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[2023] Big XII Week 3 in Review: Upsets Stymied

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There wasn't a dull moment to spare in the nation's most exciting conference (except in Baylor's game against Troy, which was duller than a bloodless Dothraki wedding). Kansas put Oklahoma on upset watch for the entire first half before the Sooners turned on the jets and took over the game. Kansas State had Texas Tech on the ropes before Grayson Gillette and company turned things around for an OT KO. Sam Milner gave TCU all the smoke, only for a couple of ill-timed miscues to cost them a huge upset in Austin. If the rest of conference play is anything like the opening week, this is going to be a season on the edge of our seats. Let's talk about the games.

 

Saturday Afternoon

 

:baylor: Baylor 56, :troy: Troy 0

 

Garrett Powers And Then Some: Once one of the most highly touted recruits in recent memory, Garrett Powers had gone nearly a season and a half without making any impact of significance for the Baylor defense. Against a thoroughly overmatched Troy, he made up for lost time. He had a game-high 8 tackles, dragged down David West and Jose Lynn for loss, and pounced on a West fumble (stripped by Justice Mabry) that he was able to scoop up and return for his first career touchdown.

 

Shutout City: That early play set the tone for the rest of the game, as Baylor blanked an opponent for the first time since a 28-0 win over San Jose State back in 2018. Mabry had the forced fumble that turned into the Powers touchdown, of course. On top of that, Alexander Talbert had one of Baylor's three sacks as he continued his hot start to the season. William Travis intercepted Jose Lynn, who could muster only 104 yards on 10-of-19 passing against the Baylor defense. The Bears held the Trojans to just 35 yards on 14 carries, as well as 1-of-10 on third down conversion attempts. The one opportunity Troy had to score was a 49-yard field goal attempt just before the half. It was short.

 

If They Can't Stop the First Read...: While the defense turned this into Baylor's second-ever shutout, the offense ran the score to the largest margin in Baylor's history. Caleb Olmsted threw for 265 yards and 3 touchdowns on 23-of-32 passing and accounted for a fourth score on the ground. While it would have been nice to see him go through progressions a bit more, he didn't really need to because Maleek Abioye-Afua was open practically every time. He hauled in 9 catches for 116 yards and 2 touchdowns, and no other Baylor receiver had so much as 50 yards receiving. Didn't matter. Not to be forgotten, Miles Street had another brilliant day with 138 yards and 3 touchdowns on 24 carries. With 7 rushing touchdowns in 3 games, he is already just one score on the ground away from matching last season's total.

 

Next Up: A sweep of their non-conference schedule in hand, Baylor will take week 4 off before what will be a massive game against Oklahoma State in Waco.

 

:ou: #1/#4 Oklahoma 38, :kansas: Kansas 17

 

The First Half: Heading into halftime, the smell of an upset was in the air once again in Lawrence. Kansas was keeping the Oklahoma run game in check; they would end up holding Jaiden Douglas to 55 yards on 14 carries. Deon Evans and Naiquon Crosby were getting pressure off the edge, and the freshman linebackers combined for 3 sacks for the game. Christian Graham was finding a lot of Sebastian Thorpe and Mark Poole; the duo would be responsible for 11 catches for 149 yards and 2 touchdowns out of Graham's 25-of-40 effort for 269 yards, 2 scores, and an interception. All of that, and the Jayhawks had taken a 10-3 lead into the break. They would have to continue playing near-perfect football while Oklahoma struggled.

 

The Second Half: Safe to say, that did not happen. In fact, the dream didn't even last beyond the opening kickoff of the second half, which Tion Sproles took and returned for the Sooners' second special teams touchdown and fourth non-offensive touchdown of the season. And while Lucas Dykes was the only Oklahoma receiver to make an impact, he made a massive one. He caught 9 passes for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns, more than half of Nick Brohm's production (23-of-36 for 227 yards and 2 touchdowns). Kenyan Chatman broke off a 29-yard touchdown run. Oklahoma brought pressure and sacked Christian Graham a couple of times. And the second half looked a lot more like how the game was expected to go, as the Sooners outscored the Jayhawks 35-7.

