The Chalkboard: Previewing The West Virginia - Baylor Game

A look at what make's Baylor's offense go, the choice and challenge for defending it and more as we offer our final points leading up to the West Virginia - Baylor kickoff at noon eastern on Saturday.

If there's a key to the Baylor offense, other than a great collection of talent, it is in the way that the Bears spread the field. Look at BU prior to the snap – often you will see wide receivers very close to the sideline – much closer than any other school places them. This forces defenses wide, and creates gaps that can be exploited based on alignments. Put extra DBs out wide to help against the pass, and inside runs result. Pinch backers or safeties in to close that down, and receivers have more room to operate against fewer defenders.

There are down sides to these tactics, but few opponents have been able to take advantage of them. The (very) wide receivers don't have room for big outside releases, and should be more susceptible to jamming. However, through a combination of size (Jay Lee at 6-3, 220 lbs. and Quan Jones at 6-5, 220 lbs.) and speed (Corey Coleman), BU is able to avoid such entanglements and get clean releases off the line. It might seem that aggressive corners could jam receivers and force them out of bounds every once in a while, but that doesn't happen – perhaps due to the fear that a missed jam at the line will equal a Bear touchdown pass.

The wide alignments also make it more difficult for deep safeties to cheat to one side of the field or the other pre-snap – this can reveal the coverage and make for an easier read for the quarterback. Watch how West Virginia approaches this puzzle, along with the pressure game discussed in the next item. Are the Mountaineers pressuring off the line, or do they have to provide some cushion, even when the blitz is on?

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One other item to consider in the every-raging debate over which is more important – the scheme or the players: Two other schools using a close copy of Baylor head coach Art Briles' offensive system stand sixth (Bowling Green) and seventh (Tulsa) in total offense.

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A year ago, WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson emerged from the wrongly-cast shadows with an excellent scheme against Baylor. Gibson's array, as well as timing, of blitzes and coverages confused and rattled Bear quarterback Bryce Petty as the Mountaineers earned a 41-27 win. Was there a secret in that preparation, or did West Virginia just execute extremely well? And can WVU fluster Seth Russell as it did Petty?

It's tough to exactly duplicate a game plan or a surprise, simply because the other guy is more prepared for it. And in truth, West Virginia didn't do a ton of different things schematically against Baylor a year ago than it had employed in its previous games. The timing of blitzes came together almost seamlessly, Baylor missed a small handful of passes it usually connected on, WVU tackled well, and perhaps most importantly, it held Shock Linwood to 69 yards on 21 carries and the team to 95 overall. The Bears became one-dimensional – a huge key in WVU's favor.

Perhaps just as importantly, though, WVU was able to possess the ball and move it, even when it didn't score. Even though the Mountaineers trailed 13-7 and 20-14 in the first half, it didn't let Baylor dominate ball possessions. Baylor had “just” 79 snaps a year ago, while the Mountaineers countered with 85.

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Baylor holds not only the top team spot in league passing efficiency rating, but it also holds the top two individual slots as well. Backup Jarrett Stidham is actually first in the Big 12 with an efficiency rating of 235.5, while Seth Russell is second with a 210 mark. No one else is with 37 points of the pair.

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West Virginia is doing very well in terms of total offensive yardage, standing fourth in the league with an average of 488 yards per game. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers have not been great at translating those yards into points, as they are just seventh in the league at 36 per game. On the surface, that's not a bad number, but in Big 12 play it's just middle of the pack. Not counting end of half or game possessions, WVU has seen 39 drives end without scores this season. Against Baylor, it can't have eight empty possessions if it wants to pull the upset.

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In five games, Baylor has punted a total of ten times – unsurprisingly, that's the lowest total in the nation. Texas Tech is second in the Big 12 in fewest punts with 17.

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The high number of possessions each team averages will likely force a lengthier game. Each change of possession yields another batch of media timeouts, which figure to push the actual time of the game past the 3:30 mark. Baylor's shortest game time this year has been three hours and 20 minutes, and if it keeps scoring on quick drives as it has all year, then those commercial breaks are going to be frequent -- and the game time might creep toward the four hour mark.

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