By Jeffrey Swindoll
Saturday morning, No. 4 Baylor football leaves the friendly confines of home again to face the West Virginia Mountaineers. The Bears snatched a dramatic fourth-quarter comeback win against TCU last Saturday to keep their undefeated record alive. West Virginia also kept its Big 12 hopes alive with a game-winning field goal against Texas Tech in Lubbock last Saturday.
Baylor senior quarterback Bryce Petty and WVU senior quarterback Clint Trickett, statistically speaking, are two of the nation’s best passers and will square off in Morgantown, W. Va. Petty and Trickett lead two of the most efficient passing offenses in the country.
“[Trickett] is good,” Baylor head coach Art Briles said. “He is a coach’s kid and has been around the game his whole life. He’s grown up and is a lot more comfortable in his system as opposed to last year when he transferred from Florida State.”
Trickett leads the Big 12 with 2203 total passing yards and 367.2 yards per game average. Petty is third in the conference with 306.8 yards per game. Also, Trickett (153.8) barely leads Petty (153.6) in pass efficiency.
West Virginia’s quarterback may be one-dimensional compared to the quarterbacks the Bears have faced the past two years. Texas’ Tyrone Swoopes and TCU’s Boykin are both very good runners with the ball. Against TCU especially, the Bears’ defensive line would be just a fingertip away from pulling down Boykin for a loss, but Boykin’s elusiveness and ability to scramble bailed out the Horned Frogs on numerous occasions last Saturday. That is not the case with Trickett — who totals -31 rushing yards this season.
Trickett is not the runner with the ball like Boykin, but he compensates for that with passing accuracy and effectiveness. If the quarterback’s speed isn’t something to think about for Baylor, one thing is for certain, West Virginia’s passing offense is a threat.
The Mountaineers have two receivers that average 12 or more yards per catch this season, which is something only Baylor and Texas Tech can also say. West Virginia receiver Kevin White leads the Big 12 with 888 receiving yards averaging 148 yards per game. Baylor receivers KD Cannon (21.7) and Corey Coleman (15.6) both average more yards per catch than any of West Virginia’s receivers.
“Dana (Holgorsen) is always going to have good people to put in their schemes,” Briles said. (Kevin) White is leading the nation in receiving yards. They mix it up well. They’ve scored points against everybody they have played this year.”
The Mountaineers’ passing offense is undoubtedly a threat, and is only behind Baylor in yards per game. West Virginia also has one of the best running backs in the league, Rushel Shell. Shell averages 81.7 yards per game averaging 4.4 yards per carry. West Virginia’s offense has star players, but they are a bit few and far between comparing to the stacked Baylor offense in both passing and rushing.
One of Baylor’s offensive sparks this season has come from sophomore running back Shock Linwood. Linwood leads the Big 12 with 104.5 yards per game, an average slowly but surely on the rise. Baylor’s offensive line had its problems earlier in the season with its run game, but things are started to come together, senior offensive lineman Troy Baker said. Linwood is tied for second in the league with eight touchdowns this season.
“One of my sayings has always been to not wait until something bad happens to get good,” Briles said. “Don’t wait until somebody slaps you where you’re mad and ready to fight. That part of it we have to work on, but [Linwood] is a great football player and teammate. He is a guy that provides passion because when he runs, he runs with everything he’s got – and he’s got a lot. Everyone in the locker room respects that guy, without question.”
The TCU game was another game that started slow for Linwood, including a lost fumble in the first half. Linwood said he channeled his frustration after that fumble to run harder and protect the ball better for the rest of that game. Shock struck back in the fourth quarter. Linwood and the Bears offensive fueled a comeback against TCU, forcing the Horned Frogs to pick their poison — defend the pass or the run.
Like he did against TCU, Petty is expecting a challenge from West Virginia’s pass defense. West Virginia’s pass defense is actually better than TCU in terms of passing yards allowed per game. The Mountaineers allow 213.7 passing yards per game and four interceptions in six games.
West Virginia’s rush defense is not as sound as its pass defense though. The Mountaineers are seventh in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, and have allowed 10 rushing scores in six games this season. Only Iowa State and Texas Tech have allowed more rushing touchdowns than West Virginia.
“It almost seems like [West Virginia’s defense has] always got 12 or 14 guys on the field every play,” Petty said. “They fly around and they’re confident right now. You can tell that on film and the way they play. ”
Petty said the comeback against TCU showed maturity and an improvement in mentality for the Bears. That same mentality applies to road games like this Saturday against West Virginia too.
“We never feel that we’re down,” Petty said. “So when you’ve got that belief, when you’ve got a lot of guys that believe that, it normally comes true.”
West Virginia evidently has one of the best attendance rates in the Big 12. Milan Puskar Stadium packs 60,000 fans on a consistent basis. Many WVU athletes played in Milan Puskar Stadium in the Bears’ first visit to Morgantown in 2012. That game ended 70-63 in a shootout between current New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith and Holiday Bowl-winning Baylor quarterback in Nick Florence. Another great crowd is expected for this huge home game for the Mountaineers, like in 2012.
“It was a fun atmosphere [in 2012,” senior receiver Levi Norwood said. “It was kind of like what we had [Saturday night against TCU]. They were loud. It was how you would expect college football to be.”
Baylor vs. West Virginia kicks off at 11 a.m. Saturday and will be nationally broadcast on Fox Sports 1.