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Mountaineers, Bears Look to Punctuate Regular Season

Previewing and predicting the Mountaineers and Bears final game of the season.

Getty Images - Tom Pennington

Both West Virginia and Baylor hope to end their 2016 regular seasons on a high note. Both teams have faced disappointing seasons but polarizing in context. For the Mountaineers, it was falling short in the lime light and being escorted out of the College Football Playoff discussion at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners. For Baylor, it is avoiding finishing 0-6 after starting 6-0 and accumulating a #8 ranking.

If the Mountaineers take care of business at home, Dana Holgorsen’s bunch likely becomes  highly valued by the Russell Athletic Bowl and a chance for nostalgia to pair them up with a pre-realignment old-time rival out of the ACC.

The Baylor Bears get the chance to shock the conference with the upset and for the seniors the chance to walk out of the regular season with one last positive memory. Something that has been in short supply in thanks to the way their mentors – previous and current coaching staffs – have handled the culture of the program since being exposed in May.

Date/Time:  Saturday, Dec 3, 2:30 PM CST
Where: Milan Puskar Stadium (Morgantown, WV)
Forecast: Cloudy w/ slight breeze, High of 42 degrees
Stream: Fox Sports Go
TV Crew: Justin Kutcher, Petros Pakadakis
Betting Line: WVU -14, o/u at 67

Baylor 6-5 (3-5)

Head coach Jim Grobe made it official this week that the ride at Baylor was over when he told reporters he has no plans to coach again once the season is over. Starting the year with 14 players short of the 85 scholarship limit, matters were made worse when Grobe had to endure injuries to key starters Seth Russell and Terrance Williams, suspensions, and tailback Johnny Jefferson leaving the team on his own to deal with personal issues. Attrition was the biggest concern for the Bears heading into 2016 and has manifested itself almost on schedule making the end of season losing streak comprehend-able in hindsight.

Last week’s undressing at the hands of the equally disappointing Texas Tech Red Raiders in the Lone Star Shootout 35-54 legitimized what appears to the “tap-out” of the season. For many around the Baylor program this season cannot move on soon enough. The players likely feel the sentiment from the fans, oh and meanwhile the athletic department is actively interviewing for the next head coach.

Is there any want-to left in this team? That question will likely be answered by first quarter’s end on Saturday. The 1,300+ mile trip to Morgantown has its way of testing focus. It will take a highly motivated, spirited and emotional group to bolster this Baylor offense behind Freshman quarterback Zach Smith and his 8:4 TD:INT ratio on the road at someone else’s senior day.

Keys To The Game For Baylor

No Fly Zone – Attempt to make West Virginia to beat you leaning solely on the run game. They will get their rushing yards regardless, but if you take away the pass further attention can turn to run with safety play. Despite giving up 586 yards through the air to Patrick Mahomes last week, the Bears have the league’s second best passing defense. Since third and long is mostly solved through the air, this is the Bears best chance to limit West Virginia’s offense. The Bears chance to frustrate matters with the Mountaineers down the number three target on the year Ka’raun White sitting out with a broken leg.

Plus Side Is The Right Side – If not for the inexperience at quarterback from the last three games, Baylor and West Virginia would enter the game with similar turnover margin stats. West Virginia, only plus one on the year has shown to periodically have games this season where turning the ball over was an epidemic. But because Baylor has had similar outings, they will have to win the turnover battle if they want to have a chance to win on the road.

Find That “Vintage” 2016 Offense – In the past four tilts, the Bears have averaged just under 26 points per game. To beat the Mountaineers on their field, it will take likely 40 points. This will be as seasoned as Zach Smith is going to get for the 2016 regular season, but it is still unclear if the coaching staff trusts him dip into more than half of the playbook.

West Virginia 9-2 (6-2)

The underappreciated senior signal caller Skyler Howard will attempt to lead the Mountaineers to their first 10 win season since the final year in the Big East, and their first ever in the Big 12. Howard and the balanced West Virginia attack have been one of the most methodical reliable units this league has featured in 2016. If not for the turnover luck of the blue and gold, the offense would be close to unstoppable.

The Mountaineers proved to have bounce back in them as they handled the Iowa State Cyclones 49-19 last week in Ames after the Sooners bested them by four scores in Morgantown the week before behind a tuned up passing game. Junior Shelton Gibson recorded 161 yards receiving on three catches. If Gibson or any other wideout can find that success, they will likely break the back of the Baylor defense.

On the other side of the ball, the defense has been similar parts steady and reliable. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 scheme has a level of diversity that makes film study for the opposing offenses feel more like week two of the season than a an intense video library.

Keys to the Game for WVU

Block out the noise – For Skyler Howard, he knows he’s not the pick for fan favorite amongst his own fan base. In a way, that could be a good thing. If Howard feels like he has to be mentally focused to ignore the off the field impressions, perhaps it helps prevent him from undervaluing what Baylor brings to the field, and play the game that he knows he can play.

All hands on deck ball – Beyond the quarterback position, skill position players too are going to have to bring their first class focus to the field too. Though tied for least amount of fumbles on the year in conference at 10 the Mountaineers have a 90% fumbles lost percentage – worst in the league.  Add in the fourth worst total for interceptions thrown, West Virginia has had extremely bad luck in the turnover department where many have come while in the red zone. Those turnovers equate to the league’s 7th red zone offense.

Rumblin’ Crawford Crumblin’ Bears – Baylor, short on defensive linemen have played with various formations to try and account for their depth issues. They have struggled to find anything that has worked well with the front seven to consistently stop the run. With the league’s third leading rusher in Justin Crawford (41 yards short of 1,000), the Mountaineers are well equipped to demoralize the defensive unit. An unstoppable run game is college football’s death by a million needle pricks.

Game Prediction

If Baylor has any hope of rebuking what appears to be a seismic mismatch, it will have to come solely from the intangibles and discipline department. That would be hard to imagine from the most penalized team in this conference.

West Virginia has taken care of business all year by playing to their capabilities. This West Virginia team has never been a great team all year but it has been good to really good from each and every unit on every side of the ball. Simply there are no glaring negatives to West Virginia’s game.

West Virginia has everyone on the roster and coaching staff with the same goal in mind – just win baby. On the other sideline, distractions and defections have eroded the spirit of the squad. Bears have too much to overcome to stay competitive, and much like wet paint, reeling Texas Football rosters do not cure well in temperatures in the low 40s. Expect West Virginia to cover the point spread.

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