By Adam Gibson | Sports Writer
Baylor football heads to Morgantown, W. Va., to face No. 13-ranked West Virginia as both teams look to bounce back at 6 p.m. Thursday night from recent losses.
The Bears are coming off their closest loss of the season against then-No. 7 Texas in Austin where they fell 23-17 after driving down the length of the field in the final seconds but coming up short. Each team had a bye week this past weekend to prepare for the game Thursday and head coach Matt Rhule said the off week was beneficial in several ways both on and off the field last week and this week.
“Anytime you can give the players a little time off is good,” Rhule said. “We did the Wednesday practice that was just the underclassmen. We let the seniors act as coaches. I thought it was good for us to let our players go home and we were able to get out on the road and recruit … I really hope this break can allow the team to be recharged for the last couple games of the season.”
Senior wide receiver Chris Platt had the most receptions he’s had all season with five in the loss to the Longhorns. Platt said after watching the Texas game, the team immediately saw things it needed to fix and that has been the focus during the bye week.
“We sat back and watched the film for that game and we definitely knew that that game slipped away from us,” Platt said. “Not only from the calls, but just from the things that you all don’t even see — the routes and stuff that will get us open that weren’t. We put a big emphasis on a lot of details this week so that’s what we’re going to be working on.”
Threatening the Baylor defense is West Virginia senior quarterback Will Grier who is being discussed as one who could be taking home the Heisman Trophy this season. Grier and the Mountaineers had their worst game of the season in their matchup with Iowa State, as he threw for just one touchdown and one interception. While he may have not had a great game, Rhule knows the talent of Grier goes beyond just what stats show. It’s also about how smart he is in reading the coverage to create success.
“He is capable of making the big play, he calls the game at the line of scrimmage. He changes plays, he gets the team in and out of the right looks,” Rhule said. “He is accurate and can move around in the pocket … They aren’t afraid to run the football. Grier really manages and calls the game at a high level.”
Junior linebacker Clay Johnston is coming off his best game of the season where he led the defense of both Baylor and Texas in tackles with 13 while also recording the only sack for the Bears. As he and the defense prepare for Grier and the Mountaineer offense, Johnston said keeping up the environment from practice and moving on from big gains is going to be a major key.
“I think it’s pretty tough. Obviously they have a gunslinger for a quarterback with Will Grier,” Johnston said. “How we practiced yesterday was very intense and if we keep that up and maintain that intensity, we’ll have a good day … It’s huge because they could have an explosive play and we’re obviously going to have to use the same ‘what’s next’ and continue to believe in that, just reload and get to the next play.”
Last season when the two faced off, Baylor fell three points short of the win, part of which was due to the inability to keep the defense from containing Brewer and the offense being unable to convert on third down. The Bears allowed six sacks for 54 yards and converted only three of 15 third down attempts. Rhule said the defense of West Virginia will give the team different looks than it has seen prior to this game and is going to be a challenge to face.
“When we played them last year, they played really well against us,” Rhule said. “You’re not going to find a defense that plays harder, runs with the ball better than they do. Outstanding on third down, they’ll play man. They’ve got a nice blitz package. They have playmakers. Defensively, they have really good players and a unique system.”
With it being an away game, senior offensive lineman Blake Blackmar said the team has prepared for how hard it will be to hear, but it’s no different than other away games as the main focus remains on communicating so the team doesn’t make mistakes.
“It’s going to be loud and hard to hear so we really have to emphasize crowd noise in practice this week and good communication,” Blackmar said. “Echoing calls down the line … It’s just like playing in any other hostile environment.”