This week’s Thursday night game features two teams looking to rebound after having take losses before their bye week, but the story of those losses is slightly different for Baylor and West Virginia.
The Bears were 17 yards away from the end zone when the clock ran out against Texas in their Week 7 loss to Texas, where they fell 23-17. Had Baylor scored a touchdown there, it would have been a signature win for second year coach Matt Rhule.
Now, going on the road against No. 13 West Virginia, the Bears are hoping to get that first big victory. They’re buoyed by the fact that their tilt against the Mountaineers came down to the wire in 2017, and Baylor seems to be getting better every week.
On the other hand, West Virginia is reeling from a 30-14 loss suffered in Ames against the Iowa State Cyclones. The Mountaineer offense was held to some of the worst numbers we’ve seen since the team joined the Big 12, and the defense seemed to take serious steps back.
West Virginia had legitimate College Football Playoff hopes before that game, but now the future is somewhat murky. Are the ‘Eers trending down or can they rebound at home after a week off?
BAYLOR BEARS (4-3, 2-2)
One sign of progress for Baylor in Matt Rhule’s second year has been offensive improvement. Quarterback Charlie Brewer is the start of the offensive show in that regard, having tossed 10 touchdowns on the season.
Brewer will try to get the ball out to his fast wide receivers in Chris Platt, Denzel Mims, and Jalen Hurd. All three are dependable pass catchers who can get open against opposing defenses. They are a big reason that Baylor is averaging 313.3 yards passing per game, which is good enough for third in the Big 12.
The Bears have struggled somewhat to get their ground game going, but they have a stable of capable backs in Jamycal Hasty, John Lovett, and Trestan Ebner.
Defensively, Baylor has been somewhat successful defending opposing passing attacks. They are allowing only 219.3 passing yards per game and have five picks in 2018. At the same time, the Bears have given up 15 touchdowns through the air, a statistic that’s not exactly something to write home about.
Sophomore interior lineman James Lynch has been key there, as he leads the team with four sacks and seven tackles for loss.
Baylor will rely on that disruption to stop opposing running games as well, an area that has been a weak spot for the Bears. Baylor is last in the Big 12 in rushing defense, allowing 5.7 yards per carry and 188.6 yards per game.
WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (5-1, 3-1)
West Virginia may have had a down game against Iowa State, but other than that the Mountaineers have been absolutely lethal on offense.
The Mountaineers are led by one of the Big 12’s best quarterbacks in Will Grier, who may still have an outside shot at the Heisman Trophy. Grier has been remarkably accurate, completing 71.4 percent of his passes.
With Grier at the helm, this team has the ability to hit deep shots in the passing game. West Virginia’s senior signal caller has plenty of dangerous receiving threats: starters David Sills V and Gary Jennings Jr. both have NFL potential, and junior Marcus Simms has the most receiving yards per game on the team. In the backfield, junior Kennedy McKoy has been solid as West Virginia’s lead rusher, averaging six yards per carry.
Balance is what really allows this Mountaineer offense to ultimately hum, something that starts up front. There are a couple of lineman there who could be drafted in 2019, and veteran experience to boot.
On the defensive side of the ball, West Virginia has been improved thanks to their play against the run this season. Putting graduate transfers Kenny Bigelow Jr. and Jabril Robinson up front in Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 has been key to that effort. Having great play from the front three helps players like David Long Jr., who is fourth in the Big 12 in tackles, wreak havoc in the backfield.
The West Virginia passing defense is also one of the better units in the Big 12, and have allowed only nine passing touchdowns in 2018. Players like Dravon Askew-Henry and Kenny Robinson Jr. have been key to that effort.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR BAYLOR
Be Aggressive – Baylor will be able to win this game if they can make some big plays early and get out in front of West Virginia. The Bears need to try and establish an aggressive tone early by testing this Mountaineer defense. Get those fast wideouts on the outside and see if they can get some explosive receptions.
Put Pressure On The Mountaineers – Last week, Iowa State sacked Will Grier multiple times and through the West Virginia passing offense off their game. The Mountaineers will probably try to run the ball on Baylor, and if the Bears are able to get some stops there, they should bring some blitzes in obvious passing situations.
Play Smart Football – Baylor needs to take care of the ball and avoid penalties in this game. Road games can quickly get out of hand if your team continues to make small mental mistakes. If the Bears can win the turnover battle and not have any costly penalties, they’ll have a good shot at the upset.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR WEST VIRGINIA
Run The Ball – West Virginia should come out and try to run the ball to set up their deep shots in this game. Even though Baylor had a decent showing in their last game against Texas, they are still vulnerable against the run. The Mountaineers have the horses to move the chains against Baylor, and they should definitely try do so.
Take Your Deep Shots – Baylor will most likely try and make West Virginia march down the field, but they will more than likely also leave opportunities for the Mountaineers to hit some players deep downfield. If they can get man-to-man coverage, West Virginia should seek to exploit that often and early.
Get Off The Field On Third Down – For the Mountaineers defensively, getting Baylor to punt the ball will be a big factor in this game. The Bears can struggle to move the ball on standard rushing downs, but their receivers give them an opportunity to make big plays on third down. Keep them from getting to the sticks, and get Charlie Brewer back on the sidelines.
Baylor is getting better under Matt Rhule, especially to the extent that they look like a sharper, more developed team in his second season. A lot of the issues with this team have to do with youth and with a lack of playmakers at key positions, especially along both lines of scrimmage.
Even though the Bears do seem to be improving from week to week, I think Mountaineers are just going to be too much for Baylor to handle on the road. Rhule’s teams tend to not be as good on the road as they are at home, and this will by far be their biggest road trip of the season.
West Virginia will also be looking to come out and play a good game after the loss they took to Iowa State, and a home game on a Thursday night is a really good way to do that. The Bears can probably put up a few points, but in the end I think the Mountaineers score enough to make it a fairly comfortable game. Give me West Virginia by 20.