Long-term, West Virginia’s loss to Oklahoma State and Oklahoma does not matter for Baylor. One team has to lose, and everyone plays everyone in the Big 12. It would be optimal for the Mountaineers to head to Waco with an undefeated record and be ranked right now. But that marquee, nationally advertised matchup will come later when Baylor travels to Stillwater, Oklahoma.
However, even though the month of October hasn’t treated the Mountaineers well (as expected), this is still the Bears’ top matchup as Baylor skeptics are demanding that it plays a team with defense. Now Baylor has a chance to move past its all-time high ranking to No. 1 in the nation — the Bears received 13 first place votes behind Ohio State’s 27 votes.
Cue the Mountaineers.
Yes, this is a team that has lost its heart and soul in All-American safety Karl Joseph. But even without Joseph, West Virginia possesses the best defense Baylor has faced thus far. At least it presents the best chance to sway social media pundits that Art Briles’ offense thrives by preying on the weak.
West Virginia allows just 20.8 points per game, second in the conference to Baylor’s 20 point rate. But that’s a good rate considering the higher level of teams the Mountaineers have played against.
That production hasn’t come from a specific player, as one might expect. This has been a team effort more than any other program. It’s that type of wide-spread talent that stands any chance against this historic paced Baylor offense.
Dana Holgorsen’s defense has accounted for just 10 sacks on the season, hardly a flattering count….But look at how that production has come about.
Eight players have recorded a sack, only Texas and TCU claim a higher number of players to nab the quarterback. Though it should be noted that Baylor quarterbacks have only been sacked five times (1.67 percent of dropbacks).
If one of those eight players, leading defensive end Shaq Petteway in particular, wreck havoc in the backfield, it would show if this offense indeed has a weakness it cannot overcome.
More likely, though, is that much like every other game, the Mountaineer defense will have a better chance controlling the passing game on the receiving end. Led by cornerback Terrell Chestnut, this secondary leads the conference in passes defended with 35 passes defended, including 13 interceptions.
Of course, Karl Joseph accounted for five interceptions himself, but the fact remains that three other senior defensive backs: Chestnut, Daryl Worley, and KJ Dillon rank among the top ten defenders in the conference. Between those three, they average 3.8 passes defended.
The next trio in line is Baylor’s Travon Blanchard, Xavien Howard, and Ryan Reid averaging 3.2 passes defended.
It’s too small of a sample size to draw conclusions, but SMU leads Baylor opponents with four passes defended. That so happened to be the only time Baylor scored under 60 points this season.
But stopping the pass is half the equation, as Baylor’s true threat comes from running the ball. Led by Shock Linwood, the Bears rank third in the nation with 344 yards per game and 7.4 yards per carry.
This will be a true test to see just how much Baylor’s stats are inflated from apoor strength of schedule thus far. West Virginia allows just 3.9 yards per carry. The best defense Baylor has faced is Rice, giving up 5.7 yards per attempt.
If Baylor can keep up even six yards per carry, that would be a testament to how well this team stretches the field. Last season Baylor averaged just 2.3 yards per carry in Morgantown, West Virginia.
Over the past two weeks, Baylor’s first place votes in the polls have increased from eight to 13 votes. If this turns out to be yet another 60 point performance and Ohio State stumbles in the slightest against Penn State, it won’t be a surprise to see Baylor snag its first number one ranking considering this is looking like the first test.
If this game can’t convince people that Briles’ is coaching one of the top offenses we’ve seen, there’s little else that will convince the skeptics.