Waco, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Fresh off their biggest win of the season, the West Virginia Mountaineers face another major obstacle as they head to the Lone Star State for this Saturday's Big 12 Conference clash with the 17th- ranked Baylor Bears.
West Virginia took out No. 11 Oklahoma State at home last weekend, pushing the team a game over .500 on the season at 3-2. It was a huge effort for a club that was completely dominated the week prior by regional rival Maryland (37-0). The Mountaineers' other victories came against FCS foe William & Mary, as well as FBS newcomer Georgia State, while its first loss came in the conference opener against Oklahoma. WVU is only in its second season as a member of the Big 12.
It's little wonder why Baylor is undefeated at this point in the season, as the Bears own the nation's top offense. BU was idle last week, giving coach Art Briles' club ample time to prepare for its conference opener this week against WVU. The Bears opened the campaign by blasting FCS foe Wofford (69-3), but they upped the production from there, putting up 70 points in back-to-back wins over Buffalo and ULM. Critics will say Baylor hasn't played anyone yet, and while the level of competition hasn't been what the team will face the rest of the way, there is no discounting the merit of Briles' offense.
These two teams met for the first time last season, with the Mountaineers claiming a wild 70-63 triumph in Morgantown.
Spotting Oklahoma State a 7-0 lead midway through the opening quarter, the Mountaineers took control of matters, outscoring the Cowboys 30-14 the rest of the way to pull off the upset. West Virginia had trouble establishing the run (68 net yards), but got a solid effort from first-time starter Clint Trickett at quarterback, the former Florida State Seminole completing 24-of-50 passes for 309 yards and a TD. He was picked off twice and sacked once, but managed the game effectively in helping the home team claim a six-minute edge in the time of possession battle. Charles Sims, Ronald Carswell and Daikiel Shorts all tallied five catches for a combined 190 yards, while Sims paced the ground game with 60 yards and a TD on 18 carries.
For the most part, the West Virginia defense was on top of its game last week in allowing 433 yards to the Cowboys, the bulk of which came through the air (322). The Mountaineers proved to be an opportunistic bunch in coming up with three turnovers and holding the Pokes to just 6-of-20 success on third-down conversion attempts. Jared Barber was high man on the defense with his nine tackles, while Ismael Banks took an interception back 58 yards for a TD to record WVU's first points in the game.
Coach Dana Holgorsen praised his team for the effort, particularly the guys charged with stopping the opposition.
"Our defense played well. They created turnovers and stuck people. They held a team to 21 points that hasn't been held to that for quite some time."
The Mountaineers haven't had a ton of success on offense this season, averaging a mere 20.4 ppg behind typical outputs of 153.4 ypg on the ground and 239.2 ypg via the pass. Coach Dana Holgorsen has used three QBs, and the trio has combined to hit just over half of their pass attempts, but with only five TDs against six interceptions. Shorts and Sims have both hauled in 17 balls, with the former leading the team with a pair of receiving TDs. Sims paces the ground attack with 388 yards and three scores.
Foes are generating 345.4 ypg against the Mountaineers defense, but that has resulted in an average yield of only 19.6 ppg. Darwin Cook is the leading tackler with 31 stops, but Barber is hot on his heels with 30. Both Will Clarke and Brandon Golson have posted three sacks, while Cook already has three picks.
Baylor averages an eye-popping 69.7 points and 751.3 yards per game, both of which rank the team first in the nation, the former being more than 10 points better than the second-ranked team (Oregon), and the latter nearly 140 ypg more than No. 2 UCLA. Bryce Petty has performed exceptionally well as the Bears' next great signal caller, completing 74.6 percent of his passes for 1,001 yards, eight TDs and no interceptions. Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley have combined for 29 receptions, 720 yards and seven scores, while the BU ground attack boasts the talents of Lache Seastrunk and his 417 yards and six TDs. Shock Linwood lends a hand as he has scored four times, giving the Bears 14 rushing TDs on the season.
Baylor's defensive effort, while coming against inferior opponents, has resulted in the team permitting a scant 7.7 ppg, which is the second-lowest yield in the FBS. Eddie Lackey leads the Bears with 23 tackles, Bryce Hager has 22, and the unit as a whole has been credited with nine takeaways and 10 sacks. Shawn Oakman is second in the country with 2.7 TFL per game.
Baylor matched a school record by scoring 35 points in the first quarter of its 70-7 rout of ULM on Sept. 21, churning out 781 yards of total offense compared to just 295 for the overmatched visitors. Petty threw for 351 yards with four TDs, with both Goodley and Reese going over 100 yards with 156 and 123, respectively, and they combined for three TDs. Seastrunk rumbled his way to 156 yards and a score.
Hager paced the defense with eight tackles, while the unit as a whole came up with four turnovers, two of which were returned for TDs on picks by Joe Williams and Terrell Burt in the record-tying opening quarter.
While not necessarily a fan of early byes, Briles likes the fact that his team is well-rested heading into the conference opener.
"The thing about these open dates early in the season is that you feel like you're just starting and stopping, and that's kind of the way we feel right now without question. But the good thing is that our guys are fresh, energized, and anxious, and when you're anxious to do something then you usually have a lot of anticipation and get out there and do it."