MANHATTAN — The numbers look good.
Through three games, Kansas State ranks No. 1 in the Big 12 Conference in pass defense at 153.7 yards a game, pass defense efficiency with a 108.8 rating and total defense at 286.3 yards.
Those were three nonconference games, so K-State hasn’t faced a Big 12 caliber offense. That changes when the Wildcats (2-1) open the conference against Baylor at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
The Bears (0-4, 0-1 Big 12) rank only No. 8 in the Big 12 in passing offense (285.2) and last in scoring (29.0) but they should provide a better gauge of where the Wildcats stand.
“It’s a significant barometer,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “Their track record throwing the ball would certainly indicate that. I don’t think we’re where we need to be by any stretch of the imagination. The numbers show up decent right now. I think we lead the conference in pass defense but we haven’t been in the conference with teams that do put the ball in the air as much as our conference does.
“The jury is still out, but I think we’ve made some headway. Some of the things that have been somewhat concerning have been addressed and I think we’re making improvement in the areas where we might have felt maybe not quite as strong as we’d like to. This will be a good barometer.”
Zach Smith, the Bears’ sophomore quarterback, is coming off an impressive performance when he completed 33 of 50 passes for 463 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in a 49-41 loss to Oklahoma.
“It’s going to be a test,” Wildcats linebacker Jayd Kirby said. “I don’t think we’ve seen 50 pass plays in a game, yet. It’s going to be something new but we have to defend and play it well.”
K-State’s three opponents have attempted 35, 25 and 23 passes. The biggest change for the Wildcat defense will be facing an up-tempo offense, even if the Bears aren’t quite what they have been in the past under first-year coach Matt Rhule.
“Their tempo is fast but I don’t think it’s as fast as in the past,” Kirby said. “They do some of the same stuff and they do some new stuff.”
Rhule, who came from Temple, has installed some of his system but also kept things in place to utilize the personnel he inherited.
“Coach Rhule wants to do it the right way,” Snyder said. “He’s made that statement that he’s not foolish enough to shy away from the things his players can do the best. They come in with the idea that they want to enhance the toughness and physicality of the players in the program, and I think they have done that.
“By the same token, they have seen they have some skill at the receiving position and the capacity to throw the football so they spread people out. Against Oklahoma they looked far more like the Baylor of previous years than they had in the previous three games.”
Smith made his first start last year against K-State, going 27 of 45 for 258 yards with three TDs and three interceptions in the Wildcats’ 42-21 win.
“He wasn’t bad last year against us,” Snyder said. “He threw interceptions against us last year and I think he’s a little more secure with the football right now. It goes without saying he’s made some improvement. For a young guy who has only that many starts (six), he appears to be poised about what he’s doing. He seems to make good decisions and puts the ball in good places.”
Baylor at Kansas State
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan
TV/Radio: ESPN2/WIBW-AM (580)
Records: K-State 2-1, 0-0 Big 12; Baylor 0-4, 0-1 Big 12
Line: K-State by 14 1/2
Next: K-State at Texas, Oct. 7, 6 p.m. (FS1)
Contact Ken Corbitt at (785) 295-1123 or @KenCorbitt on Twitter.