 

Shutdown City: Cameron Bowers did not make an impact on this game whatsoever, thanks to Elijah Williams. Williams has looked every bit like a first-round pick this season, and the game tape here is about as compelling of a demonstration as you're likely to see. He intercepted one pass thrown his way. He batted down two more. It got to the point where Graham just couldn't throw to that side of the field, the equivalent of "here be dragons" on a map. We've seen him in ballhawk mode, but shutdown mode is another terrifying level of play for the senior.

 

Next Up: Kansas falls to 0-2 in two home games, and they'll look to get on the board on Friday night against Kent State. Oklahoma improves to 3-0 and will get a bye before a marquee matchup against a struggling but dangerous Auburn.

 

:ttu: Texas Tech 34, :kstate: Kansas State 31 (OT)

 

From the Jaws of Defeat: Hayden Dyer fumbled inside his own 20. Brendan Scherer recovered it for Kansas State. On the very next play, Shane Kruse threw a touchdown strike to Joel De La Cruz-Venegas. Kansas State had taken a 28-17 lead late in the third quarter in front of a stone-silent crowd in Lubbock. That could have been the breaking point for the game. Instead, it prompted the Red Raiders to make their last stand. The fourth quarter is where the game turned on its head. Grayson Gillette took over, firing laser after laser until one of those lasers found Tyson Moss in the endzone for a touchdown. They converted the two-point try on a throwback pass to Kyle Lane, meaning a field goal could tie the game. A couple of drives later, after Zac Huntley's second sack of the game forced a Kansas State punt with just over 3 minutes left, Gillette led the team down the field again. This time, a deep strike to Graham Beck down the sideline put Texas Tech in field goal range, though the drive would stall out at the 21. On came Jeffrey Gauthier, who'd been mostly automatic inside 40 for his career--and that didn't change here as he drilled the game-tying field goal from 38. In the top half of overtime, Curtis Jones's stuff of Gabriel Vinson at the line on 3rd and 2 from the 6 would force a field goal attempt from Kansas State. And at long last, Hayden Dyer would get his redemption in the bottom half. He took the first carry of overtime for a game-long 20 yards. He got the last 5 on the next carry, his second score of the game to cap off a 17-3 game-closing run for a thrilling overtime win.

 

Small Things: A few things could have gone right for Kansas State that could have made a difference, but for reasons of execution or luck didn't come through. Shane Kruse had a lot of good moments and a few bad ones: he completed 27-of-48 passes for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns, but threw an interception, took three sacks, and had a fumble that cost Kansas State even more yards. De La Cruz-Venegas and Jermaine Jordan each dropped a pass. The Wildcats committed 71 yards in penalties to Texas Tech's 30. And while they were excellent (6-of-12) on third down, they were also unable to stop the Red Raiders from matching their success in the same category on the other end.

 

Working Overtime: Two games, two comebacks (one in each direction), three overtime periods, and two losses. The complexion of the season would look a lot different if a few bounces had gone Kansas State's way. But what stands out is that Kansas State hasn't been able to punch the ball into the endzone in overtime. Billy Shields has attempted three field goals this season: all were made, all were in overtime, and all were between 23 and 28 yards. Those last few yards are the hardest. And against both California and Texas Tech, they've proven to make all the difference.

 

Next Up: Kansas State falls to 0-2. They'll head back out on the road to take on Air Force in Colorado Springs in the late hours on Saturday. Texas Tech improves to 3-0, and will have a bye before going up to Laramie for what should be a gimme against Wyoming.

