Mountaineers look to keep pace with the Big 12 leaders when they face the Bears in Waco
The West Virginia Mountaineers scored 29 straight points to end the game last Saturday and pull off the comeback, beating the Texas Tech Red Raiders 46-35 at home. The 18-point comeback was the second-largest in Milan Puskar Stadium history, and was led by quarterback Will Grier, who had five touchdown passes.
Meantime, Baylor is coming off of a forgettable game in Stillwater, where they gave up more than 700 yards of offense in a 59-16 loss to Oklahoma State. It was homecoming weekend in Stillwater and now the Bears return home for their own homecoming weekend. The Bears will play in McLane Stadium for the first time in nearly a month when they almost pulled off an upset against Oklahoma. For what it’s worth, the Bears have won seven straight homecoming games.
These two programs never met before West Virginia joined the Big 12 conference in 2012. Since then, West Virginia has won three of the five meetings, and the home team has won every game.
West Virginia at Baylor
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FS2
Spread: West Virginia -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Bad run defenses
If you enjoy watching teams run the football, then this game is for you! At least in theory. West Virginia and Baylor rank ninth and 10th, respectively, in rushing defense in the Big 12 (remember, there are only 10 teams in the Big 12). WVU running back Justin Crawford ranks second in the conference with 101 rushing yards per game, while the Bears have used impressive freshman John Lovett effectively so far. But Baylor also has gotten healthy in the backfield and is seeing increased production from Terence Williams (above, right) and JaMycal Hasty. In their loss to Oklahoma State last week, the Bears did rack up 219 rushing yards so look for head coach Matt Rhule to try and establish the run early once again to keep his defense off of the field.
2. Can the Baylor secondary stop Will Grier?
That’s a big reason why Rhule will want to keep his defense off of the field. Baylor gave up more than 470 passing yards to Oklahoma State last week. Grier is in the top six in the nation in touchdown passes, points responsible for, total offense, and passing yards per game. He has a plethora of weapons at wide receiver led by upperclassmen David Sills (no. 1 nationally in TD catches) and Gary Jennings (fifth in receiving yards per game) while the Bears' secondary is littered with youth. Of the eight players listed on the two-deep in Baylor’s secondary, five are sophomores or freshmen.
Like any team trying to pull off an upset, the Bears have to win the turnover battle. As good as Will Grier has been for WVU, he has thrown at least one interception in five of six games. The problem for Baylor is that the defense has just one interception on the season. But the Bears do lead the Big 12 in fumbles gained in conference play with four. Unfortunately, they also are minus-six in turnover margin, which is the second-worst mark in the Big 12, ahead of only Kansas.
It’s Homecoming Weekend in Waco, so maybe the Bears come out with a little more juice, but they are simply too young to pull off a win against a quality West Virginia team. The Mountaineers have lost two games against some of the best teams in the country in TCU and Virginia Tech and were within a score in the final seconds of both contests. We tend to forget, but the Mountaineers are still very much in the hunt for a Big 12 title game appearance and have plenty left to play for.
As noted, Baylor would need to win the turnover battle, while also getting some magic on special teams. A silver lining for Baylor fans: the Bears are second in the Big 12 in punt return average. They’ll need a big one (or two) on Saturday night.
Will Grier, Justin Crawford and the Mountaineers' offense are going to be far too explosive against a very young Baylor team that has played 17 true freshmen over the first six games of the season, which is the fourth most in the country. Grier has gotten lost in the shuffle of all the great quarterback play in the Big 12, but few in the country have been more effective and efficient. Expect a big night from him, which will then open up the running game for Crawford and backfield mate Kennedy McKoy.
Prediction: West Virginia 41, Baylor 24
— Written by Pete Mundo, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network as well as owner and operator of HeartlandCollegeSports.com, a site for Big 12 fans. Mundo also is a sports anchor at CBS Sports Radio and can found on Twitter @PeteMundo. Follow Heartland College Sports on Twitter @Heartland_CS.