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Which history will repeat itself? ’81 win revered, but Cards have struggled vs. Big 12

LAMAR-BAYLOR MATCHUP

Offense

  • Lamar: 525 yards per game (264 rushing, 261 passing); leaders Joe Minden (senior QB, 170 yards and 3 touchdowns on 16-of-20 passing), Carson Earp (junior QB, 91 yards and 2 touchdowns on 5-of-6 passing), Michael Handy (junior WR, 63 yards, 1 touchdown on 5 carrries) and Emmitt Raleigh (junior RB, 66 yards and 1 touchdown on 9 carries)
  • Baylor: 723 yards per game (300 rushing, 423 passing); leaders Seth Russell (junior QB, 376 yards, 4 touchdowns on 15-of-30 passing), Corey Coleman (junior WR, 178 yards 1 touchdown on 5 receptions) and Shock Linwood (junior RB, 75 yards on 8 carries)

Defense

  • Lamar: 82 yards per game (55 rushing, 27 passing); leaders Larance Hale (freshman DL, 6 tackles, 3 solo, 1 sack) and Omar Tebo (junior DL, 5 tackles)
  • Baylor: 369 yards per game (203 rushing, 166 passing); leaders Grant Campbell (senior LB, 8 tackles, 3 solo, 1 sack) and Jamal Palmer (senior DE, 6 tackles, 3 solo, 1 sack)

Sound bytes

  • Lamar coach Ray Woodard: “It’s not like [Baylor] just jumped up and were good after a year. They’re one of the teams to beat now. Ten years ago, you might not say that about Baylor. That’s a compliment to [coach Art Briles] and his team.”
  • Baylor offensive tackle Seth Drango: “We were really happy. We had 8.1 yards per carry, I think [against SMU], and that’s huge for us to be able to do that. Hopefully we can continue to do that. It’s been really cool to see the chemistry come together and play like we did.”

Baylor coach Art Briles doesn’t seem terribly concerned about whether his Bears will take Lamar lightly tonight in Waco.

“The great thing about competitive sports and having people in the locker room is, they’re competitors,” the eighth-year Bears’ head coach said. “Competitors, they play. They perform. That’s their job, every time they step on the field. Our motivation is to win.”

That’s the point of view Ray Woodard shares with his Lamar Cardinals, except the sixth-year chief of that program has the bigger hill to climb in McLane Stadium tonight.

“I was just as guilty as our players. I did not go to a high school game Friday night. I was at home, watching the entire Baylor-SMU game,” Woodard said. “Probably shouldn’t have done that right before our home opener, but I did.”

He had every right to.

Lamar has not defeated a current Football Bowl Subdivision team in six tries since relaunching its football program in 2010. In its past two tries, Big 12 opponents have simply overwhelmed the Cardinals.

Oklahoma State, then ranked 12th, pounded Lamar 59-3 in 2013. Texas A&M, at No. 9, humbled a 1-0 Cards team 73-3 last year.

Now, the No. 4 Bears are in front of Woodard and friends. Tonight, they’ll be in front of some 45,000 and millions more watching on Fox Sports Net.

How much Woodard will enjoy the exposure remains to be seen, but he’ll take it.

“If we play well, it will be [fun],” he said. “If we don’t, it’s not. It’s good for our program to get out there. It’s a great opportunity for us.”

When the Bears and Cardinals last met at would-be Baylor (later Floyd Casey) Stadium in 1981, Lamar rocked the nation, shocking the defending Southwest Conference champions 18-17. Many in Golden Triangle have had reason to reminisce on the big win all this week.

While the Cardinals folded their program and later reinstated it in the years since, the Bears have had their ups and downs. Woodard admires the work Briles has done in establishing Baylor as a national power.

“He’s a great coach to emulate,” he said. “I think he’s done a very good job coming into a program that historically has not been at the top, and he’s got them at the top, and he’s got them consistently at the top.”

Big 12 teams are known for talent and size, yet it’s the speed Woodard said has been the common denominator in the blowout losses to Oklahoma State and A&M.

“A lot of the speed has to do with angles, and what angles you take to block people,” he said. “The same thing with tackling people. The physicality of the [A&M] game didn’t impress me as the speed. We just had trouble running them down. That’s something you have to learn and you can’t wait until the game to do it. We have to do a better job of coaches addressing that.”

Lamar could get its fill tonight of chasing down what was the top offensive unit in the nation last year at 581.5 yards per game. As if that wasn’t good enough, Baylor hung up 723 total yards (300 yards) on SMU in a 56-21 victory eight days ago.

Seth Russell threw for 376 passing yards in his first start, but Briles was surprised his 15-for-30 clip wasn’t a higher completion rate.

“I’ll take production any day,” he said. “We percent everything, every day in practice. He had been in the 77 to 82 percent range during practice. He was really sharp, mentally.

“He’s got a fearless nature to him, but we’ll have to make sure it doesn’t step outside the box.”

Whatever the formula is for beating Baylor, Lamar running back Kade Harrington knows the approach is much simpler.

“We just have to go out and play, play our game, do what we know we can do,” he said.

Woodard will get to evaluate for a second straight in a real game his quarterback situation. Joe Minden earned the start last Saturday against Bacone College (Oklahoma) and played the first three series before Carson Earp entered. According to the latest depth chart, Earp will start against Baylor.

“Both our quarterbacks look relaxed,” Woodard said. “They looked like they knew where to throw the ball.”

Senior wideout Reggie Begelton said he didn’t notice a difference between Minden’s and Earp’s play. Minden credited the explosiveness his receivers and running back display to make his and Earp’s job easier.

Briles’ charge for his defense is to not let Lamar get into a rhythm. That seems like a given in a matchup of Big 12 vs. Southland, but the coach is leaving nothing to chance.

“That’s the biggest concern going into a game … letting a team have belief,” he said.

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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