Offense vs. Defense
When Baylor has the ball
The Bears offense has not seen a defense as talented and capable as the West Virginia defense so far this year. And the Mountaineers have certainly not seen an offense as good as the Bears in 2013. But both have been better than their 2012 version, at least so far. For the Mountaineers, that means they improved from a bad defense to an average or maybe even good defense. For the Baylor offense though, they have improved from a good one to a great one. The Bears offense is first or second in pretty much every meaningful statistic that can gauge an offensive system. They are putting up points not seen since the 1930's to start a year, and are doing it in 3 quarters.
But the big question is, who have they done it against? While most Bear fans would give more credit to Buffalo and ULM by stating what they did last year or how they have performed against other ranked teams, both of the FCS teams have struggled in 2013 and both have had bad moments in other games defensively. West Virginia, while struggling at times to stop the run and having some issues on third downs, is a good defense. They have shown it even more against the two Big 12 opponents they have played already as well, as both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have checked the West Virginia Mountaineers off their schedule.
With the Cowboys featuring a supposedly high powered offense, they left Morgantown with only 21 points on the board, and a lot of failed plays. The Mountaineers forced 3 turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown to tie the game at 7 and turn the momentum around for WVU. Every time they needed a stop, the Mountaineer defense got one, be it through a turnover or a forced punt.
The Mountaineer defense has been quite steady against the pass this year, allowing 942 total yards in their 5 games, and the high is only 322. The 6.6 yards per attempt allowed is good for 42nd in the country, after last year allowing a FCS worst 9.6 yards per attempt. That is a huge improvement for any defense. Where the WVU still struggles at times though is against the run. For the year, they are allowing just 3.79 yards per carry. While their season average is not terrible, there have been a few games where they have not stopped the run very well. But against Oklahoma, they allowed 316 yards on the ground at a rate of 5.54 per carry. Against FBS School Georgia State, they allowed 4.12 yards per carry.
When West Virginia has the ball
Last year in Morgantown, both teams put up astonishing numbers on their way to a 70-63 offensive battle that would have outscored the basketball teams. Of course, West Virginia one that game behind one of the best performances by a quarterback you will ever see courtesy of Geno Smith. With Smith now trying to make his way in the NFL now, it is up to a new cast of playmakers at pretty much every skill position for WVU.
They have a new quarterback. Wait, they actually have three new quarterbacks, with Clint Trickett being the third of the three to start a game. They have a new running back in Charles Sims of Houston. They have a whole group of new wide receivers as well, having to replace NFL players Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Their only returning skill player with any career starts before 2013 is fullback Cody Clay, who had 6.
But West Virginia still has Dana Holgorsen around, so you know they are still capable of being a dangerous offense. He is still running the same type of offense, though this year with a bit more of a rushing attacks featuring the dangerous Sims. They like to get the ball out of the quarterbacks hand quickly, and use route patterns to break a guy open down the field. There is not as much play action as in the Baylor spread attack, but they like to take shots when they can. Crossing routes underneath and dump offs to running backs or a slot receiver is a key thing to stop. The Baylor linebackers and safeties will have to be very aware of everything going on in front of them, but to not get too focused as to let someone run past them for a long touchdown (which happened quite often in last year's epic offensive battle).
Fun Stats to Ponder
-This will be the Mountaineers third conference game of 2013 already, and the Bears first. In each of the three games, the Mountaineers opponent has been playing their first conference game.
-Baylor currently owns a 7-game winning streak, the fourth-longest active streak in the NCAA. Their last loss was on the road at Oklahoma on November 10th, 2012.
-Baylor is 15-1 in home games since the start of the 2011 season. Their only loss was last year against TCU.
-The Mountaineers have 43 players with at least one start in their career for WVU, but they also have the 8th most underclassmen on the 2-deep roster with 30.
-West Virginia is 5th in the country in total tackles for loss, while the Bears average the most per game with 11.33
-West Virginia is allowing a TD on just 42.86% of their opponent's Red Zone opportunities, good for 15th in the country, while the Bears are converting 73.33% of their Red Zone opportunities into touchdowns, good for 27th.
-The Mountaineers have 76 plays from scrimmage for over 10 yards, 2 less than the Bears' 78 in two more games.
-WVU has only 6 plays for over 50+ yards so far in 2013, versus 19 for the Bears. In 2012, both of these teams combined for 54 such plays.
Keys to the Game
1. Keep Petty Clean
The Bears have only allowed 3 sacks so far in 2013, but they have not seen a pass rush as effective as West Virginia's. Brandon Golson and Will Clarke are two very capable and effective pass rushers. They both have 3 sacks on the year, but they did an even better job than that against Oklahoma State. They might have only hit J.W. Walsh for 1 sack on the day, but they did a great job of rushing him with great discipline in keeping the passing lanes small and getting a hand up in his face. He never got comfortable in the pocket and it showed in some of his longer passes. With Petty on paper being relatively inexperienced, you have to think they will show some blitzes and try to get after the first year starter.
2. Get the Running Game Going
When the Mountaineers have won, they have stopped the opponents rushing attack. When they have lost, they have not been nearly as effective against the rush. Against Oklahoma, they allowed over 300 yards on the ground. Against Maryland, they were better, but still allowed two scores on the ground and more than 100 yards. But that was a very weird game from an offensive standpoint with a lot of short field possessions and a bad storm that hit at halftime to make the second half nearly unplayable.
