This is the type of game where the WVU defense needs to earn its postgame snack boxes.
Will the Mountaineers all of a sudden turn into the 1985 Chicago Bears against at team like Oklahoma State, which piles up points like Mike Gundy gains inches on his mullet? That’s a very likely “no.” There are too many instances of WVU’s defense turning in a performance like the second half against Baylor, where the Bears inexplicably climbed back into what once was a blowout.
Yet if there’s a silver lining, it’s the way WVU played defensively in the first half of that game, how it neutralized a decent Baylor offense. Oklahoma State will get its yards. It will score its points. If WVU can end a few OSU drives early, maybe grab a fumble or an interception, that should allow the Mountaineers’ juggernaut offense to make the Cowboys pay for the mistake. That’s something the Mountaineers have in their favor: Oklahoma State will have as much trouble slowing WVU’s offense down.
If the Mountaineers want a spot in the Big 12 title game, they must win Saturday’s game. For that to happen, WVU’s defense doesn’t have to be great. It just has to be good enough.
Arguably the most prolific offense in the nation comes to Morgantown Saturday.
Along with it comes a defense that has been limiting opponents in the area that West Virginia does best.
No. 11 Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1) comes to the Mountain State for a showdown with direct implications on the Big 12 title chase.
You watch the Mountaineers (5-2, 3-1) play every week, but here’s a scouting report on the Cowboys.
Rudolph the big-armed QB
Mason Rudolph is a Heisman candidate and one of the best to put on the Cowboys uniform for a number of reasons – he’s efficient, sees the field well, can extend plays when needed and has a good team around him.
He currently leads the nation in passing yards (2,650) and passing yards per game (378.6), and also has the third-highest quarterback rating (181.1) in the country.
Rudolph has completed 43 passes over 20 yards, fifteen of which have been thrown to his top wide receiver, James Washington.
Score quick and score often
Mountaineer fans have seen their team score at a torrid pace this year. Oklahoma State fans have seen the same in their offense.
The Cowboys have put together 21 touchdown-scoring drives that have taken less than two minutes to complete. Ten of those drives were capped off with six points in less than one minute.
Offensive line depth
Heading into Saturday, an unknown surrounding the Cowboys is the status of their offensive line. Entering this season head coach Mike Gundy had one of the top O-Lines in college football, but over the last few weeks, it has taken some hits.
First-team center Brad Lundblade has been dealing with an injury that’s caused him to miss each of the last two games and may keep him out of this one. There has also been a carousel at right guard, where three different players have gotten starts.
It’s unclear exactly how depleted the Cowboys are, but with multiple starters getting banged up last week against Texas, the “boys up front” are learning on the fly, which could be a good thing against a WVU front-three that gained some confidence last week.
Limit the passing attack
The Cowboys have had a bend-but-don’t-break pass defense this season.
WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital mentioned that Oklahoma State does a good job of not letting players get too deep on them. And head coach Dana Holgorsen said the OSU secondary could be the best that WVU has faced up to this point.
Both those factors have contributed to Oklahoma State only allowing four touchdown passes all year, and never more than one score through the air in a game.
Despite that, the Cowboys enter Saturday eighth in the Big 12 when it comes to pass defense.
Defensive players to watch
Free safety Tre Flowers not only leads Oklahoma State in tackles but also in interceptions. Flowers also has registered the most pass breakups on the team with six.
DeQuinton Osbourne paces the Cowboys defense in tackles for loss with six, as he is one of four players with at least four stops behind the line of scrimmage,
Osbourne is second on the team in sacks at three, trailing only Jordan Brailford, who has 3.5 sacks. No other Cowboys defender has two.
No. 22 West Virginia (5-2) is riding a two-game winning streak, with both wins involving fourth-quarter comebacks – one by the Mountaineers, and one against the Mountaineers that the Baylor Bears almost pulled off.
When asked about the recent comebacks, head coach Dana Holgorsen said they’re learning experiences that “give us confidence,” based on the fact that WVU has come out on the right side of the comeback both times.
“You go into that point up 25, to be in the situation we were in it’ll teach you a lot,” said Holgorsen.
