8:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Baylor -17.5, Over/Under: 55.5
Big XII counterparts traveling in opposite directions meet in a midweek clash in the lone star state, as the surging No. 12 Baylor Bears play host to the struggling West Virginia Mountaineers, from McLane Stadium in Waco, Texas. It’s a new day in Morgantown, where West Virginia (3-4, 1-3 in Big XII) finds themselves in the early stages of a new regime headed by Neal Brown, who is currently looking to navigate his charges through some serious growing pains in his first season as their new Head Coach. Replacing Dana Holgorsen, who parted ways with the school en route to taking the vacant position at Houston, the former Troy boss is no doubt looking to raise his coaching profile in a more prestigious conference. One of the better skippers whom you’ve probably never heard of, the 39-Year Old spent the last four years guiding the Trojans to a 35-16 record (.686), including three consecutive 10-win campaigns, highlighted by a Sun Belt Championship back in 2017. Seven games into his first season with the Mountaineers, and it’s become quite clear that he has his work cut out for him; after getting off to a tepid 3-1 start, his troops have since lost three consecutive games by an average margin of 24.3 Points. However, that’s to be expected given the caliber of opponents that they’ve faced of late, a proverbial murderer’s row of competition including the likes of No. 15 Texas (31-42), No. 23 Iowa State (14-38), and most recently No. 5 Oklahoma (14-52) on the road. For those who thought that the Sooners would be in for a letdown following their emotional, annual meeting with bitter rival Texas, you were proven incorrect, for the hosts thrashed the visiting Mountaineers with relative ease, piling up 560 Total Yards on Twenty-Five First Downs, including 197 Rushing Yards and Three Touchdowns on Thirty-Eight Carries, and another 363 Yards and three more scores through the air. With the affair fairly close at Halftime (14-28), the reigning league champions exploded in the Third Quarter, in a sequence in which they crossed the Goal Line on back-to-back drives, with the home side blocking a Punt and recovering it in the End Zone for a third consecutive Touchdown to push their lead out of reach, 49-14. Gashed for 400+ Yards for the third time in four weeks, West Virginia continued to struggle on the defensive side of the football against arguably the most explosive Offense in the country, inflating the figures on their ledger to 33.4 Points per Game (110th Overall) on a disappointing 409.0 Total Yards, including 229.9 Yards against the Pass and another 179.1 Yards versus the Run, while only forcing Seven Turnovers. Offensively, Brown’s had similar issues with his charges only mustering a meager 242 Total Yards, which was only marginally better than the scant 190 that they posted in the previous week against the Cyclones. After committing an embarrassing Seven Turnovers in two weeks prior to their jaunt to Norman, they took better care of the football, but it still didn’t make a difference against the Sooners’ juggernaut. Junior Quarterback, Austin Kendall (63.5%, 1,429 YDS, 6.4 Y/A, 11 TD, 7 INT), a transfer from Oklahoma, wasn’t very effective against his former teammates, completing a poor 15-of-31 Passes for 182 Yards, despite tossing a pair of Touchdowns with Zero Interceptions, both of which went to fellow classmate, T.J. Simmons (31 REC, 409 YDS, 14.2 Y/R, 4 TD), who reeled in Six Receptions for Seventy-Four Yards and those two scores. Once again, the Rushing Attack was nonexistent, amassing just Fifty-One Yards on Thirty Carries, continuing a worrying trend in defeat; the Mountaineers have averaged a miserable 54.5 Rushing Yards on a strikingly ineffective 1.9 Yards per Carry. With a week off to reflect on their struggles, the team is nearly out of the woods, with an opportunity to correct course and focus on becoming Bowl Eligible. With the magic number being six wins, Brown will no doubt be pushing his kids to finish strong against a much softer schedule, featuring home tilts with Texas Tech and Oklahoma State, along with road trips to Kansas State and Texas Christian, a group who despite the Wildcats’ shocking upset of the Sooners last weekend, don’t include a ranked adversary at the moment. If they fail to capitalize on that shift in competition, it would see a run of five consecutive seasons with a Bowl come to an end.
