MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
Given its ridiculous passing yardage numbers, it's no surprise to see Baylor receivers with big totals themselves. However, the way in which those yards are gained is enlightening, and highlights a big match-up in Saturday's game. No fewer than eight Bears are averaging at least 12.6 yards per reception (led by KD Cannon's 21.7 yards per grab) -- a number that West Virginia must work hard to limit.
Thre's little doubt that Baylor is going to move the ball. Bryce Petty is likely going to end up with more than 300 passing yards. the key for WVU is to limit big gains. It can't allow Baylor receivers to get deep (Dravon Henry should have heard 5,000 times by now "Stay as deep as the deepest") . It has to tackle well after the catch. It has to flow wide to get extra defenders to limit yards after the catch on the Bear barrage of wide receiver screens. Do all that, and the Mountaineers will have a chance, Of course, no one other than Texas has come even close to succeeding with those assignments this year.
All out blitzing likely isn't the answer, although WVU won't sit back all day. It's not going to confuse Petty consistently, as he's seen every tactic and scheme under the sun. What WVU has to do, then, is create five or six chances where it can get a big play -- a third down sack (maybe including a fumble?), an interception return for a score, and convert on them. All of them. The Bears are going to score, and West Virginia will be hard-pressed to answer all of them if there aren't some empty possessions mixed in.
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It has been somewhat entertaining to see many media outlets jump on Dana Holgorsen's "we're a running team first" comments of the past week, but that's probably just what the Mountaineer mentor hoped would happen when he made the statement.
Answer: It doesn't really matter. While some try to apply that label, they miss the key point. Coaches who get tied to one scheme, or wrapped up in "their" offense, are going to bet left behind at some point as opposing defenses adjust. The important thing here is that Holgorsen has a system that can attack what a defense gives it, or where it is the most vulnerable. This isn't a new idea by any means (it was Bill Stewart's goal during his time as WVU's head coach) but Holgorsen has figured out a way to do so with his personnel, and is recruiting to fit that ability. There's never going to be a group of players that can run everything (for example, this year's WVU team wouldn't be great at I-formation iso running plays as a staple), but it has enough versatility to either run or pass as the situation dictates. And that's far more important than any label that can be applied to it.
WHERE'D THAT MASCOT COME FROM?
As bears mostly live in forested or heavily vegetated areas, its not the most likely selection for Baylor, which sits on the dusty plains of Texas. However, after winning a majority of the votes in a contest that included such oddities as a bookworm and a ferret, the North American Black Bear, which is found in regions of the Lone Star State, has been the school's representative since 1914.
There's also a costumed version, named Bruiser, who travels to road events, tournaments and other community events, but there's nothing that stands out about a bear in an athletic uniform. A group of six Baylor students on the spirit squad currently rotates duties in the costume.
THINGS TO WATCH
It may seem odd to highlight defenses as a key in this game, what with the socreboard-popping rate at which both teams can score. While you're keeping track of all the yards and first downs, though, there are a couple of defensive items to track.
The first, and most important, will be simple stops. How many times can one team stop the other without points? Even though the Bears yielded 58 points and 485 yards to TCU last week, it actually was decent defensively, Two Horned Frog scores came via kickoff and interception returns, and Baylor held the Frogs 13 times on third down conversions, Granted, that's not Woody Hayes' idea of defense, but combined with three holds for field goals instead of touchdowns, Baylor's defense gave its offense the chance to rally -- just as West Virginia's defense did with a stop for a field goal after a Clint Trickett fumble in the third quarter of the Texas Tech game.
The second is rushing yards allowed -- and again, the Bears have a bit of an advantage. TCU did have 139 yards on the ground, but it took them 41 carries to do so. Baylor, on the other hand, piled up 272 yards on 54 carries, showing the power of the run in a "passing" offense -- and again mirroring what West Virginia did against the Red Raiders. Watch the yards per carry number, and the number of possessions that don't result in touchdowns, and you'll likely be able to identify the winner.
SOMETHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Eleven different Baylor players have particpated in sacking opposing quarterbacks this year, lead by Shawn Oakman with five and Beau Blackshear with 4.5. While the Bears' total of 21 sacks is impressive, perhaps even more so is the number of players who have gotten to the QB.
What does this mean for West Virginia? Two things. First, WVU can't just focus on stopping one or two players when throwing the ball - its protectors have to be aware of rushers coming from all angles and all levels. Second, this could affect the number of receivers the Mountaineers can commit to pass routes. Keep an eye on WVU's formations -- are they keeping multiple backs in the backfield to help with pass protection, as it did against Alabama? If so, that will put even more pressure on receivers such as Kevin White and Mario Alford to make plays against the Baylor defense.