The 2nd ranked Baylor Bears come back home Saturday morning to face off against the 3-2 West Virginia Mountaineers, who are looking to end a 2-game Big 12 losing streak. The Mountaineers started off the 2015 season strong with three impressive wins over Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Maryland, the Mountaineers have had two tough losses. They battled hard against Oklahoma on the road, but fell late due to timely turnovers. Last weekend, they came back to send the game to overtime against Oklahoma State, only to fall in extra time.
The Mountaineer defense has been the strength of the team so far, bringing back a very expereinced and talented defense from last year, led by stars Nick Kwiatkoski and Karl Joseph who both were keys in the West Virginia upset win over the Bears in 2014. Joseph has been lost for the season with a knee injury he suffered against Oklahoma. Even with Joseph out, the Mountaineers still have a very good defensvie backfield, with great depth and experience. Kwiatkoski is one of the best linebackers in the Big 12, anchoring their West Virginia run defense.
Once again, the Bears are the dominant team in the rankings, in the Top-4 in all but the S&P+ related categories (F/+ is a mixture of FEI and S&P+). Baylor falls drastically in S&P due to a very weak schedule, defensive issues in the Lamar game, and then very poor special teams metrics. West Virginia is the highest in that ranking, mainly due to a 14th ranked defense, and a respectable schedule. The man behind the S&P+ rankings, Bill Connelly, has his yes on this game.
Players to Watch
Nick Kwiatkoski, Senior Linebacker
The leader of the WVU defense, Kwiatkoski is a tackling machine in the middle of the defense. He is their leading tackler this year with 33 tackles, including 4.5 for loss. He is a steady player, and is tremendous at getting through blockers and making tough tackles. He was 10th in total tackles in the Big 12 last year with 96, and is solid in coverage (4 career interceptions).
Wendell Smallwood, Junior Runningback
One of the surprise stars of the Big 12, Smallwood is the 3rd leading rusher in the Big 12 this year behind Shock Linwood and Aaron Green of TCU. He is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has 5 touchdowns so far this year. He is capable out of the backfield (58 career receptions) and the Mountaineer offense does a good job of getting him involved all over the field. He is an explosive runner with the ball in his hands, and is their biggest play threat.
Skyler Howard, Junior Quarterback
The first year starting quarterback has shown moments of excellent play in just 8 career starts dating back to late in the 2014 season. His 346 yards and 3 touchdowns against Texas A&M gave Mountaineers hope that they had found their next star quarterback. Howard lived up to that billing in his first three games, throwing 9 touchdown passes against just 1 interception as West Virginia won all three games. However, the past two weeks have seen four interceptions and two losses for the Mountaineers. He has also fumbled the ball four times in those two games as well. When Howard is on, and taking care of the ball, he is a very good quarterback, however he has been turnover prone so far in his career.
Shaq Petteway, Senior Linebacker/End
The senior linebacker/end is the Mountaineers best pash rushing threat on the outside. He is a big play threat, and some that has made huge stops on 3rd down. He is one of the faster linebackers for the Mountaineers and a guy that Baylor will have to make sure and block.
Shelton Gibson, Sophomore Wide Receiver
West Virginia is very young at wide receiver this year, after the loss of star Kevin White to the NFL. They start 1 freshman and a junior in addition to Gibson who is their leading receiver with 20 receptions, 448 yards and 5 touchdowns. He is their big play threat down the field, and the player Howard will be looking for on play action and shots down the field.
Keys to the Game
1. Make Skyler Howard Uncomfortable - The last two weeks, the Baylor defense has been excellent in making the opposing quarterback's job very difficult. They have applied good pressure with 4-players, and great pressure when they send a blitzer or 2. The Mountaineer offensive line has struggled in pass protection, party due to Skyler Howard trying to keep plays alive. They allow 3.4 sacks per game, which is 113th in the nation. With the Bears pass rush picking up steam the past two weeks, this is another opportunity to attack the quarterback.
2. Winning on Third Downs - Baylor's offense is converting a ridiculous 54.08% of their third downs right now, 2nd best in the nation. West Virginia is the 15th best defense on 3rd downs, allowing a conversion on just 27.78% of the attempts. These are two very good 3rd down units that do good work on 1st and 2nd down to put themselves into beneficial positions. Baylor's run game (which we will get to in a minute) has been hugely successful so far this year, converting 20 of 37 3rd down attempts. The West Virginia defense has allowed a first down on just 9 of 29 rushing attempts.
3. Two Dimensional Offense - Baylor lost last years game for many reasons, but the largest might have been their inability to run the ball effectively. They gained just 95 yards on 42 attempts, a 2.26 average. It was their worst performance of the regular season by far (only surpassed by the Cotton Bowl loss where they ran 22 times for -20 yards!), and has been a large indicator when the Bears struggle. The passing game will be there, either with short passes or long shots over the top. We see that every week. What really makes the Baylor offense special though is the running game. When Baylor is ripping off 5-8 yards per carry (or 10+ like we saw against Texas Tech and Kansas), there is no better offense in the land.
Massey Ratings – Bears win 42-28
RealTime RPI – Bears win 45-22
TeamRankings.com - Bears win 49-28
Vegas Line - Baylor -21
Staff Predictions COMING SOON!