By Will Chamblee | Sports Writer, Video by Nate Smith | Broadcast Reporter
Baylor football will take on the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday as they search for their first-ever win in Morgantown, W.Va.
Fresh off of a 47-14 victory over the Kansas Jayhawks, Baylor head coach Dave Aranda said he was excited to see improvement in game two.
“If I’m in space and I’m playing with someone I just played a game with, there’s a better feel that I can count on him to set the edge,” Aranda said. “All those things in terms of depending on teammates and knowing where guys are going to be, I think you’re always going to see the improvement when you continue to work on the right stuff and spend time on details I feel that improvement will come shortly thereafter.”
West Virginia will present an interesting matchup for the Bears. In what was expected to be a rebuilding year for the Mountaineers, West Virginia has been surprisingly impressive, blowing out Eastern Kentucky and keeping in time with 17th ranked Oklahoma State.
West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said he thought his team had the potential to be “the most improved team in the country” during the offseason. So far, West Virginia has looked the part.
Junior quarterback and Bowling Green State transfer Jarret Doege has shown vast improvements from last year, throwing for 513 yards and 4 touchdowns through his first two games.
The offensive line has been an area of inconsistency for West Virginia, however. Brown wasn’t happy at the line’s performance on Saturday against Oklahoma State.
“There were some highs and there were some lows,” Brown said. “We weren’t good enough at [tackling,] and we will look at some ways we can get better there.”
Despite this, junior lead running back Leddie Brown has been effective, totaling an impressive 227 rushing yards through his first two games, which is good enough for second-most in the Big 12 conference, only behind Iowa State’s Breece Hall.
Aranda said the Baylor will have to be careful against the West Virginia offense, especially due to their quick pace on offense.
“To me, what strikes out is just their skill, their speed at running back and their speed at receiver,” Aranda said. “I think their running back is a tough runner, he’s got great vision. If we lose a gap or we lose an edge, they’re a big stretch team, then he can eat up some yards pretty quick.”
A potential key to stopping West Virginia’s refined offense will be refined tackling, which Aranda said Baylor will focus on during practice this week.
“There are things we can improve,” Aranda said. “I think in terms of keeping and owning that leverage, we were OK. But we can be better and we’re aiming to make improvements this week.”
Defensively, West Virginia will test Baylor and offensive coordinator Larry Fedora’s new scheme, which proved effective in Baylor’s first game against Kansas.
“Defensively, I just think very disruptive, very different than some of the previous teams we’ve been preparing for,” Aranda said. “They’re creative in how they get four- and five-man rushes, lot of twists and stunts and linebacker pressures in that. So, I think they cause a lot of disruption and I like the stuff they do on defense.”
West Virginia’s secondary, led by senior safety and preseason All-Big 12 Second Team selectee Sean Mahone, has been elite this season. The Mountaineers have only allowed 135 passing yards per game, which ranks fifth-best in the nation.
Baylor will be boosted by the return starting senior right-guard Xavier Newman, which should help decrease the number of penalties on offense and help Baylor move the ball more effectively against West Virginia.
Senior running back Trestan Ebner had a record-setting game against Kansas, returning two kick-off returns. Brown has taken notice, saying that the Mountaineers have to be extra focused on kick-off returns during Monday’s press conference.
“[Ebner] did a tremendous job, really went against the grain and cut both of them back against the field. He’s fast and elusive,” Brown said. “We think that our kickoff team has been a strength of ours here for the last two years and thought they did a really good job last week, but didn’t do a good job in week one and I’m sure [Baylor] is licking their chops since Eastern Kentucky ran one back that got called back due to a penalty.”
Baylor’s playmaking on special teams could serve as the difference in what projects to be a tight game. The Bears opened as only three-point favorites over West Virginia according to William Hill Sports Book.
Baylor’s matchup against West Virginia will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Mountaineers’ Milan Puskar Stadium. The game will be televised on ABC.