulders of freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham, receiver Lynx Hawthorne offered an eye-opening observation about the Bears’ new starter from Stephenville.
Stidham threw such a tight spiral, Hawthorne said, that being on the receiving end felt like “a gift from God” because the ball spun so accurately and effortlessly through the air. He also predicted Baylor’s offense would remain prolific without injured starter Seth Russell because Stidham “isn’t your everyday freshman. He’s gifted way beyond his years.”
Eyebrows raised, along with expectations for the 19-year-old who made his first college start Thursday on the road, in front of a national television audience, against a team led by a coaching icon.
None of that rattled Stidham, who moved seamlessly into Baylor’s starting lineup by throwing for 419 yards and accounting for four touchdowns in a 31-24 victory over Kansas State at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
Stidham, who played last season for Stephenville High School, led Baylor (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) to touchdowns on its first two possessions and finished the first half with memorable, deep touchdown strikes to Corey Coleman (81 yards) and KD Cannon (55). Stidham completed three passes in three attempts to convert fourth-down situations, including a 38-yarder to Coleman on a fourth-and-1 play that set up the Bears’ fourth touchdown.
People don’t need to be counting us out. We’re still going to be firing on all cylinders.
Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham
Supported by a defense that collected three turnovers, the Bears validated their No. 6 status in the initial College Football Playoff rankings by handing Kansas State (3-5, 0-5) its fifth consecutive loss. They also showed signs they are capable of remaining in the playoff picture without Russell, a fourth-year junior who led the nation in touchdown passes (29) when he suffered a season-ending neck injury in a 45-27 victory over Iowa State on Oct. 24.
“I feel good, coming out here and making my first start in a tough environment,” said Stidham, who completed 22 of 33 passes and did not throw an interception. “We wish Seth was here with us playing, but God has a plan. People don’t need to be counting us out. We’re still going to be firing on all cylinders.”
Stidham had completed 85.7 percent of his passes (24 of 28) for 311 yards and six touchdowns in backup duty before Thursday’s initial start.
Bears coach Art Briles has gone out of his way to avoid using the word “freshman” in regard to his new starting quarterback. Instead, Briles called him “a ready quarterback with an old soul” and Stidham lived up to that billing.
His first snap was a 36-yard completion to Coleman on a hitch route. He capped that drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on a zone-read play. He has now thrown 61 passes at the college level, with nine touchdowns and zero interceptions, in eight games.
But his biggest throw came with 4:07 remaining, after Kansas State had trimmed a 31-10 lead to 31-24 with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. Stidham began the ensuing drive with a 40-yard strike to Cannon to move the ball into scoring position and consume most of the remaining clock.
“Honestly, I threw a horrible pass and KD made a great adjustment on it,” Stidham said. “That’s why he’s KD Cannon. He makes great plays when we need them.”
Baylor’s drive eventually ended with a missed field goal. But the Bears got one final stop when Terrell Burt intercepted a Kody Cook pass at the Baylor 36-yard line with 44 seconds remaining and the Wildcats out of timeouts. Although there was debate about whether Burt was inbounds, the play was reviewed and upheld.
419 Passing yards for Stidham in his first career start
Baylor, in turn, showed some resiliency after losing Russell. Baylor running back Devin Chafin said Stidham’s performance did not surprise any of his teammates.
“We see this guy when nobody else does. We all knew Stidham would step up,” said Chafin, who carried 10 times for 39 yards.
In terms of the team’s performance, Chafin said the Bears drew inspiration from being placed at No. 6 in the initial CFP rankings after climbing to No. 2 in The Associated Press poll.
“We definitely had a little chip on our shoulder because of that,” Chafin said.
Stidham said he’s just glad the first start is in the rearview mirror.
“No doubt,” he said. “Anybody that has their first start, they’re ready to just get to the game, get going and get it over with. I felt like throughout the day I was getting a little amped up. But after that first play hit, I was good from then on out.”
In turn, so were Baylor’s continued playoff hopes.
Bay—Stidham 1 run (Callahan kick), 13:14.
KSt—Hubener 1 run (Cantele kick), 3:53.
Bay—Cannon 55 pass from Stidham (Callahan kick), 2:57.
Bay—Coleman 81 pass from Stidham (Callahan kick), 7:06.
KSt—FG Cantele 36, 10:47.
Bay—Coleman 3 pass from Stidham (Callahan kick), 5:10.
Bay—FG Callahan 39, 12:20.
KSt—Hubener 34 run (Cantele kick), 9:47.
KSt—Burton 10 pass from Hubener (Cantele kick), 4:07.
Time of Possession
RUSHING—Baylor, Linwood 13-72, Chafin 10-39, Coleman 2-2, Stidham 7-1, Team 2-(minus 11). Kansas St., Hubener 29-153, C.Jones 16-76, Silmon 2-28, Gronkowski 1-1.
PASSING—Baylor, Stidham 23-33-0-419. Kansas St., Hubener 12-21-1-151, Cook 1-2-1-21.
RECEIVING—Baylor, Coleman 11-216, Cannon 4-108, Lee 4-61, Linwood 3-29, Penning 1-5. Kansas St., Cook 6-71, Dimel 2-58, C.Jones 2-23, Burton 2-17, D.Heath 1-3.