By Shehan Jeyarajah
No. 17 Baylor football opens up Big 12 Conference play against West Virginia in a Saturday night showdown at Floyd Casey Stadium. When these two teams last met, the Mountaineers pulled off a 70-63 shootout win in Morgantown in the first-ever matchup between these two teams. Last year’s game will be in the mind of Baylor as the team prepares for its Big 12 opener.
“You never want to think of football as a revenge type of game,” junior quarterback Bryce Petty said. “We are ready to go out there. Even though we did score 63 points last year, there were still points left out there. As a team, a couple things just didn’t go our way, but I thought we played really well being in that atmosphere. Opening up Big 12 at home against them, it needs to be a win for us for sure.”
Baylor football has been one of the most dominant teams in America this season on both sides of the ball. With the caveat that Baylor has not played stiff competition yet, Baylor has outscored opponents 209-23. The defense has not allowed a single touchdown in the second half of games, and is actually outscoring opposing offenses 28-23.
The Bears lead college football in scoring at 69.7 points per game, total offense with 751.3 yards a game and passing yards with 444.3 yards per game. Baylor also is fifth in rushing offense with 307.0 yards per game, despite the fact that senior running back Glasco Martin has missed time with an ankle injury and junior running back Lache Seastrunk has rarely rushed the ball in the second half of games this season.
Petty leads the nation in passing efficiency and yards per completion with 20.02 yards. He also ranks second in the nation with a 74.6 percent completion percentage and is fifth with 333.7 passing yards a game, despite having never played more than a few drives into the second half.
Seastrunk leads the Big 12 with 139.0 yards per game, and leads the nation with 11.0 yards per carry. He has rushed for 100 or more yards in seven straight games, which is a school record. Again, Seastrunk has rarely played in the second half this season.
“We’re going to play them like we do everybody else,” Seastrunk said. “Everybody’s a threat. We’re going to treat them like a threat, and we’re going to win games.”
Senior receiver Tevin Reese and junior Antwan Goodley have been one of the more dynamic receiving duos in football. Both receivers rank in the top 10 in yards per game. The two receivers combine to average 240.0 yards per game, which makes up 71.9 percent of Petty’s total yardage. They have also caught seven of Petty’s eight touchdowns.
With all the focus on the Baylor offense, the defensive performance has been overlooked this season. Baylor leads all of college football in tackles for loss with 11.3 per game, led by sophomore defensive end Shawn Oakman’s 2.7 per game. Baylor has forced two or more turnovers in nine of its last 10 games. Baylor leads all of college football in forcing three-and-outs, doing so 54.3 percent of the time.
Baylor is on a six-game home winning streak. The Bears have not lost at home since Oct. 13, 2012, against TCU, including beating No. 1 Kansas State last November. Since 2011, Baylor has posted a record of 15-1 at home.
On the other side, West Virginia is coming off of a Big 12 upset against then No. 11 Oklahoma State.
The Mountaineers are an enigmatic team with no clear identity at this point in the season because their level of play has varied on a week-to-week basis so far this season.
“It’s all about matchups in football, just as it is in any sport,” head coach Art Briles said. “How do you match up with the other team? If you look at the two losses they have against Oklahoma and Maryland, those are two undefeated football teams and both games were on the road. Oklahoma State came into their place, hadn’t been there since 1928 and West Virginia does a great job of putting on a home crowd and a home environment and did a great job of protecting their house. They really played well Saturday on both sides of the ball.”
The defense has been solid for West Virginia. Through five games, West Virginia is top 40 in total defense and total points against with 345.4 yards per game and 19.6 points per game allowed.
The Mountaineers defense has accomplished all of this despite playing what USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin rated as the 13th most difficult schedule in America.
The West Virginia offense has been much more inconsistent. The Mountaineers rank 78th in total offense with 392.6 yards per game and rank 101st in points for with only 20.4 points a game. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has been forced to play three different quarterbacks at different points this season.
This will undoubtedly be the hardest test of the season for Baylor’s offense. West Virginia’s offense is not as prolific as Baylor, and the Mountaineers might find it difficult to match the scoring of Baylor’s offense.
The key for WVU last week was the Mountaineer defense holding Oklahoma State to 2.8 yards per rush. Baylor averages 6.58 yards per rush, compared to 4.26 for Oklahoma State. Baylor averages almost twice as many rushing yards per game as Oklahoma State.
After watching West Virginia pull off a shocking upset of Oklahoma State, any trap-game potential for Baylor is likely gone. WVU has Baylor’s full attention.
Playing at home makes this Baylor’s game to lose and Baylor is anxious to start play in the Big 12 Conference.
No. 17 Baylor takes on West Virginia at 7 p.m. Saturday night at Floyd Casey Stadium.
The game will be broadcast nationally on Fox Sports 1. Baylor will be debuting their all-black uniforms with gold chrome helmets. Fans are encouraged to wear gold and “Bring the Bling.”