Bears ready for Mountaineers

Junior receiver KD Cannon receives a pass from senior quarterback Seth Russell and runs past West Virginia’s defense at the home game on Oct. 19, 2015, at McLane Stadium. The Bears won 62-38. Photo credit: Lariat File Photo

Acting head coach Jim Grobe might be coaching his final game for Baylor football at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Morgantown, W.Va.

He said on several occasions at his weekly press conference that his intention was to only help Baylor football through the 2015 season.

“I told the players and coaches when I came that I was just here to help. I didn’t come to restart a career,” Grobe said. “I really just wanted to help these guys get through a season. I knew the players would be struggling. I knew the coaches would be struggling. Baylor would be struggling. I feel like I came here to help and to serve. I didn’t come to take over.”

Grobe did leave the possibility of coaching the team’s bowl game, which will be announced between 4 and 6 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.

“If [Mack Rhoades] wants me to stick through and help the kids and the coaches through the bowl game, I’m willing to do that, but that’s totally going to be his call,” Grobe said.

As for the task at hand, Baylor will try to end its five game skid against the No. 16-ranked Mountaineers on the road. West Virginia is 7-1 at home this season with its lone loss coming to the University of Oklahoma.

“The atmosphere is just crazy. The fans are into the game, and they’re going to try and get in your head every chance they get,” said senior cornerback Ryan Reid. “It’s cold. The weather is definitely going to play a part. I feel like they really play well off their fans. Their student section is rocking. They’re hard to beat at home, but Oklahoma did it, so I know we can.”

Similar to other Big 12 schools such as Kansas State and Oklahoma, West Virginia boasts a dual-threat quarterback in senior Skyler Howard.

“He reminds me a little bit of Baker Mayfield. He’s kind of an athletic kid that throws the ball really well but is good in the pocket. He’s got good mobility and can run the football,” Grobe said. “They can hurt you with his arm and with his feet running the football. He can hurt you both ways.”

Howard has passed for 3,083 yards and 24 touchdowns so far this season. He has also run 109 times for 532 yards and eight touchdowns. His favorite target on the outside is redshirt junior wide receiver Shelton Gibson. He is not the Mountaineers’ leading receiver, but he leads the team with eight touchdown receptions.

Joining Howard in the backfield are running backs junior Justin Crawford and redshirt senior Rushel Shell III. Crawford leads the team in rushing with 959 yards and four touchdowns while Shell has contributed 505 yards on the ground and five scores.

One area of focus this week for Baylor will be on ball preservation and limiting turnovers. The Bears have committed 14 turnovers during their five-game losing streak.

“With the offense, protecting the ball is going to be really important, because they have a great defense,” Reid said. “And with us, they have a great offense, and the only way we can give our offense the ball is if we turn it over. So I feel like, on both ends, getting the ball and keeping the ball is going to be very important.”

Senior nickel back Patrick Levels believes that the turnover margin could be the deciding factor in the outcome on Saturday.

“Right now, we need as many possessions as our offense can get, and we need as many stops on defense as we can get,” Levels said. “Turnovers will be really big in this game. If we can get them to cough the ball up or can get an interception to get our offense great field position, that would be great.”

Tomorrow will mark the third consecutive start for true freshman quarterback Zach Smith. Despite losing both of his starts, Smith’s teammates believe that he is continuing to develop as a quarterback and as a leader for the team.

“He improved a great deal, I thought. The kid is tough as anything out there,” said junior tight end Jordan Feuerbacher. “I mean, he took his fair share of shots all day and he got right back up, and that’s what you want to see from a quarterback, especially a young quarterback. He’s starting to be a great leader now, and I think he’s going to be a great leader for the program for the rest of his time here. I think Baylor as a school is lucky to have him.”

Smith will be missing several of his top targets at receiver this week as both redshirt freshman wide receiver Blake Lynch, who broke his finger on Saturday, and redshirt freshman wide receiver Pooh Stricklin, who is walking around in a boot, will not be available.

Baylor has an opportunity to send Grobe out with a win in his home state of West Virginia, but even with this possibility, Grobe continues to focus completely on his players and preparing them for the Mountaineers.

“My total focus is trying to get the kids where they can play well enough to win. That’s the deal,” Grobe said. “It wouldn’t be as great a win for me personally and that I would feel for our players. As I’ve mentioned, we have 100 plus great kids that will always make this experience special for me, and if we can go back and get out of Morgantown with a win, that would make it so much more special.”

Baylor and West Virginia are set to kick off at 2:30 p.m. The game will be aired on FS1.