West Virginia is a Big 12 title contender. That seems strange to say after the Mountaineers finished 4-8 with losses to Iowa State and Kansas last year, but Saturday’s win over Baylor showed coach Dana Holgorsen’s team will be a factor in the conference race over the second half of the season.
West Virginia played one of the nation’s toughest schedules in the first half of 2014, and the Mountaineers fell short in upset bids against Oklahoma and Alabama. But on Saturday, the Mountaineers delivered to earn a key conference victory over Baylor.
Quarterback Clint Trickett continued to make his case as one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 this year, throwing for 322 yards and three scores on 35 attempts against a Baylor secondary that allowed only five passing touchdowns through its first six games.
Trickett’s favorite target was receiver Kevin White, and the senior extended his streak of 100-yard receiving games to seven by catching eight passes for 132 yards. The senior had one of the weekend’s top catches by scoring on a 12-yard pass from Trickett to give West Virginia the lead for good in the fourth quarter.
While the offense deserves plenty of accolades, the performance by Mountaineers’ defense shouldn’t go overlooked.
Sure, Baylor recorded 318 yards and scored 27 points. But a closer look at the numbers suggest coordinator Tony Gibson and assistant coach Tom Bradley deserve a ton of credit for the performance on Saturday.
The Bears’ 318 total yards were the least since a 2010 matchup against TCU. And Baylor’s offense averaged only 4.0 yards per play, which is only the third time since 2010 Art Briles’ high-powered attack has averaged below five yards per play.
West Virginia unleashed FCS transfer Shaq Riddick against a banged up Baylor offensive line, and the senior responded with five tackles (four for a loss) and three sacks.
In addition to Riddick’s production, the Mountaineers constantly pressured Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty in the second half and held the Bears to just seven points over the final two quarters.
Also, only one Baylor drive in the second half lasted longer than 32 yards.
And here’s a critical note: West Virginia had to play without starting cornerbacks Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut for a good chunk of the game.
After seven games, West Virginia’s overall record stands at 5-2 and 3-1 in the Big 12.
It’s clear this Mountaineer team has exceeded preseason expectations, as most predicted Holgorsen’s team would struggle to make a bowl.
However, a healthy Trickett at quarterback, combined with the emergence of receiver Kevin White has helped West Virginia average 6.2 yards per play and 37.3 points per game, and the defense has made strides and timely stops under new coordinator Tony Gibson.
Since West Virginia has already played two of the preseason favorites (Baylor and Oklahoma), don’t overlook this team in a wide-open Big 12 title picture. The Mountaineers host TCU and Kansas State – arguably two of the contenders now – and still have to play Iowa State. Road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State won’t be easy, but it’s clear West Virginia will have an impact on the Big 12 title picture.