Jarrett Stidham was not supposed to play in 2015. The four-star true freshman from Stephenville, Texas, just 92 miles northwest of Baylor’s campus in Waco, was expected to ride the bench behind junior starter Seth Russell all season and learn from him. When it came to assuming the throne, that wasn’t going to happen until Russell either graduated or entered the draft, whichever came first.
Now, Baylor’s national championship host rest in his hands as the Bears prepare to host the Oklahoma Sooners this weekend.
Baylor was rolling to start the year. The Bears were (and still are) undefeated as Russell handled coach Art Briles’ classic spread offense to the point where it felt like his predecessor Bryce Petty never left. By every stretch of the imagination, it looked like the Bears would have an epic season en route to a spot in the College Football Playoff despite the Big 12 being the ugly stepchild of the Power 5.
But then a bump in the road was hit. Russell fractured a bone in his neck in a game against the Iowa State Cyclones two weeks ago and had to undergo season-ending surgery, meaning that the 19-year-old freshman in Stidham would be thrown to the wolves immediately and have Baylor’s entire season placed in his hands.
Sure enough, Stidham showed that he could handle the pressure even after doing minimal work in the Iowa State game. He took full advantage of the Bears’ bye week and played like an absolute boss against the Kansas State Wildcats last weekend, completing 23 of 33 passes for 419 yards and three touchdowns, including a bomb to Corey Coleman that turned into an 81-yard score in a 31-24 victory.
Simply put, for a freshman, this young man can PLAY.
And the pressure will be on Stidham on Saturday, even if the game is in Waco. The Sooners rank 25th in FBS in total defense and 15th in defending the pass. The team ranks second with 34 sacks, 10th in defensive efficiency and has intercepted 12 passes on the year.
Long story short, Oklahoma could be the absolute worst nightmare for a team that focuses on offense and has a freshman playing quarterback.
This means that in the days leading up to Saturday’s game, set for 8 p.m. ET on ABC, Stidham needs to live in the video room. The only way to beat Oklahoma on top of practicing is to watch video after video after video of the Sooners’ defense that is strong, but has enough weaknesses as a unit that they lost to the Texas Longhorns in this year’s Red River Rivalry.
By using the knowledge he gains from that in tandem with building his relationships with his teammates on and off the field, Baylor can win decisively and take a step forward towards cracking the Top 4.
The good news is that Stidham has proven to be a conscientious young man in his time on and off the field this season, throwing for 750 yards and nine touchdowns in a combination of his one start and taking over in garbage time. Oklahoma is a big test, but you can’t teach being a four-star recruit and a quick mastery of Briles’ offense, even if Kansas State isn’t exactly top competition.
So long as he prepares properly and goes into the game with his head held high, not to mention his offensive line doesn’t get overwhelmed by Oklahoma’s pass rush, Stidham can show Baylor fans and College Football Nation just what they can expect once Russell moves on to the next level.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports