It’s a double-edged sword, the decision to tweak an offensive approach in favor of burning more clock. And that’s why West Virginia won’t do it. The Mountaineers aren’t about to disrupt themselves just so they can try and keep Bryce Petty on the sidelines for another two minutes – which likely wouldn’t make that much difference anyway. No, this contest will come down to stops, which defense can get them and which offense can put its proverbial best foot forward in preventing such. Two years ago, that went to WVU. Last season, Baylor swung the momentum its way with a crushing 73-42 win that wasn’t that close.
That idea, that just holding onto the ball limits an opposing offense, is true. But it also limits, at times, the offense trying to run ball control when that’s not the typical game. What West Virginia can do, while staying true to its style and whatever tempo it choses at select times, is mix in a steadily-developing run game that is using, at this point, power over misdirection. That’s a bit of a change-up from the past, when the Mountaineers didn’t have backs like Rushel Shell, and an interior line with the likes of Tyler Orlosky, Mark Glowinski and Quinton Spain.
Indeed, the West Virginia line was so porous last season that it was better for WVU to stick with quick passes and trying to get the ball out as soon as possible; the Mountaineers used Charles Sims as much as a receiver as a back, just trying to get him away from the line and defensive front advantage of foes. That’s not so this season, when West Virginia is averaging 183.8 yards per game, including 249 versus Texas Tech last Saturday. Shell now has back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, and, as was well-publicized, WVU was so balanced on offense it had four skill players go over the 100-yard mark with two backs and two wideouts.
What isn’t as well known is that Shell is third in the Big 12 with an average of 81.7 yards per game, and that five different WVU backs are averaging at least four yards per carry in Shell (4.4), Andrew Buie (5.2), Dustin Garrison (4.9), Wendell Smallwood (4.9) and Dreamius Smith (4.0). The biggest challenge for the group against Baylor is the interior line, which can create clogs in the middle, especially when the linebackers and much of the secondary is pushed up in cover zero. West Virginia might use a bit more of a speed game here, in certain situations, and try to get Smallwood in advantageous numbers to a certain side and see if he can pop through in a cover zero set-up, where Baylor is man across the board with no help over the top.
It’s a precarious situation, but the Bears utilize the set-up often in an effort to force teams to throw by one, loading the box and two, tempting them without much help. Baylor’s though is it’ll make the big play, or have the big play made against it. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, the DC at Pitt from 2008-10 who Holgorsen also faced while Bennett was at Kansas State, likes to muddle the blitz and keep numbers near the line.
It makes pass blocking difficult, and run blocking in a man scheme a nightmare; that, along with the stems from the Tech DL, was among the reasons WVU went to more of a zone read look in the second half. The crowded box also, at times, allows for better leverage to the outside on blitzes to the A and B gaps, and the ends can get sealed up with ability to turn the corner available. When Baylor does back off, usually early in series downs, there should be holes available. Not perhaps to the degree there was against Texas Tech because of a talent differential, especially up front where the Bears are exceptionally long with great wingspan. Consider too that Bennett often, as most teams will do – Tech included – rush just four and drop into a nickel set with two linebackers when TCU came out with a four-wide, one-back look.
That will open some solid rushing holes for Shell and Smallwood, especially on delays if the line doesn’t loop/stem. Check the alignment of the defense against WVU’s personnel, usually a 10, meaning zero tight ends and one back, with four wideouts. If it’s early in downs and distances, it’ll usually be the 4-2-5 with differences in how it’s played in terms of blitz origination and angles.
Baylor will often go sans a safety, matching up one on one with the four receivers and then either keeping the backers in the middle of the field to guard against the shallow cross, or pushing one or two DBs up into the line, to either feign or bring real pressure to varying gaps with one linebacker still in the middle. This is high-risk, high-reward in the pass game, and it’s a set that’s tough to run against because of the quickness with which the pocket and backfield collapses. The better idea with this is to attack the one-on-ones, especially with wideouts like Kevin White and Mario Alford – if indeed the former gets a one-on-one look consistently.
Up until deeper in the red zone, this is a game where Smallwood might be the better option because of his quickness. The backs will need to move laterally at times to find holes, and that might be an aspect in which Smallwood would be a bit shiftier with quicker feet. Keep in mind, too, that TCU had an advantage West Virginia doesn’t in that quarterback Trevone Boykin served as another runner for a better numbers match-up and to run some option out of single-back sets. WVU won’t have that opportunity.
Watch for the formations West Virginia tries to run out of. The Mountaineers will use mostly four-wide and five-wide sets, and it’d be a bit of a surprise to see too much two-back stuff until it gets tighter inside the red zone unless Baylor begins to get pressure from the outside and WVU feels the need to add an extra blocker. If that’s the case, then the Mountaineers are likely already sunk with one less wideout and the passing windows lesser and tighter against a bad numbers match-up versus the defensive backfield.
When WVU is single-back, check the Baylor alignment. It will be what Clint Trickett uses to decide play selection and where to try and attack. The 4-2-5 allows for rush yards, as does some aspects of more press sets if challenged at the edge. But that set is also tempting to throw against, because of the man match-ups. Baylor, like most teams, is most itself when out beyond its own 40, and facing a traditional (non-hurry-up) situation. It tendencies change when the opponent is trying to score with less time available (Bennett doesn’t sit back, but instead dials up more pressure when the ball is close, and vice versa from farther away) and as the ball gets closer to the score zone (more safety help at times, because of their ability to cover less ground and then close on the run).
West Virginia will have chances to run some power and zone read at the Bears, and it needs to capitalize and take some pressure off a pass game, and to keep BU from pinning the ears back along the line and at the edge. Forcing that honestly from the defense will go a long way to maintaining the one-on-ones on the outside. As Baylor head coach Art Briles noted in his pregame comments, “You've got to start out angry. One of my sayings has always been to not wait until something bad happens to get good. Be good to begin with. Don't wait until somebody slaps you where you're mad and ready to fight. You better be ready to fight from the get-go.”