Meanwhile, one of the most surprising teams in the country, Baylor (7-0, 4-0 in Big XII) was handed a major boost during their week off, capitalizing off of Oklahoma’s upset at the hands of Kansas State, vaulting them to First Place in the conference. Indeed, Matt Rhule is all too familiar with the plight of his counterpart in Morgantown, having successfully navigated the Bears out of the proverbial wastelands into the realm of the AP Poll for the first time since 2016. When he firs arrived from Temple two years ago, the 44-Year Old took his fair share of lumps early on, going 1-11 in his first season in Waco, followed by a vastly improved 7-6 finish in 2018, which has heralded his side’s unbeaten start to the current campaign. At this juncture, it’s an interesting debate as to just how good this team is, for while they’ve shown significant improvement under one of the hottest coaching commodities in the country, their performance up tot his point does merit a the consideration of circumstances. A 31-12 victory at Kansas State looks better given that aforementioned victory over Oklahoma, but Baylor struggled on the road at Rice (21-13), very nearly blew a sizable lead against their only ranked opponent to date, Iowa State (23-21), and narrowly escaped a Double-Overtime affair with Texas Tech (33-30), the latter two of which were contested at McLane Stadium. And speaking of home-cooking, the Bears will eventually meet the league’s traditional powerhouses, Texas and Oklahoma in succession, but will have the luxury of doing so at home. When we last saw them, Baylor once again flirted with disaster, this time in Stillwater, where they rallied back in the Second Half to earn a 45-27 victory that wasn’t nearly as easy as the final score would lead you to believe. The visitors trailed on a number of occasions, including 10-13 at Halftime, for the majority of the Third Quarter, and early on in the Fourth, only to explode inside the final ten minutes of the contest, scoring three consecutive Touchdowns to seal the deal. Immediately following a Two-Yard scoring run courtesy of Junior Quarterback, Charlie Brewer (66.3%, 1,866 YDS, 9.5 Y/A, 12 TD, 3 INT), the Bears’ Defense came up with a huge play, as Sophomore Linebacker, Terrell Bernard (39 TKL, 1.0 TFL, 0.5 SK, 1 FR, 1 TD, 2 PD), scooped up a Fumble caused by Defensive Tackle, Chidi Ogbonnaya (4 TKL, 1 .0 TFL, 1.0 SK, 1 FF), and returned it Twenty Yards for a Touchdown. Nearly three minutes later, Fifth-Year Senior Tailback, JaMycal Hasty (56 CAR, 362 YDS, 6.5 Y/C, 4 TD), dealt the knockout blow with a 73-Yard Touchdown Run, bringing his total to a career-high 146 Yards on Sixteen Carries to accompany another Sixty-Six Yards on Three Catches. In the end, the visiting side totaled 536 Yards on Eighteen First Downs, with Brewer completing an efficient 13-of-17 312 Yards and a Touchdown, with Josh Fleeks (8 REC, 169 YDS, 21.1 Y/R, 1 TD) serving as the recipient of Three Receptions for 126 Yards and a Touchdown. This game was all about big plays, folks, for Baylor ran away with the affair despite only running Fifty-Four Plays in comparison to Eighty-Six for Oklahoma State, with the latter’s Three Turnovers proving absolutely crucial to the game’s outcome. Takeaways have become a rather significant component of this team’s success, with the Bears’ sporting a Plus-6 Turnover Differential thus far, with the Defense forcing a baker’s dozen on the season, including ten in their last four games alone. Senior Linebacker, Jordan Williams (33 TKL, 3.0 TFL, 0.5 SK, 2 FF, 1 FR, 2 INT, 5 PD), and Junior Defensive Tackle, James Lynch (19 TKL, 11.5 SK, 8.5 SK, 1 FF, 1 FR, 2 PD) have been the ones to watch in this regard, with the former totaling Three Takeaways, while the latter has been a terror in the trenches with 8.5 Sacks and 11.5 Tackles for Loss. Offensively, the attack has been one of the most balanced in the nation, with a grounded approach averaging 202.7 Yards on 5.7 Yards per Carry, featuring five different players with over 140 Rushing Yards, and nine with a rushing score. In addition to Hasty, John Lovett (65 CAR, 446 YDS, 6.9 Y/C, 4 TD) leads the team with446 Yards, while the aforementioned Brewer has ran for a team-best Six Touchdowns. Since welcoming West Virginia into the Big XII back in 2012, Baylor has gone 2-5 against the Mountaineers, with their lone two victories coming when their opponent has not been among the realm of the ranked. In last year’s meeting, a 14-58 blowout loss in Morgantown, the Bears were throttled early, conceding a 31-Point Second Quarter, in which the visitors could manage just287 Total Yards on Seventeen First Downs, with Four Turnovers. Brewer in particular had a rough go of it, completing just 1-of-8 Passes Twenty-Two Yards and Three Interceptions. Baylor has lost three in a row in this series.