A freshman quarterback will start for Baylor when the Bears play at Kansas State on Thursday.
The Wildcats would normally celebrate that kind of news, but they had a different reaction when they learned about Jarrett Stidham, the passer taking over for Seth Russell.
Stidham is not your typical freshman. Much like Josh Rosen at UCLA or Tanner Mangum at BYU, he was ready to play the moment he enrolled. The former five-star recruit has completed 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards and six touchdowns this season. He might not be an upgrade from Russell, who will miss the remainder of the season with a neck injury, but he isn’t a downgrade, either.
“Anyone who is 24 of 28 has got to be pretty decent at what he does regardless of when that time is on the field,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “Anything that you hear about him is very, very positive. Watching him on tape, he doesn’t seem to have any of those freshman miscues that you might anticipate a freshman would.”
For years, many have labeled Baylor passers as system quarterbacks. From Robert Griffin III to Nick Florence to Bryce Petty to Russell, they all put up gaudy numbers. Under Art Briles, some argue, the offense is loaded with so many weapons that it doesn’t much matter who lines up at quarterback.
Briles insists his quarterbacks have been good enough to play for other teams – Griffin III and Petty are in the NFL – but the system argument will gain steam if the Bears continue winning with Stidham. Either way, passing to Corey Coleman (47 catches, 962 yards, 18 touchdowns) and Jay Lee (22 catches, 507 yards, six touchdowns) and handing the ball to Shock Linwood (974 yards, nine touchdowns) is a good setup for Stidham.
“We know he will be able to do good things,” K-State safety Sean Newlan said. “He seems to be a pretty solid player.”
Still, he lacks experience. Stidham has never started on the road or thrown truly meaningful passes.
Some small part of every K-State defender thinks he can take advantage of Stidham’s youth.
“Maybe if we are able to disguise our coverage we might be able to force him into making some errors and some bad throws,” Newlan said. “But it won’t be easy.”
K-State has struggled to create turnovers this season, especially via interceptions. Linebacker Elijah Lee picked off two passes and linebacker Will Davis made one interception to go with four fumble recoveries in seven games.
No K-State defensive back has intercepted a pass this season. The last time an active member of the secondary made an interception was last season against Oklahoma, more than a year ago.
“We obviously need to force a lot more turnovers than we have,” Newlan said. “There are a few key things we can stress in practice, like working on stripping the ball out. We have to make a conscious effort to do that.”
Maybe K-State can win the takeaway battle against Baylor. But the Wildcats it will need to do more than wait for a freshman quarterback to make mistakes.
“We have to keep him guessing,” Davis said. “If we can keep him guessing he is going to make mistakes. It is bound to happen. Even a senior playing out there, who has been playing for four years, is going to make mistakes. But a freshman may be more susceptible to that.”