Here are some other notes.
Oklahoma State worth the hype
Holgorsen and the rest of the Mountaineers that were available to the media Tuesday referred to No. 11 Oklahoma State as a top-10 team. Obviously, their ranking puts them just outside the top 10, but WVU believes the Cowboys are one of the ten best teams in the nation.
“They’re a good team. They’re an outstanding program,” Holgorsen said. “Offensively (they’re) as good as you’re going to see.”
He highlighted quarterback Mason Rudolph’s ability to throw the deep ball, and the Cowboys’ deep wide receiving corps that’s highlighted by James Washington.
Holgorsen admitted that the Mountaineers “got our work cut out for us on offense” based on what he said may be the best safety tandem they’ve seen this year in the Cowboys’ Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards.
Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said, when asked about Oklahoma State’s defense, said the Cowboys like to keep everything in front of them, acknowledging that’s one of the biggest reasons they’ve only surrendered four passing TDs this season
Defense getting better
Despite giving up the points in the fourth quarter, Holgorsen felt good about the way the WVU defense played Saturday in Waco for the first three quarters.
He said his team simply “got gassed” in the final period.
“I thought we took a step in the right direction at stopping the run, they had minus six yards through three quarters,” Holgorsen said. “But then we got tired.”
The head coach said he wished they would’ve given the ball to Kennedy McKoy more with Justin Crawford not carrying the load against Baylor.
Crawford appears to be banged up and/or slightly worn down, but Holgorsen said he’s getting treatment and that those bruises come with the position.
According to the head coach, McKoy looked better than he had all year on Saturday.
Benton’s Improved and Productive
Asked about Al-Rasheed Benton’s improvement, Holgorsen praised the production that the team’s getting out of Benton.
“Probably the smartest player I’ve coached on that said of the ball,” he said. “Defensively, he’s off the charts intelligent.”
Holgorsen referenced it, and Tony Gibson confirmed, that Benton’s “production points” (a measurement of a player’s productivity on the field) are as high as any defensive player in Holgorsen’s tenure.
Fans hate them, media members tolerate them, and the football team thrives on them.
That’s the status of noon games at WVU.
All three home games played thus far have kicked off with both of the clock’s hands pointing straight up, as will this weekend’s game against No. 11 Oklahoma State.
Admittedly, it’s not fun getting up that early for games. However, they do have their merits.
Noon games allow college football fans to get going early (which some were going to do anyway) and give the opportunity to watch a game in person and then head out and catch the rest of the day’s action wherever you please.
As a lot of media members agree, the noon games are a necessary evil because we get done working at 5 p.m. instead of around or after midnight for later-scheduled kickoffs.
It’s for these reasons, and more, that many celebrated the Big 12’s announcement on Monday that No. 22 West Virginia’s Week 10 contest at home against No. 25 Iowa State will start at 3:30.
Looking past sleeping in a little later on a Saturday, and looking at the record on the field, maybe Mountaineer fans should be rooting for more noon kicks.
|Noon||Afternoon (3:30)||Evening (7:30/8)|
During the Dana Holgorsen era, the Mountaineers have thrived on early kickoffs, winning 80 percent of those games, including winning five out of eight against ranked opponents.
That, of course, came to fruition two Saturdays ago when WVU knocked off Texas Tech at Milan Puskar Stadium at noon.
After that, things become less of a sure thing with afternoon games.
WVU made great use of 3:30 kickoffs last year, going a perfect 6-0, but in years before, afternoon starts haven’t been kind to the Mountaineers.
Even less friendly are night games. For whatever reasons, West Virginia has not fared well under the lights.
WVU has an 0-10 record against ranked teams in contests that start in the dark since defeating Texas 48-45 in 2012.
Night games are great for creating atmosphere; 3:30 kickoffs please just about everyone, and WVU has had success in them; but despite the early rise, noon games might be the best option.
Another game that fans report took years off their lives ends in an unconvincing win for the No. 23 West Virginia Mountaineers Saturday evening in Waco.
WVU appeared to be in complete control through the first half but then disappeared in the second half; basically a role reversal from last weekend’s win over Texas Tech.
