#24 Baylor @ #7 West Virginia
- Game Time: 11:00
- TV: FX
- Sirius Channel: 91
- The Spread: West Virginia - 13
The Lowdown: You can throw the records out the window when these two rivals take the field. Wait, never mind, different game, or different year, or different conference. Something like that, I think.
Saturday's contest in Morgantown will be the first ever meeting between Baylor and West Virginia but they'll be plenty of excitement with the Mountaineers playing their first ever conference game in the Big 12.
Baylor comes in 3-0 but with plenty of questions yet to be answered in the post Robert Griffin era. Surprisingly, however, many of the questions don't involve the offense.
Senior Nick Florence has gotten off to a solid start in replacing RGIII and has thrown for over 1,000 yards through three games while completing 64.5% of his passes with 11 touchdowns against four interceptions.
His job at the quarterback position has been made much easier by a group of wide receivers that won't take a backseat to any group in the country, with a possible exception being the group that will be on the opposite sideline this weekend.
Lanear Sampson, Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese and Levi Norwood all have 10+ catches on the year. It's Williams and Reese that West Virginia's defense will have to pay the closest attention to on Saturday. Both are averaging over 20 yards a catch and both are equally capable of beating you deep or taking a 10 yard slant and turning it into a 50 yard touchdown.
The real concern for the Bears comes on the defensive side of the ball. Last year's problems have been well documented and the consensus was that another year in Phil Bennett's system would produce better results. It's still early in the season, but to date, those results have been shaky at best.
SMU, Sam Houston State and UL-Monroe all went over the 400 yard mark with both SMU and Monroe topping 500 yards. It's tough to gauge the results given the competition, but UL-Monroe, for example, picked up yards however they pleased rushing for 262 yards and throwing for another 298. Not that it will be any surprise to Baylor, but West Virginia's offense dwarfs anything the Bears have seen to date.
The good news for Baylor - and what may give them hope - even with the so-so results thus far, they do have experience and have shown glimpses, although brief, of putting the pieces together. The depth chart for Saturday's game lists nine juniors or seniors on the first unit. Only redshirt freshman nose tackle Trevor Clemons-Valdez and sophomore middle linebacker Bryce Hager (who leads the team with 39 tackles) are underclassmen.
The Mountaineers bring in one of the best quarterbacks in the country, two of the best receivers around, and a solid running game that isn't talked about enough. The offense did struggle to an extent last week against Maryland with running back Shawne Alston on the sideline because of a thigh bruise (they only rushed for 25 yards on 25 carries against the Terps) but Alston is expected back on Saturday.
Put all those pieces together with Dana Holgorsen pulling the strings and what you have is an offense that has the potential to embarrass anybody they step on the field with. (Exhibit A: Clemson).
It probably goes without saying, but given Baylor's continued struggles on defense and West Virginia's penchant for scoring points in a hurry, the Mountaineers are going to find the end zone. How much? We will see on Saturday although it's possible it could be more than even Baylor can keep up with.
The real key here is how West Virginia's defense performs against Baylor. The Mountaineers defense so far has been a mixed bag of results. The rush defense has been generally good, although you can question exactly how much they've been tested so far. The pass defense has a few chinks in the armor already with Marshall throwing for 413 yards and Maryland picking up 305 of their 351 total yards through the air largely due to some suspect tackling.
One advantage working in West Virginia's favor is that their defensive staff does have experience facing Baylor. Defensive coordinator, Joe DeForest, was the safeties coach at Oklahoma State last year when they held an RGIII led offense to just three points through three quarters. Granted Bill Young was calling the shots, but you can bet DeForest will take some of what he learned not only last year but during his four years facing Art Briles and put it to use on Saturday.
Baylor, Keys to the Game: Tackle in space. That's easier said than done, especially when it comes to Tavon Austin. But if Baylor wants to stay in the game, they have to limit the big plays and at a minimum, make West Virginia work for everything they get. Can it be done? Sure. By Baylor? We'll see.
Keep in mind, although they have another year of experience and are better now than they were then, West Virginia did lose to Syracuse and Louisville last year and only scored 24 and 21 points in wins over Cincinnati and Pitt. They're good, but if Baylor can make them work and get off the field on third down, they'll stand a punchers chance of keeping the game within reach for their offense.
West Virginia, Keys to the Game: Run the ball. Yes, West Virginia will throw it around plenty, but it's no coincidence that their best offensive showing of the year was the opener against Marshall when they rushed for 331 yards.
Shawne Alston was a machine against the Thunder Herd rushing for 123 of those yards on 16 carries. Alston is back on Saturday. Use him, especially since the Bears are weakest on the defensive line. I mentioned the Bear's experience earlier, but the guys who will rotate in among the front four include a true freshman and two redshirt freshmen.. Run effectively on Saturday, and everything else becomes that much easier.
The Prediction: All signs point to a shootout and with the over-under currently sitting at 80 points, the odds makers tend to agree. So who's going to play a little defense? Advantage, West Virginia.
Baylor will hang tough but they're on the road playing in front of a crowd that will be stoked for the Big 12 opener. Geno Smith and Nick Florence will both have their share of big plays, but it'll be the West Virginia ground game that will be the difference after a week in hibernation. The Mountaineers win, but for one reason or another, I'm not convinced it will be quite the shootout some are expecting. West Virginia 42 Baylor 24.