By Bailey Brammer | Editor-in-Chief
Baylor football will take on No. 23 West Virginia University for a homecoming matchup at 7 p.m. Saturday in its first home game in nearly a month.
The Bears (0-6) are coming off of back-to-back losses to both No. 14 Oklahoma State and Kansas State, while the Mountaineers (4-2) are riding a major 46-35 comeback victory after an 18-point defecit against Texas Tech last Saturday.
Baylor head coach Matt Rhule said in his Tuesday press conference that he was impressed with the Mountaineers’ big win and considers them one of the best teams in the Big 12.
Rhule also said he expects West Viriginia’s offense to look similar to that of Oklahoma State’s from last Saturday.
“This is an outstanding team we’re playing in West Virginia with a great offense,” Rhule said. “It’ll be a tremendous battle and a great opportunity for us, so we’ll see how we bounce back from last week. They have great receivers, just like Oklahoma State has great receivers. They run the football and are rugged up front. This is another one that’s going to take what you give them.”
Although Baylor’s defense will need to hold off a strong West Virginia offense led by redshirt junior quarterback Will Grier, the Bears are also hoping to continue to up their run game even more so than they did last Saturday.
In Baylor’s 59-16 loss to Oklahoma State, the team still managed to record 219 rushing yards, which was its most rushing yards since its first matchup of the season against Liberty University on Sept. 2, where it recorded 254 yards.
Freshman running back Trestan Ebner, who rushed for 37 yards on nine carries against OSU and scored Baylor’s only touchdown in the first quarter, said the Bears want to extend their run game even further in upcoming games.
Ebner also said that while Baylor struggled last weekend with the Cowboys, the team is still confident that it can secure a homecoming win.
“They beat us, no doubt about it. They outplayed us, but we came in this week ready to practice and just get more physical and this week we have a chance to win,” Ebner said. “We go into each week feeling like we can win, and we know once we put it together as a team, we’ll win. You have guys doing better each week and once we come together as a whole team, we’ll get a win and we’ll keep getting wins.”
While Baylor has yet to record a win this season, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said in his Tuesday press conference that he is not at all under the impression that this will be an easy victory for the Mountaineers.
Holgerson added that even though WVU is familiar with players such as sophomore quarterback Zach Smith, the Bears have quite a few new players to look out for, including sophomore wide receiver Denzel Mims, who had 11 receptions for 192 yards and three touchdowns against Oklahoma University on Sept. 23.
“I don’t care what their record is. Any time you have everything that is just so new, there’s going to be an awful lot of improvement,” Holgorsen said. “We have to be prepared for a wild homecoming atmosphere, night game. The last time they played there at night they should have beaten Oklahoma. That’ll grab your attention. What they’ve done to us the last two times there will grab your attention. They play hard and they compete hard, so I’m looking forward to the game.”
The Mountaineers lead the Bears 3-2 in their all-time record, but are 0-2 in Waco and 0-1 in night games so far this season. In October 2014, West Virginia upset then-ranked No. 4 Baylor, ending its undefeated season with a huge win in Morgantown.
Key Baylor players to watch out for include sophomore punter/kicker Connor Martin, who took over for junior punter Drew Galitz during a Sept. 30 matchup against Kansas State and has made nine field goals in the last three games, as well as freshman cornerback Harrison Hand, who had four tackles for loss last Saturday and is tied for the Big 12 lead with sophomore wide receiver Blake Lynch for six passes broken up.
Despite the challenges the Bears will face against West Virginia, Ebner said it’s a relief to be back at McLane Stadium for the first time in almost a month and that he looks forward to hopefully racking up a win for homecoming.
“It’s really nice to be home, playing in front of your home crowd, and it makes us want to play harder, especially with it being homecoming,” Ebner said. “We just want to come in and do good for Baylor, and play hard and win at home.”
The Bears will face off with the Mountaineers at 7 p.m. Saturday at McLane Stadium. A homecoming bonfire and pep rally will take place at 7 p.m. Friday at Fountain Mall and the homecoming parade will take place at 8 a.m. Saturday through campus.