Briles: WVU, Baylor Typical Big 12

Baylor head coach Art Briles nailed the essence of Big 12 play when he said, in games such as the No. 4 Bears’ 61-58 win over then-No. 9 TCU, that the idea was to simply make enough defensive plays to give the offense an opportunity to win the game.

That’s exactly what happened for both Baylor and West Virginia last week. The Bears (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) used a 24-point fourth quarter blitz aided by a trio of key defensive stops late, while WVU (4-2, 2-1) rode its run game and four Texas Tech punts in the Raiders' final five possessions to a last-second 37-34 win highlighted by a 14-point comeback and the final 17 points of the game.

“Our focus is, as a defense, get enough stops to give the offense an opportunity to win the game,” Briles said. “That’s kinda what you do in games of that nature. It’s the ebb and flow of the game. It’s all about down and distance and making plays at the proper time. If you make them you get ahead of the chains, and if you don’t, you’re behind the chains. That’s kinda what determines what the outcome of that series.”

And, when strung together, the outcome of the game. Baylor fell behind 14-0, and essentially played catch-up right until the end. TCU had leads of 44-30 and 58-37 in the second half, the latter with just 11:38 to play. But, behind the excellent play of quarterback Bryce Petty operating Briles’ literal point-a-minute offense and the defensive stops, the Bears scored the final 24 points of the game, including three touchdowns in less than six minutes. BU won after stopping TCU on fourth and three from the Bears’ 45-yard line when Horned Frogs’ head coach Gary Patterson didn’t have enough faith in his defense to hold Baylor scoreless even with a long field following a punt.

“TCU is good. We knew it was going to be a fast-paced game,” Briles said. “We have been in those before and we have been in slow-paced games before. It’s kind of the nature of the game. I thought our defense made plays when we had to make plays. We have up 14 points, seven off a pick six and seven off a kickoff return. But we made some stops at critical times.

“Early in the game, we were down 14-0 and we made some stops that let us get settled in. Then there late we had some really good stops. We don’t worry about points or stats. We worry about whether we win or don’t win. And even if we win, we realize that we can get better on both sides of the ball and on special teams, without question. That’s the way we approach it. We can play a lot better as a team than we played.”

Baylor, like TCU, entered with a defense that ranked in the top 10 in yardage allowed, though that number was skewed by a weak nonconference slate of SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo. Baylor played Iowa State and Texas, two of the more ball-control Big 12 offenses, before TCU. The Frogs totaled 485 yards of offense, while Baylor amassed 782 and a whopping 39 first downs. Petty, 28 of 55 for a career-record 510 yards passing with six touchdowns and two interceptions, was named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week. The senior led scoring drives of 45, 92, 91 and 44 yards in the fourth quarter as the Bears tied their largest deficit overcome in a game (1980 vs. SMU and 2011 at Kansas). The passing yards were the second-most in a game in BU history behind, yes, Nick Florence’s 581 against WVU in 2012.

The TCU win has put, if Baylor wasn’t there already, the focus back on them as the primary threat to win the Big 12 and gain a bid to the initial College Football Playoff. Briles is trying, at least at this point, to downplay such thoughts.

“We are kinda locked in week to week,” he said. We understand if we can win one week and get to the next, all those other things take care of themselves. … We understand if we can keep our intensity up and our emotions up for one more week, we have an open date after this week. We want to keep it up as we have.”

Briles also addressed if he felt the need to rest players for additional time after the shootout out versus TCU – no, he said – and playing in yet another high-scoring game with West Virginia.

“It’d be ok if we had one more than them in the end,” Briles said. “It’s what you get in the Big 12. Everybody is a different opponent and they bring different things to the table. West Virginia has a really good football team that is explosive offensively and really active on defense. It’s going to be another great match-up.”

Earlier in the Big 12 teleconference, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said he viewed the Mountaineers as a run-first offense, which is an aspect of play Briles has always focused upon far more than that for which he is credited. Briles, time and again, has said his core values for his team are toughness and the ability to play with that mindset, mentally and physically. Briles also values the run game far more than another coach with a supposed similar style in Mike Leach, and, as Holgorsen’s approach also began to grow apart from Leach, the WVU coach has taken on an increased interest in rushing the football as well.

“I agree with Dana,” said Briles when asked if West Virginia is, as Holgorsen stated, a run-first offense. “Now, they do have the guy who is leading the nation in receiving yards, in addition to being a run-first offense. They have been pretty effective.”

Briles dodged the question of whether West Virginia was doing anything differently now than they were at the start of their Big 12 tenure, saying he was “not sure. If they change, we’ll have to change with them.” WVU is clearly using far more of a power run game, and has a distinctly different style of offensive line play under Ron Crook than it did with Bill Bedenbaugh. But that’s the typical Briles cat-that-swallowed-the-canary interview type, as the exceptional football mind often likes to hide behind an “aww shucks” attitude mixed with heavy Texas accent. It doesn’t mean Briles isn’t honest; like most coaches, he says only what he wants people to hear, and that which won’t tip any of his strategic hand.

“We just know it’s going to be a great match-up,” Briles said. “They are a football team coming off a big win out in Lubbock. And we are coming off a big win. We know it’ll be another Big 12 match-up where two teams are trying to eke out a victory."

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