Against Oklahoma State though, they sold out on the run and forced the Cowboys to pass the ball. They allowed 111 yards on the ground, but for just 2.78 yards per carry. They sold out on the run, and put the Cowboys in second and third and long a bunch. Baylor has to be able to run the ball to setup their play action passes down the field. Their offense is at its best when they are running the ball more than passing it. So far this year, the running game has averaged 6.58 yards per carry, led By Lache Seastrunk's 10.97 average. It would be silly to expect both of those numbers to continue to be that high, especially Seastrunk's. But getting over 5 yards per
3. Continue the Turnover Trend
Both teams have had a certain trend with their turnovers. The West Virginia offense has been quite giving with 14 turnovers in their 5 games. They have 8 fumbles lost and 6 interceptions. WVU has done a really good job with takeaways, but their large number of turnovers gives them a -3 margin. Baylor on the other hand has only given the ball up 3 times, and two of those were in the first game. The first team offense hasn't had a turnover since opening week. The defense though is shining even brighter with 9 turnovers forced so far. They have 4 fumble recoveries and 5 interceptions. They are +6 on the year.
The fact is, when the Bears or really any team is winning the turnover battle, they are improving their odds of winning the game substantially. The Mountaineers 3.2 giveaways per game are tied for third worst in FCS, while the Bears are averaging 3 takeaways per game (tied for 9th best). If those two trends continue, the Bears should win the turnover battle and put themselves in great position for another victory.
4. Keep an eye on Sims
I truly believe that Charles Sims is the one guy that West Virginia has that can really beat the Bears. He is by far the most talented offensive player the Baylor defense will have seen in 2013. He is a very shifty and smart runner, but might be even better out of the backfield catching the ball. He is averaging 5 yards per carry and 9.6 yards per catch. That is a total of 5.8 yards per touch and 110 total yards per game. He also leads their team with 3 total touchdowns with all of them on the ground. Sam Holl and Eddie Lackey will primarily be responsible for Sims out of the back field, so they have to step up their game and make sure the senior doesn't make them look foolish for some big plays.
5. Keep the Crowd Rocking
The Bears have never been accused of having a great home field advantage, especially in the Big 12 era. For most of that time frame, the crowds were small and sometimes wearing the wrong colors. But this is a new age in Baylor football. Their attendance marks have gone up the past three years to consistently over 40,000 per game. But this year has been great for the first half, and not so great for the second half. Yes, the opposition and the score have played a part, but the crowds at the end of the games have been abysmal.
This Saturday though, will be the first big name to come to the final season of Floyd Casey and will also be the first night game since opening week. With great weather (barring a little rain) and a pumped up expectation level for Bear fans, the crowd will be close to a sellout. The Bears marketing staff is doing its job with the "Bring the Bling" campaign built around the new gold chrome helmets. Now it will be up to the team to come out strong and get the lead and make this one big party for a whole game. West Virginia will want to slow everything down, get the crowd out of it and bored, just like they successfully did in Oklahoma against the Sooners.
Massey Ratings – Bears win 45-31
RealTime RPI – Bears win 48-32
TeamRankings.com – Bears win 48.2 – 20.2
Chris Bullajian, BearsIllustrated.com Publisher
Bears win 57-37
Baylor enters this game ranked #16 in the nation and all the momentum in the world. Positive press has surrounded Baylor Head Football Coach Art Briles for the past month, and his players fill the college football award watch lists. It will be interesting to see how Baylor reacts and responds to being favored by 27 points over a team that just knocked off #11 Oklahoma State last week. West Virginia and Baylor are both different teams than we all saw in last season's shootout in Morgantown. If Baylor continues to start fast and take West Virginia out mentally, the Bears will win their Big Conference opener on Saturday. That is exactly what I see happening. West Virginia will score, and Baylor won't cover, but the Bears will win by 3 touchdowns.
Steve Brischke, BearsIllustrated.com Administrator
Bears win 55-20
This script has been switched for West Virginia this season. Last year in the game against Baylor, it was all offense and no defense. The only remnant from that game is the "all offense" and it applies to Baylor. Playing in Waco with ample rest, Baylor should be able to tire the Mountaineers over the course of the game. There's always a chance of an equalizer - turnovers, but coming into this game West Virginia would seem to be more susceptible to that than Baylor. Therefore, I think Baylor gets another big win and covers the spread.
Kevin Barrera, BearsIllustrated.com Contributor
Bears win 52-24
Baylor enters this game with a large chip on its shoulder. With all the positive hype surrounding the program, has come criticism for the teams they have played. Well the Bears get the chance to show the country that this team is a Big 12 title contender. WVU is coming off of a big win over then #11 OSU, but has not faced a team this explosive. Baylor is averaging over 300 yards of rushing, to go along with 400 plus yards passing. Baylor continues it's explosive play on offense, and the defense steps up and shows that the past 8-9 games have not been flukes. Baylor is favored by 27 points in this game, and while the game will be close in the first half, Baylor will make the proper adjustments at halftime and pull away from the Mountaineers in the 3rd quarter. Think Baylor/KSU last year.
Tim Watkins, BearsIllustrated.com Writer
Bears win 49-27
Can the Bears offense keep going against a defense that is superior to anything they have seen so far in 2013? Well, we have asked that three times in a row now, and the offense has just been more efficient and more impressive by the game. ULM was better than Buffalo and the Bulls were better than Wofford. WVU is superior to all of these, and it is quick a jump. But who are we to doubt the Bears offense now? They have scored 40 points in 7 straight games. They have scored more than 40 points in all but one home game since 2011 and have averaged over 47 points in that stretch. That includes two years of Big 12play, not just the non-conference patsies we have seen in the past. So, why stop now? With Clint Trickett not fully healthy and the entire WVU offense still trying to find its way, the Mountaineers just doesn't have the ability yet to keep up with what the Bears can do.