The West Virginia Mountaineers and Baylor Bears both came up short in close games last week, and the Big 12 rivals are set to meet in Waco with an opportunity to bounce back.
West Virginia endured a heartbreaking loss in its second straight contest, both with last-minute field goals the deciding factor. Texas Tech won 23-20 last Saturday and Oklahoma escaped with a 16-13 win a week earlier, which has dropped the Mountaineers to 2-3 overall and 0-2 in league play.
Baylor started 4-0 and picked up Big 12 wins against Kansas (45-7) and Iowa State (31-29) but fell 24-14 to Oklahoma State in Stillwater last time out. The Bears will be looking to knock off a Mountaineers team that it last lost four of their last five against.
West Virginia at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 9 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Baylor -3
When West Virginia Has the Ball
Jarret Doege is the starting quarterback, and he's posted solid passing numbers with 241.4 yards per game, 8.0 yards per pass attempt, a 65.3 percent completion rate, and a 7:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Doege has spread the ball around to a deep group of receivers including Winston Wright Jr., Sam James, Isaiah Esdale, and Bryce Ford-Wheaton, all of whom have at least 200 receiving yards. Wright leads with 26 receptions and 278 yards, James has three touchdowns, and Ersdale was the leader against Texas Tech with 113 yards and one touchdown.
Doege will start again this week, but Garrett Greene has carved out a role in the offense and has played double-digit snaps in three of the Mountaineers' five games this year, including each of the last two. Greene is 8-for-14 for 88 yards as a passer but has been more productive as a runner with 175 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries. Only star running back Leddie Brown has more carries (83), yards (378), or scores (6) on the ground. Brown has also developed into a quality receiver out of the backfield with 15 catches for 119 yards and one touchdown.
When Baylor Has the Ball
Gerry Bohanon has solidified himself as Baylor's quarterback, and with Jacob Zeno (the only other Bears signal-caller with more than one pass attempt this season) recently entering the transfer portal, there isn't an immediate challenger to his spot atop the depth chart. Bohanon's play has been the biggest reason why, as the junior has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 990 yards and seven touchdowns without an interception while averaging 8.5 yards per pass attempt. He has also gained 118 rushing yards and scored five times on the ground.
However, Bohanon was largely neutralized last week in the loss to Oklahoma State as he completed just 13 of 28 (46.4 percent) passes and did not throw a touchdown pass, which broke a streak of three straight games with at least two scores through the air. His favorite targets were thrown out of rhythm as well, as top receiver R.J. Sneed (18 rec., 317 yds., TD) was held without a catch. Tyquan Thornton, who leads the Bears with three touchdown catches, increased his totals to 19 receptions and 270 yards, and Dartmouth transfer Drew Estrada broke out with six receptions for 88 yards, but Oklahoma State may have given West Virginia (and other Big 12 rivals) some clues to slowing down Bohanon and the Baylor passing attack.
Trestan Ebner also struggled to get going last week as he was held to zero yards on eight carries, though Abram Smith continued his good work out of the backfield with 97 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown, on 10 attempts. Smith has averaged 7.5 yards per carry this season and leads the Bears with 504 rushing yards and six scores, while Ebner has 348 yards on 58 carries.
Both defenses are solid, though far from dominant, and have different strengths. West Virginia has excelled at stopping the run, giving up just 88.4 rushing yards per game and 2.53 yards per carry, which ranks No. 12 and No. 6 in FBS, respectively. But the Mountaineers have posted more modest advanced stats in non-garbage time plays versus FBS opponents, ranking 42nd in adjusted yards per play (5.24) and points per drive (2.09) according to calculations by Brian Fremeau, as well as 84th in raw yards per pass attempt (7.8) against FBS competition. Teams have also posted a 41.6 percent success rate, which ranks 67th.
Baylor has been better against the pass than the run, holding opponents to an average of 155.6 yards through the air and 5.7 yards per pass attempt in all games, which both rank among the top 15 nationally. But digging deeper, Baylor ranks 40th in success rate (38.1 percent), 36th in adjusted yards per play (5.12), and 39th in adjusted points per drive (1.77) defensively.
Will Baylor be able to run against the Mountaineers, and can West Virginia slow down the Bears through the air? With a slightly better defense statistically, plus the home-field advantage and a potential psychological edge due to the close losses WVU endured in back-to-back weeks, the stage is set for a close Baylor victory.
Prediction: Baylor 27, West Virginia 21
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