Written by Jacob Freedman
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5 Keys for Baylor vs West Virginia
1) The Mountaineer passing game won’t slow down anytime soon
The situation is comfortable in Morgantown with quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey in their third year together. Both Austin and Bailey are averaging over 100 yards per game, and AccuScore projections have the pair combining for over 215 yards.
Baylor quarterback Nick Florence started back in 2009, but injuries and the presence of Robert Griffin III relegated him to the bench until now. He has taken back his starting position by storm throwing for 1000 yards thus far while leading the nation in total offense. He doesn’t however, play defense.
Games like these against weak defenses like Baylor’s are why West Virginia should feel little regret about ditching the Big East for the Big 12. A better rushing game would be nice to have, but Smith’s rapport with his veteran receivers will pay dividends early and often in this game and throughout conference play. Yet fret not Baylor fans. While the passing numbers will likely be through the roof…
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2) The Mountaineer offense is not invincible
The question is whether Baylor’s personnel can take advantage. Last week, the Mountaineers offense struggled at times punting the ball seven times in a 31-21 victory over Maryland. Contrary to popular belief, Geno Smith can’t do it all by himself. The Mountaineers had just one rushing yard through three quarters and finished with 25 yards on 25 carries without starter Shawne Alston who sat out with a thigh bruise.
The Baylor rushing defense isn’t at Maryland’s level right now allowing nearly 180 yards per game on the ground against lower-level competition. Alston is listed as a game-time decision, but is expected to return Saturday. There is little doubt this game will be an offensive shootout, but if the Bears can hold West Virginia to 35 points rather than 55 by taking the away the run completely, then an upset could be in the cards.
3) The Baylor ground attack could turn the game
Smith will get his yards and touchdowns through the air. However, Baylor’s rushing attack, which is averaging over 200 yards per game, could make or break the pace of the game. Last week Maryland slowed the game down and ran the ball often in order to reduce the number of offense opportunities for the Mountaineers. The Terps weren’t especially successful on the ground rushing for just 1.3 yards a carry, but nonetheless they limited the offensive opportunities for the Mountaineers.
The Bears run a two-back system with Jarred Salubi and Glasco Martin. The pair is limited when it comes to big-play ability, but are both powerful backs who can move the chains and lead the Bears on long scoring drives. The Bear defense is allowing the most yards per game (496.7) of any BCS school so keeping the Mountaineers off the field is crucial. Sure enough, the running game is the way to do that.
4) The Mountaineers defense can make an impact
Neither defense will be mistaken for an SEC unit. This should not be surprising considering how quickly both offenses can score. Neither squad has had more time with the ball than their opponent all season.
The Mountaineers pass rush is one unit that should make a big difference in slowing down the Baylor attack. West Virginia is 13th in the nation with 3.3 sacks per game, and could rattle Florence with pressure. Florence has looked better than most expected three games in, but has yet to face BCS-level opposition this season. There is no telling how he will adjust to the higher caliber of players he will be facing, so don’t be surprised if his performance is lacking compared to his non-conference dominance.
5) History and circumstance favor West Virginia
Baylor has never beaten a ranked Big 12 opponent on the road in 25 tries. To be fair though, 2010 and 2011 are the only seasons where Baylor finished with a winning record overall since they joined the conference in 1996. Still, until they prove me otherwise, I will rely on the Bears to add more losses to their road mark against Top-25 conference opponents.
This is the first Big 12 game for the Mountaineers finalizing a difficult, but ultimately successful move into one of the best conferences in college football. Don’t expect the Mountaineers to both this opportunity to prove themselves as a contender in their new league by defeating a Top 25 squad in front of a packed house.
Baylor has a bad habit in 2012 of digging themselves into early holes. They were down 21-7 early to Louisiana-Monroe, and trailed 20-10 at halftime against Sam Houston State. The lower quality of those opponents allowed the Bears to mount comebacks. If an early deficit happens again in Morgantown, Smith and the Mountaineers will be off to the races and won’t look back. Baylor will put up points, but the West Virginia offense will be too much for a green Baylor defense to handle in the first half, let alone for four quarters.
West Virginia 45, Baylor 28