A win is a win at the end of the day, but a 38-36 scare against a winless Baylor team doesn’t grade the best.
Offense – C
West Virginia’s passing attack was extremely effective in the first half against the Bears. Will Grier connected with David Sills V (pronounced Sills, not Seals) for two touchdowns in the in the opening two quarters, and then once again early in the third.
Grier was finding his main targets Sills and Gary Jennings early and often, and White found his rhythm as the game went on. The WVU QB only issued four incomplete passes in the first half.
However, for the second game in a row, West Virginia didn’t have much of a running game, which is a bit of a red flag considering Baylor entered the game as the only team in the Big 12 worse at defending the run than the Mountaineers.
Kennedy McKoy led the Mountaineers with 55 rushing yards on just seven carries, while Justin Crawford only managed 30 yards on ten carries as he saw very limited action, especially in the second half.
Problems arose, offensively, after Grier’s touchdown pass to Ka’Raun White that gave WVU a 38-13 lead with 2:47 remaining in the third quarter. From that point on, the Mountaineers were forced to punt three times and only amassed 33 yards of offense.
West Virginia’s offense continues to be unable to put together a full game.
Defense – B-
Speaking of not being able to put together a full game, the WVU defense is much the same.
WVU kept a big-play-capable Baylor offense contained in the first half, only giving up six points on field goals. It also limited the Bears to a 1-for-8 conversion-rate on third down in the first half.
Things turned around in the third quarter, during which a change was made at quarterback for BU. Then Trestan Ebner put his imprint on the game, getting loose for three scores, the last of which brought Baylor to within two points.
West Virginia did seem to get more pressure than it has all year, collecting six sacks and 12 tackles for loss, led by Al-Rasheed Benton who had 1.5 sacks and 4.5 stops in the backfield.
But the second half lapses loom and show that potentially no lead is completely safe for the Mountaineers.
Special Teams – B+
The special teams units had one of their best days at the office Saturday.
Marcus Simms seems to be getting more comfortable as a kick return man, rattling off the longest return of the day at 45 yards in the third quarter.
Mike Molina was perfect on his six total kicks, drilling a short field goal and then being perfect on all extra-point attempts.
Punter Billy Kinney only had two of his six punts be returnable.
WVU’s kick return coverage wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful by any means.
This was a good sign after the wakeup call two weeks ago against TCU.
Linemen – A
Give it up for the big boys up front Saturday.
Offensively, the Mountaineers kept the pocket clean for most of the game for Grier, which has been a problem in previous years against the Bears.
On the defensive side, West Virginia’s front three really came to play.
Lamonte McDougle continues to play well in his freshman year, and Adam Shuler arguably had his best game of the season with four tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss.
Not only did they produce themselves, but they allowed other players like Benton, Kyzir White and David Long Jr., the ability to get into the backfield as well.
Overall – B
The Mountaineers played relatively well when you break it down, but the group-effort near collapse in the second half is still concerning.
WVU did what it was supposed to do against a winless team for about three-fourths of the contest, but that final period got a little too hairy.
West Virginia will take the win, though, especially knowing that its next opponent, Oklahoma State, also played an extremely close game against a lesser opponent on Saturday.
No sleep last night. Lol. Here’s my late-night vote:
2. Penn State
6. Ohio State
8. Oklahoma State
11. Notre Dame
14. Virginia Tech
15. Washington State
16. N.C. State
17. Michigan State
25. Iowa State
The Mountaineers go for their fifth win of the season while the host Bears try for their first. Mitch Vingle is in Waco for the game, and you can follow the action with him right here:
The biggest number that jumps out for the Baylor Bears is a zero — the zero they sport in the win column. Baylor is 0-6 to start a season for the first time since 1969. Yet there are a couple more numbers Baylor’s opponent Saturday, WVU, should pay attention to.
3, 7 and 7.
Those are the Bears’ losing margins in their three home games this season. When Baylor plays in Waco, it can stick around in a game. A WVU team surging after a comeback win over Texas Tech put the Mountaineers back in the top 25 should be wary of that.
