The Baylor Bears were forced to wait longer than most to begin the 2020 college football season. Nevertheless, Baylor didn't appear rusty and new head coach Dave Aranda earned his first career victory in impressive fashion as the Bears beat Kansas 47-14 last Saturday. The West Virginia Mountaineers, which kicked off two weeks prior with a 56-10 victory over FCS opponent Eastern Kentucky, began Big 12 play with a 27-13 loss to Oklahoma State last week.
Baylor at West Virginia
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Baylor -3
When Baylor Has the Ball
Charlie Brewer is one of the best and most experienced quarterbacks in the Big 12. Though Brewer's 31st career start wasn't impressive statistically, the two-time 3,000-yard passer didn't have to do much for the Bears to succeed. Brewer completed 15 of 23 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown and added 23 rushing yards on eight attempts in the victory. Tyquan Thornton was expected to be Brewer's favorite receiver in 2020, but he did not record a catch and was targeted only once in the opener. Instead, R.J. Sneed led the Bears with five receptions on a team-high eight targets, according to Pro Football Focus. Sneed ranked second with 51 receiving yards. Josh Fleeks caught four passes for 15 yards.
The star of the game was running back Trestan Ebner, who scored four touchdowns: a one-yard run that tied the game 7-7 in the first quarter, an 18-yard catch from Brewer to extend the Bears' lead to 17-7 before halftime, a 100-yard kick return to open the second half, and an 83-yard kick return for good measure in the fourth quarter. Ebner finished with 36 rushing yards on nine carries and led the Bears with 53 receiving yards on two receptions, including a game-high 35-yarder. He split carries with John Lovett and Craig Williams, who accounted for 78 and 61 rushing yards, respectively. Lovett and Williams each scored once on the ground.
It's early, but West Virginia has played solid pass defense this season. The Mountaineers have allowed 135.0 passing yards per game, which ranks fifth nationally. WVU has surrendered 6.9 yards per attempt, which ranks 25th, but has recorded five sacks (including two – one in each game – by edge rusher VanDarius Cowan), 15.0 tackles for a loss, and two interceptions. The numbers are a little worse against the run, and the Mountaineers allowed 203 rushing yards and two long touchdowns last week. Oklahoma State scored on a 66-yard run to take a 7-0 lead, and a 23-yarder to ice the game with 1:17 left in the fourth.
When West Virginia Has the Ball
West Virginia struggled mightily to run the football in 2019, so the early-season performance from Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield has been a great sign. Brown has posted back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances, and leads the Mountaineers with 227 yards and 36 carries (6.31 ypc) and is tied with Sinkfield for the team lead with two rushing touchdowns. Sinkfield surpassed the century mark against EKU and has 134 yards on the ground this season while averaging 6.09 yards per attempt. However, West Virginia struggled to run the ball consistently last week. Brown averaged just 4.0 yards per carry and Sinkfield managed just 11 yards on seven carries, which combined with -38 rushing yards on seven attempts from quarterback Jarret Doege (only one of them a sack) meant the Mountaineers averaged just 1.6 yards per snap on the ground.
Nevertheless, Doege continued his strong start to the season as a passer with 285 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown pass to Winston Wright Jr. Wright's six receptions and 127 yards led the team against the Cowboys. Through two games, Doege has completed 62.9 percent of his passes for 513 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. The junior has averaged 8.3 yards per attempt, which ranks among the top 25 nationally. Sam James (10 rec., 104 yds., TD), T.J. Simmons (4, 82), and Bruce Ford-Wheaton (5, 80 with a TD) round out a deep receiving corps.
Baylor held Kansas to just 4.8 yards per pass attempt, but the Jayhawks found some success on the ground, including a few explosive runs. The Bears allowed 3.9 yards per attempt thanks in part to four sacks, including 2.5 by linebacker Terrel Bernard. One of just two starters returning from the Bears' 2019 defense, which led the Big 12 in yards allowed per play (4.89), Bernard recorded a team-high eight tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss in the win.
While Baylor and West Virginia both entered the season with a lot of questions, each has shown promise early on. With a first-year head coach and a long offseason layoff, which included a pair of games canceled days before their scheduled kickoff, the Bears took care of business against an inferior opponent last week. The Mountaineers looked much improved to begin Neal Brown's second season as head coach, and despite last week's loss, appear to be a tough out for Big 12 rivals this year. WVU should be a much tougher test for Aranda's squad this week, but Baylor is a little more talented from top to bottom and has a slight edge with Brewer at the quarterback position.
Prediction: Baylor 31, West Virginia 27
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