WACO, Texas — No. 23 Kansas State lost control of its path to the Big 12 championship game last week when quarterback Will Howard was watching from the sideline.
The super sub helped the Wildcats get it back, with a little help from undefeated conference leader TCU.
Howard threw for three touchdowns after Adrian Martinez exited with another injury, and the Wildcats buoyed their Big 12 title hopes with a 31-3 rout of Baylor on Saturday night.
The defending conference champion Bears (6-4, 4-3 Big 12) will need help to get back to the championship game after a three-game winning streak had put them back in contention.
The Wildcats (7-3, 5-2) are now alone in second place behind the fourth-ranked Horned Frogs, who sent No. 18 Texas into a tie with Baylor behind Kansas State with a 17-10 victory in Austin.
Kansas State dropped into the second-place tie last week with a 34-27 loss to Texas, when Martinez returned from a knee injury and threw for 326 yards, but had two key turnovers.
Howard came on after Martinez appeared to injure his lower body getting a first down on a quarterback sneak in the first quarter. The school offered no specifics on the injury.
Howard, the junior who threw four TD passes in a 48-0 victory over then-No. 9 Oklahoma State two weeks ago, put the Wildcats ahead 7-0 on the same drive with a 15-yard scoring pass to Ben Sinnott.
Howard has thrown seven TD passes without an interception in seven-plus quarters filling in for Martinez, who was on the sideline with his helmet on after getting checked by the medical staff.
Coach Chris Klieman said Martinez was available to return, but the staff figured he would be limited by the injury.
“I looked at Will, and I said, ‘Will, you got it,’” Klieman said. “He played really well, and we blocked exceptionally well for him. And man, we made some plays.”
The Wildcats are still interested in redshirting Howard, a junior who has spent most of the season behind the senior transfer from Nebraska.
The intrigue only grows with Kansas State now in position to play for the championship Dec. 3 at the home of the Dallas Cowboys.
“It's a conversation that we had this week, and we told him we're going to have one every week,” Klieman said. “Will's in a good place right now. Adrian's in a good place right now.”
Blake Shapen threw two interceptions in the Bears' worst offensive showing in a Big 12 game this season as a four-game winning streak in the series ended.
“Obviously everybody knows what was on the line tonight, probably too much,” Baylor linebacker Dillon Doyle said. “You just box it and move on. It's really hard to do, but it's the same thing with life.”
Deuce Vaughn had a 20-yard touchdown catch and 106 yards rushing, making him the third Kansas State running back with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons (1,081 yards this season).
Howard was 19 of 27 for 196 yards, and Sinnott had another TD from 19 yards while finishing with seven catches for 89 yards.
The Wildcats were 8 of 13 on third down, which helped them keep possession for a season-best 37 minutes, 37 seconds. Kansas State also was opportunistic, getting four touchdowns and a field goal out of five trips inside the Baylor 20-yard line.
The Bears had a season-low 103 yards rushing a week after getting 281 with five touchdowns in a 38-35 victory over Oklahoma. Richard Reese needed 83 yards to break Shock Linwood's nine-year-old school freshman record of 881 but finished with just 54. A week after getting a career-high 192 yards, Craig “Sqwirl” Williams had just 17.
Kansas State: The Wildcats wasted little time showing faith in Howard. On his first drive, they ran a reverse flea-flicker, and he completed a 23-yard pass to Sinnott. The first TD toss to Sinnott came two plays later.
Baylor: Coach Dave Aranda tried to spark a struggling offense late in the third quarter by going for it on fourth-and-3 from the Baylor. Monaray Baldwin's catch gained just 1 yard, and DJ Giddens sent many fans to the exits on a 1-yard TD for the final margin early in the fourth.
Kansas State: At West Virginia next Saturday with the Mountaineers coming off a 23-20 home victory over Oklahoma on a game-ending field goal. The Wildcats ended a five-game losing streak in the series with a 34-17 victory at home last year.
Baylor: No. 4 TCU visits McLane Stadium next Saturday. The Horned Frogs have won six of seven in the series since the Bears' 61-58 home victory in McLane's debut season in 2014. That was the year both teams had one loss and were left out of the first four-team playoff.