Morgantown, WV (SportsNetwork.com) - The nation's most potent offensive team hits the road this week, as the fourth-ranked Baylor Bears pay a visit to the West Virginia Mountaineers in Big 12 Conference action.
Baylor is fresh off an exhilarating 61-58 win over TCU, moving the team to 6-0 overall, 3-0 in conference. The Bears are No. 1 in the county in both scoring (52.7 ppg) and total offense (622.5 ypg), and they have won 21 of their last 23 games. BU's 6-0 start is its second straight, marking the first time in school history that feat has been accomplished. Coach Art Briles' club has won nine of its last 11 games outside of Waco, with both losses coming against teams that were ranked in the top-15 at the time.
West Virginia has won four of its first six games, with the two setbacks coming against national powers Alabama (33-23) and Oklahoma (45-33). The Mountaineers have won two in a row since the loss to the Sooners, with their most recent triumph coming in a 37-34 decision last weekend at Texas Tech. Coach Dana Holgorsen's squad currently has six Top-25 foes on the 2014 schedule, and it will face the likes of Oklahoma State, TCU. Texas, Kansas State and Iowa State the rest of the way.
The all-time series between these relatively new conference rivals is knotted at 1-1, and the home team has won each time previously.
With so many talented players on the roster, Baylor continues to light up the scoreboard by chewing up huge chunks of yardage, the team currently ranking in the top-16 nationally in both rushing (251.5 ypg) and passing (371.0 ypg). Bryce Petty has thrown for more than 1,500 yards with 15 touchdowns against a mere three interceptions, but he is completing only 56.7 percent of his passes. Spreading the wealth has been his strong suit, as six players have double-digit catches on the season, with KD Cannon leading the way with 30 grabs for 651 yards and six scores. Shock Linwood has been as solid as they come in the run game, averaging a league-best 104.5 ypg and crossing the goal line eight times. Overall, the Bears have 20 rushing TDs to their credit.
With the exception of last week's shootout with TCU, the Baylor defense has performed exceptionally well in yielding only 20 points and 303.5 yards per contest -- the former ranking the team 25th in the country and the latter 10th. Both figures are tops in the Big 12. The Bears have been stout against the run (108.2 ypg), while allowing fewer than 200 passing yards per game. They are tied with Texas for the most sacks in the league with 21, with Shawn Oakman and Beau Blackshear combining for 9.5 sacks. Orion Stewart has three picks, Xavien Howard has two, and Bryce Hager is the leading tackler with 42.
Petty threw for 510 yards and six TDs, none shorter than 25 yards, in last week's come-from-behind win over TCU. The Bears trailed by three TDs in the final frame before mounting a furious comeback, with Chris Callahan booting through the game-winning 28-yard field goal as time expired. Three BU receivers finished with at least 124 yards, as Antwan Goodley, Corey Coleman and Cannon combined for five TDs. Linwood rumbled his way to 178 yards on 29 carries, helping the Bears to a whopping 782 yards of total offense.
TCU was highly productive as well, exploiting the Baylor pass defense for 346 yards. The Horned Frogs wound up scoring four TDs on the ground. Hager paced the Bears with 13 stops, nine of which were solo efforts. Baylor was credited with only one takeaway and two sacks.
Finally able to let out a huge sigh of relief, Briles praised both his team and the BU faithful for the win.
"These are wins that you think about and dream about, but they very seldom happen. We had one back in 2011 at Kansas, we were down 21 points on the road with 11 minutes left in the game. We were down 21 points with 10 minutes left in this game and we were home. I thought our crowd was phenomenal. I am not sure if we win this on the road, but we were not on the road. It has been 35 days since we have been here so we were due. Our guys deserved it and showed a lot of character and toughness."
West Virginia has also put forth tremendous effort on offense this season, generating 552.2 ypg to rank second in the conference. Clint Trickett has been rock solid in hitting 68.5 percent of his passes for 2,203 yards (367.2 ypg), 12 TDs and only four INTs. Kevin White has been the primary beneficiary of Trickett's conference-best exploits, hauling in 61 balls for 888 yards and five scores. Mario Alford has also gotten in on the act, logging 34 receptions for 411 yards and four TDs. As for the WVU rushing attack, Rushel Shell leads the way with 490 yards and six TDs on 111 attempts (81.7 ypg).
Holgorsen's defense is giving up nearly 394 ypg, with its showing against the pass (213.7 ypg, six TDs) being rather impressive. In fact, that effort ranks the team third in the conference, while its performance against the run (179.3 ypg, 10 TDs) ranks it seventh. Nick Kwiatkoski (49) and Karl Joseph (48) are nearly neck-and-neck in terms of total tackles, with the former also pacing the club in TFL (8.0). Turnover margin has hurt the Mountaineers as they are tied with Texas Tech for the last in the league at -8, and with only eight sacks, they rank ninth.
West Virginia was also involved in a wild game last week, as it battled back from a late 14-point deficit to claim a narrow win at Texas Tech. Kicker Josh Lambert nailed a 55-yard field goal, his third of the game, as time expired to push the Mountaineers to their second road win of the season. The two teams combined for more than 1,100 yards, with Trickett going 28-of-44 for 301 yards and two TDs. White and Jordan Thompson both had more than 100 receiving yards and a TD in the game, while Wendell Smallwood and Shell both eclipsed the 100- yard mark on the ground. Shell scored a pair of rushing TDs.
The Red Raiders churned out 217 yards on the ground and 348 via the pass, but they were flagged a dozen times for a loss of 115 yards. Kwiatkoski made nine of his team-high 11 tackles unassisted, including two for negative yardage, but a lack of impact plays from the unit as a whole (one sack, one turnover) allowed Tech to amass the yardage total it did.
Holgorsen knows his team was in a dogfight, and he was happy with the overall effort.
"Just want to start with congratulating our players and our coaches. They did a great job of not giving up. There was a couple of points in the game where it didn't look promising, so can't give our coaches and our players enough credit for just continuing to fight, continuing to believe in what we're doing."