First Look: West Virginia

With West Virginia coming off a huge upset over #11 Oklahoma State, the Baylor Bears will have their toughest test of this young season coming up Saturday.

Coming into 2013, many thought West Virginia football would struggle and even take a step back in its second year in the Big 12. Picked to finish 8th in the league during the preseason, the team seemed headed that way after a rocky start to the season, including a 37-0 thumping by Maryland.

One week later, and the narrative has changed. West Virginia upset the 11th ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys Saturday, and with that, forced the rest of the league to pay attention to them.

It's worth noting that the early season struggles should not surprise many. West Virginia was replacing a lot - superstars Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, and also reshuffled their offensive coaching staff so much that not a single offensive coach was coaching the same position that he did the previous season. Even after the Oklahoma State victory, the WVU offense is not putting up the type of numbers it did last year, and that may be a huge problem in Waco.

I wrote before the season about 3 different signal callers for WVU, as weeks before the season Coach Dana Holgorsen had not decided on his guy. 5 weeks into the season has seen 3 different quarterbacks take the QB1 spot, and it appears to be settled in on Florida State transfer Clint Trickett. Trickett got the start against the Cowboys, and although he got a little banged up, faired well to throw for over 300 yards and a score. However, his rating was low because it took him 50 attempts to get those 309 yards, and he completed less than 50% of his throws and threw 2 interceptions.

By comparison, Bryce Petty has thrown for more than 309 yards in each of his first 3 games, and at most has taken 27 attempts to do that (actually throwing for 351 in that effort against ULM). In addition, Petty has 8 TD's and no INT's through those 3 games.

Charles Sims, the highly touted transfer from Houston, has been up and down for WVU this year. At first glance, his 5 yards per carry average and 388 total yards seems pretty good. But when you break that down over the first 5 games, you see that Sims had 100 yard games against William & Mary and Georgia State, and was held to 57, 35, and 60 in the Oklahoma, Maryland, and Oklahoma State games. One thing to note is that Sims was clearly a favorite target of Trickett in their first game together, with Sims finishing with 5 receptions for 82 yards against Oklahoma State.

Tim Watkins will break down more of the players and stats throughout the week, but one more note to make in this First Look needs to highlight WVU's defense. Last year, you would not have expected this group to hold OU to 16 points and Oklahoma State to 21. In fact, they gave up 50 and 55 points to those two teams in back-to-back losses in the 2nd half of last season, so that is quite a significant turnaround in a short period of time. Granted, OU and Oklahoma State have both had their own offensive struggles and quarterback competitions, but you still expect them to put up big numbers if they are playing poor defenses (see OU vs. Tulsa for example).

WVU's defense was particularly important against Oklahoma State. For starters, it scored a touchdown when Ishmael Banks picked off J.W. Walsh and returned it 58 yards. They caused 2 more turnovers, including one late in the 4th quarter to seal the game. More impressively, the Mountaineer defense held Oklahoma State to just 6 of 20 on 3rd downs, killing drive after drive from a normally potent attack.

One thing Baylor fans can take to the bank - this game got a whole lot more interesting after the WVU upset of Oklahoma State. Vegas is not buying it yet, still putting the unstoppable Baylor attack as at least 3 touchdown favorites in the first released lines, but Coach Briles should be able to easily focus the player's attention on the fact that this WVU team is still dangerous. After all, they just knocked off one of the favorites to win the Big 12 conference. Perhaps Vegas is focusing on the fact that WVU has not had a bye yet while Baylor has enjoyed 2. Baylor should come in well-rested and gets WVU at home. Those items do seem to add up as huge advantages for Baylor.

Stay with us all week as we get you ready for Baylor's first Big 12 conference game, and be sure to check out the 7 day free trial to see the insider stories and participate in the insider premium message board, which is chalk full of information on a daily basis.


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