Second-ranked Baylor’s pursuit of a playoff spot will go on without star quarterback Seth Russell, who needs season-ending neck surgery.
Russell saw a specialist Monday, two days after he fractured a bone during a win over Iowa State. The school said surgery was recommended to repair damage to his cervical vertebra, and that the typical recovery time is six months.
“Seth exemplifies the spirit and will of our football team, and through this our team will keep that spirit alive and well for him,” coach Art Briles said in a statement released by the school.
The junior quarterback got hurt on a run late in Saturday’s game, when the two-time defending Big 12 champion Bears improved to 7-0 with a 45-27 win.
Russell is the top-rated passer in the Bowl Subdivision, completing 119 of 200 passes for 2,104 yards with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for six scores in his first season starting for the NCAA’s top offense (686 total yards, 61 points a game).
Freshman Jarrett Stidham will take over as the starter. He has played in every game so far, and has some extra time to prepare for his first start since the Bears are off this week before playing Nov. 5 at Kansas State. Stidham has completed 24 of 28 passes for 331 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Sophomore Chris Johnson has moved from receiver back to quarterback as Stidham’s backup.
“We certainly have tons of confidence in Jarrett. … Maturity-wise, he doesn’t seem like a freshman, act like a freshman or perform like a freshman,” Briles said earlier Monday on the weekly Big 12 coaches teleconference. “He’s a guy that’s instinctively and athletically ready to play.”
Russell, a devout Christian, posted a message on his Twitter and Instagram accounts Sunday that read, “His plan isn’t always clear..but trusting in His plan for me. Thanks for all the prayers Baylor.” There were no updates on his Twitter account Monday after Baylor announced the surgery.
The Bears face the most difficult portion of their schedule, starting with Kansas State. That game is followed by a home game against Oklahoma and then visits to Oklahoma State and TCU before the finale against Texas.
Stidham takes control of an offense that includes Corey Coleman, the FBS leader with a school-record 18 touchdown catches, and Big 12 rushing leader Shock Linwood. There is also a big, experienced offensive line led by All-America tackle Spencer Drango.
“Just makes all the difference in the world. Especially with the offensive line that we have, plus the dynamic skill people,” Briles said. “It certainly takes a lot of pressure off that position, but you know the thing about it is, (Stidham) is a capable player. … We’re not putting a guy out there that’s not capable. This guy’s good. He’s ready.”
Immediately after Baylor won its FBS-best 20th consecutive home game, Russell was described as having a strained neck. X-rays and a CT scan later Saturday revealed the fractured bone.
Russell’s final play against Iowa State was a 4-yard run on third-and-5 with 5:36 left, though it was not immediately apparent he was hurt. There was helmet-to-helmet contact when he put his head down pushing forward, and was tackled in a pile with five Cyclones.
When the Bears called timeout and decided to kick a field goal rather than trying to convert a fourth-and-1, Briles said afterward they “didn’t feel like (Russell) was ready to go on that fourth down.”