Especially since a lack of familiarity with Baylor’s new coaching staff and system could make a difference.
From Dana Holgorsen:
I don’t have a whole lot of familiarity with any of their coaches. There’s just nothing in the past that I can pull from, which is odd in the Big 12. Usually, everybody you play in the Big 12 you have a whole lot of knowledge from the past that you can pull from.
Of course, WVU has six games of Baylor film to watch, but watching a team and playing a team are different stories. An unfamiliar scheme can give a team like Baylor a smidgen of an advantage, plus WVU’s defense has shown its weaknesses during the season. It buckled down and played better in the second half against Texas Tech, but it still has its blemishes.
Is that enough for Baylor to score an unlikely upset? Probably not. Will Grier, David Sills and Justin Crawford can make up for a lot of defensive mistakes. But the Mountaineers at least have to be ready.
No. 23 West Virginia (4-2) enters a weekend as a ranked team for the third different time this season as it faces winless Baylor (0-6) on Saturday in Waco.
Whereas WVU is riding high after it’s comeback victory a week ago against Texas Tech, the Bears are just hoping to reverse the fate they’ve had for some time. Baylor has failed to win a regular season contest in nearly a full calendar year.
Matt Rhule’s team has played opponents tough, with three of the six losses coming by seven or fewer points.
Here’s a scouting report on the team the Mountaineers will look to keep out of the win column:
Bears without much of a bite, offensively
Under former head coach Art Briles, the Baylor Bears grew a reputation of having a very high-powered offense. That’s no longer the case.
Baylor is averaging nearly 20 points fewer per game than the Mountaineers, and are being outgained by WVU by over 150 yards per contest. The Bears have only eclipsed 400 yards of total offense twice this season, while WVU has done that in all but one. Normally a good passing team, Baylor ranks just seventh in the Big 12 in terms of passing yards.
Mims the word
One thing that Baylor has been able to do well this year is get explosive plays. The Bears rank first in the Football Bowl Subdivision with seven plays that have traveled 70-plus yards.
In the middle of that is wide receiver Denzel Mims. Mims ranks second in the Big 12 in receiving touchdowns with seven and is sixth in receiving yards. The sophomore also has five receptions of 40 or more yards, which is second best in the conference. One of those plays was a 71-yard touchdown against Oklahoma, and another was a 70-yard catch and run the following week versus Kansas State. Mims’ biggest game of the year came in Baylor’s one-possession loss to Oklahoma, during which he caught seven passes for 193 yards and three touchdowns.
Rhule has played 17 true freshmen through the first six weeks, which ranks fourth nationally, and started as many as nine true freshmen in one game earlier this year.
Twenty-two different Baylor players have made their first ever start this year, and in total nearly 50 percent of the starters have been underclassmen.
Battered and Bruised
Six Baylor players are expected to be out for the year with injuries. This includes wideout Chris Platt, who was proving to be an explosive threat opposite of Mims on the outside. A total of 13 players have missed at least six games this year, and four players have yet to make their season debut due to injury.
Bears without much of a bite, defensively, too
Defensively, the Bears rank near the bottom of the conference in almost all categories. Baylor is the only team in the Big 12 worse than WVU at stopping the run.
Baylor has surrendered 15 rushing touchdowns this year, including five against Oklahoma State last week. WVU has tallied 13 rushing scores through the first six games. The Bears also rank 125 out of 129 teams in total defense.
Johnston leads the way
Sophomore Clay Johnston leads the Baylor defense.
He paces the Bears in total tackles (45) and tackles for loss with nine – 3.5 more than any other player on his team. His 1.5 tackles for loss per game is third-best in the Big 12. Johnston racked up a career-high 13 tackles earlier this year in a game against Duke.
Stops in the backfield
With Johnson taking charge when it comes to stopping plays in the backfield, that’s been one element to the Baylor defense that has succeeded. As a team, Baylor’s 41 tackles for loss ranks third in the Big 12.
However, BU’s offensive line has surrendered 44 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Both those numbers will be put to the test against West Virginia, who enters the weekend having allowed the fewest plays to be blown up in the backfield, yet defensively haven’t been overly successful at in that category.
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