 

Saturday Evening

 

:tcu: #2/#1 TCU 31, :texas: Texas 28

 

Milner Catches the Snitch: No matter what else you could say about this game, you can't say that Sam Milner didn't show his former team what they were missing out on. He finished 20-of-29 for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air with a 171.5 passer rating through the air. (5 of those passes went to Shaq Dixon, who had 100 yards and a touchdown out of the slot.) He also added 37 more rushing yards on 7 carries. That performance once again represented a marked improvement from his freshman days at TCU; the Kansas State game week 5 was the only time he threw for that many yards or for that high of a passer rating while he was there. He never threw for 3 touchdowns in a game while wearing purple. His performance stood in stark contrast to that of Taylor Cook, who supplanted Felix Luck this year, who himself supplanted Milner in 2021. As an aside, Luck got off to a rough start before proving himself; TCU fans will hope Taylor Cook is on a similar trajectory. He finished 15-of-29 for 160 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception, narrowly avoided a second one, and took three sacks--but still got the win.

 

Milner Fumbles the Snitch: But in a tight game, even one mistake can be costly. As much purchase as Milner was able to find against the TCU defense, as much as the Texas offensive line was able to keep him upright, the one time when he couldn't and they didn't was the difference. TCU sent seven on a blitz, Milner tried to scramble to his left, and he didn't see Richard Farrell pursuing from the back side. It's always the rusher you don't see who's the most dangerous. As Milner tried to bring the ball up to throw it away, Farrell jarred it loose. Lardarius Pendleton had mishandled a potential fumble recovery earlier when Dwayne Harvey stripped Dontae Alford (Alford would ultimately recover as a result), but this time he was in perfect position to field it cleanly--and take it all the way back too the house to put TCU up 24-14 in the third quarter. Texas would chip away at the lead. But they would not find a way to tie it back up.

 

Change of Pace: After Griffin McHanna was the starting runningback against Penn State, Matteo Cates got that rule against Texas. Cates finished with 84 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries, including a 21-yard scamper that set up TCU's field goal in the second quarter. But McHanna did well in his third down back role, taking his 4 carries for 27 yards and a touchdown to make the most of his opportunities. The exact roles and usage of Cates and McHanna may evolve as the season goes on, and the #1 spot may be a season-long position battle, but the change-of-pace between the two looked effective this time around.

 

40 is the new 50: Despite TCU's success on the ground, despite two fumbles including the Farrell-Pendleton scoop-and-score, despite everything, Texas had a chance to tie the game on a Devin Bollinger field goal attempt from 40 yards out with just over 3 minutes to play. Bollinger had a mixed track record with long kicks last year, finishing 5-of-13 on attempts from 40 yards or further--in general, he has the leg to get the ball that far, but has a tendency to miss wide in either direction. Unfortunately for Texas, this one followed that trend. The snap was a bit high, which slowed down the hold by just enough to throw off Bollinger's timing. Kicking from the right hash, he hooked it to the left and off the upright. No good. And Texas would not see the ball again as TCU ran out the clock. For the fourth straight time--three times by 4 points or less--TCU was victorious over Texas.

 

Next Up: Texas drops to 1-1 and will head to West Virginia in a battle of teams that both look better than their record so far. TCU survives another thriller to improve to 2-0, but things don't get much easier with Michigan State coming to town.

 

Byes: :isu: Iowa State (1-1), :wvu: West Virginia (0-2), :okst: #5/#6 Oklahoma State (2-0)

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Grayson Gillette has been so fun to coach these first few games of the season.  It has been a bit of a culture shock to see a semi-competent passing attack in Lubbock for the 1st time in 3-4 years.  I lean toward 4 because 2019 Chase Shapiro was not that competent with the ball in his hands unfortunately. 

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I don't feel like I can rely on any part of my offense yet.  The running game has been up and down, Brohm has been up and down, etc.  We have been able to survive slow starts and inconsistency so far on the offensive side of the ball because the defense has been incredible.  But we can't afford a slow start against Auburn.  Hopefully we survive that one and then continue to gel and become more consistent as guys settle into their roles throughout the season.

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