The 9-2 Mountaineers go for their 10th win against freefalling Baylor.
Record: 6-5. The Bears flew to 6-0 out of the gates, but a combination of karma and attrition has seen them drop 5 straight games since.
HC: Jim Grobe. Grobe returned to coaching this year after a brief hiatus following his stint at Wake Forest. He’s done about as well as could’ve been expected when Baylor asked him to pick up the pieces of their catastrophic off-season.
OC: Kendal Briles. Briles is in his 9th season at Baylor, but it’s just his 2nd year in charge of the offense. His previous responsibilities include 3 years as the passing game coordinator and 7 years coaching their receivers.
DC: Phil Bennett. Bennett is a veteran coach with 38 years of experience who’s previously been a head coach at SMU and has coordinated defenses at 8 different schools. He’s in his 6th year of a successful stint at Baylor that has seen the Bears win 50+ games and 2 conference titles.
OUR OFFENSE VS THEIR DEFENSE
Players to watch: FS Orion Stewart, NB Travon Blanchard, DE KJ Smith, LB Aiavion Edwards
It’s been the tale of two seasons for the Baylor defense this year. Their first 6 games (all wins) were excellent: they gave up just 320 yards per game and didn’t allow an opponent over 500 yards. However, in the 5 games since then (all losses) they’re giving up an average of 574 yards per game and have only held opponents under that 500-yard mark once. There are probably a couple of causes for that regression, most notably the strength of opponent and attrition, but there have also been times when they’ve seemed disinterested, and that’s a much bigger problem.
They run their own version of the 3-3-5 with two traditional corners, a nickel back, and 2 safeties. There will be times that it’ll look like ours, but they don’t vary their looks quite as much as Gibby likes to.
From a personnel standpoint though, they have playmakers at all 3 levels. The front 3 is led by the talented KJ Smith and has been very disruptive, ranking 3rd in the conference with 86 TFLs. Aiavion Edwards heads a pretty good group of linebackers and leads the team in tackles, while on the back end, safeties Stewart (in the Dravon role) and Blanchard (in their version of our Buck) lead an experienced but not overly talented secondary. Overall it’s a pretty good group, but for whatever reason (better opponents, lack of depth, lack of care) they’ve just completely fallen off a cliff since October.
So what’s the plan? You figure it should be the same as it is every week: establish the run, control the clock, and pick our spots to take shots downfield. They’ve been particularly bad against the run over the last month (4/5 opponents have topped 250 yards on the ground and 3/5 scored 4+ TDs that way), so you have to be confident that we’ll be able to move it against them like that, too. I’d like a heavy dose of House Martell, and as much Crawford and McKoy as is possible.
Through the air, they’re second in the conference in yards per game and first in opponent completion %, but they’re just 8th in terms of limiting big plays, which is unfortunate for them because that kinda happens to be our thing. Mahomes lit them up for 586 yards and 6 touchdowns last week, so you figure if we drop one or two quick ones on them early they’ll be walking around with their tails between their legs.
OUR DEFENSE VS THEIR OFFENSE
Players to watch: QB Zach Smith, RB Shock Linwood, RB Terence Williams, RB JaMychal Hasty, WR KD Cannon, WR Ishmael Zamora
The Bears offensive attack starts on the ground. They have 3 excellent running backs and all 3 are averaging over 10 touches per game. Linwood will be the familiar face, but Terence Williams has actually been more effective in most of their games this year and is averaging more yards and carries.
Quick tangent, what is it with Baylor and ballers named Terence Williams?
Either way, all 3 of these guys are really good and it’ll take a full team effort to slow them down. They’re not averse to playing more than one at a time either, especially since Russell went down for the year, so we’ll have to be ready for some unique looks in that regard. None of the three have really established themselves as receiving threats out of the backfield, but as you can imagine, they have than enough skill on the outside to compensate.
On that note, the main targets in the passing game are KD Cannon and Ishmael Zamora. Cannon you’ll recognize as more of a speed/big play guy, while the 6’4 215lb Zamora offers more of a physical presence. The two inside receivers, Platt and Lynch, have been effective as compliments, as well, and together, the four of them have combined for 180 of Baylor’s 225 receptions, 2440 of their 3033 yards, and 23 of their 28 touchdowns through the air this year. It’s a group fits well together and will make us cover sideline to sideline, but you have think our guys are looking forward to the challenge after seeing Baylor hang 60+ on us a year ago.
The key will be making Smith beat us. That means stopping the run, which with Baylor is much easier said than done. They have big offensive line, and they’re more than happy to hand it to those three backs all day long (57/43 run/pass ratio).
As such, I’m expecting lots of run blitzing on early downs to try and get them into obvious passing situations. If we can do that, I expect Gibby to dust off a bunch of creative looks to try and confuse Smith. We’ve seen his blitz packages cause fits for even the best of quarterbacks, so you figure he should be able to get the best of a true freshman making just his 3rd career start and going on the road for the first time.
On the outside, I’d expect Rasul Douglas and Mo Fleming to be matched up with Cannon and Zamora on every play. They have talent around those two, but they’re the ones who can change a game.
Baylor’s special teams are all over the place. They’re good at both covering and returning punts, are average at punting and covering kickoffs, and are awful at returning kickoffs and kicking field goals. Not sure what to make of most of that, except we absolutely have to keep them out of the end zone and make their kicker make kicks. He’s missed 6 out of 15 attempts this year, so every time we send him out there is another opportunity for them to leave 3 points on the field.
This feels like the kind of game where if we come out and jump on them early, they’ll fold. They’re already bowl eligible, but at 6-5 in the Big 12 all they really have left to play for is locking themselves into the Cactus Bowl. Huzzah.
We on the other hand are chasing double-digit wins for the second time since the Pat White era, our best ever record in the Big 12, and a chance at just the 6th 11-win season in school history.
Senior Day, last home game of the year. I think we go out and take care of business.
West Virginia 44 Baylor 31