West Virginia-Baylor Preview
A loss to West Virginia last year cost Baylor a chance at a national title, and coach Art Briles insists the No. 2 Bears aren’t looking for revenge.
The Bears try to avoid another letdown Saturday when they face the Mountaineers in Waco.
Baylor (5-0, 2-0 in Big 12) won its first six games last season before giving up 14 unanswered points in the fourth quarter of a 41-27 loss at West Virginia. While the Bears went on to win the Big 12 championship, the defeat to the Mountaineers loomed large enough for the selection committee to rank them fifth – one spot shy of joining the inaugural College Football Playoff.
"Revenge is not something that is really thrown into our vocabulary," Briles said. "Are we going to blame them for beating us? They’re supposed to try and beat us. That’s everybody’s goal every time they step on the field, and that’s our goal."
So far, Baylor is having very little trouble achieving that goal, outscoring opponents by an average of 42.0 points after scoring 59 unanswered to pound winless Kansas 66-7 on the road last week.
"Win and advance. Win and advance," Briles said. "We understand that anything can happen on any given day and our job is to go out and perform at a championship level. There are trap games everywhere, there is one always sitting out there. We have to make sure we compete and execute."
The offense is executing at a breathtaking rate, leading the nation with an averages of 64.2 points and 725.0 yards from scrimmage and 45 total touchdowns.
Seth Russell’s 22 touchdown passes are the most in the country, and he’s added four more on the ground. The junior quarterback only played the first half against the Jayhawks, and still hit 18 of 27 passes for 246 yards with three touchdowns, tossing two to top target Corey Coleman.
Coleman has hauled in a Division I-leading 13 TDs, two more than all of last season. His 31 grabs and 678 yards are team highs, and he’s topped 100 yards in each game this year.
Russell and Coleman, though, are about to face their toughest task yet as the Mountaineers (3-2, 0-2) allow an average of 202.0 passing yards and six touchdowns.
They also enter the weekend tied with Boise State for the most interceptions at 13, but Russell isn’t fazed.
"This year, we’re just going to have to stick to our game plan, and that’s score points," Russell said. "The defense will get a lot of stops like we know they will, and we’re just going to have to put a lot of points on that board and stay focused on what we can control."
Baylor’s defense has been superb in all but one game this season, surrendering 530 passing yards and 636 overall in a 63-35 win over the Red Raiders on Oct. 3. It’s given up an average of 295.5 in the others, including a season-best 227 last week.
The defense has been scorched for 552.3 yards per game in losing two of the last three against West Virginia.
"We like to think we can have a dominant factor across the board," Briles said. "I think with our front defensively, it allows us to have a physical nature to us that we haven’t been able to have the last 2-3 years."
The Mountaineers are seeking improvement early after being outscored 41-9 in the first half in losing its conference games to then-No. 15 Oklahoma and 21st-ranked Oklahoma State. They trailed the Cowboys 17-2 last week before falling 33-26 in overtime.
All 11 of the Mountaineers turnovers this season have come in the last three games, including nine in the past two.
"Ball security is the number one thing right now," junior quarterback Skyler Howard said. "We are moving the ball, and we are putting up numbers as an offense. We just have to continue to put an emphasis on taking care of the ball."
Howard struggled over the last two games, connecting on 35 of 67 passes for 361 yards with two touchdowns and four picks. He added 60 yards and two TDs on 30 carries.
Another tough performance could be a problem since running back Wendell Smallwood is nursing an ankle injury. The junior, though, overcame the injury last week to match his career high with 147 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries.
"He’s still banged up," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "The kid didn’t practice a snap last week. He plays his butt off. He didn’t practice at all. He was cramping up during the game, but he’s going to get out there and do what he can do."
Smallwood was held to 66 on 20 attempts in last year’s upset of the No. 4 Bears.