West Virginia football is in Waco, Texas for the weekend as they get set to face the Baylor Bears in Big 12 Conference action on Saturday. Kickoff is set for noon ET on Fox Sports 1.
The Mountaineers (2-3, 0-2 Big 12) are gunning for a victory after starting the Big 12 season with two straight losses. Both of those losses happened to be by a last-minute field goal, making that three losses on the season by just one possession for WVU.
Likewise, Baylor (4-1, 2-1 Big 12) enters this contest after its first loss. They last headed to Stillwater to face Oklahoma State, falling 24-14 to the Cowboys.
The Bears are hungry for some revenge against the Mountaineers after the thriller between the two programs in 2020. West Virginia ended up taking that one by a touchdown in Morgantown, but it took them two overtimes to do it — the first double-OT game for WVU since 2013.
That was also the first meeting between the young head coaches, Neal Brown of WVU and Dave Aranda of Baylor.
That game continued the short history of fireworks between the Mountaineers and the Bears. The first meeting was the historic 70-63 record-setting victory for West Virginia — since then, the all-time series has gone in favor of the Mountaineers, 6-3. It seems Las Vegas thinks the trend of close contests will continue Saturday, as the Bears are just 3-point favorites.
Here are some of the major storylines heading into this year’s meeting between the two programs:
Mountaineers tightening the carabiner
Mistakes have been the main storyline of West Virginia’s season, and can likely be traced as the cause of all three losses (along with the near-collapse against Virginia Tech in week two). They range from turnovers on offense, to lacking attention to detail, to drive-extending penalties on defense.
Fixing this issue is one of the biggest focuses for West Virginia heading into this contest, along with building consistency. The Mountaineers have struggled to play four quarters of a full game, even getting blanked on Saturday against Texas Tech at home in the first half.
“It’s frustrating, our fans are frustrated, and I get it, nobody’s more frustrated than me,” Brown said. “Our first half vs. Texas Tech was inexcusable, I can’t reason it.”
On the flip side, the Bears are keen on capitalizing on those mistakes. They are currently tops in the Big 12 in turnover margin at plus-5, while snagging the most interceptions with seven so far.
High-powered offense vs. stout defense
The Bears’ offense is one of the best in the Big 12 — they’re putting up 37 points per game (third in the league) with an efficient clip of 7.9 yards per play (first in the league).
Much of this success is due to their strong ability to run the football. Two of the Big 12’s top rushers are Baylor Bears — Abram Smith, who runs for 102 yards per game, and Trestan Ebner, a fifth-year senior who adds 69.6. Ebner is in fact one of the premier ball-carrying threats in the league, adding 147 all-purpose yards per game.
“They want to run the ball,” Brown said. “I think their running backs are both playing well.”
They go up against West Virginia, who has had little issue stopping the run game this year, allowing 87.8 yards per contest. They boast plenty of experience on that side of the ball — linebacker Josh Chandler-Semedo and safety Sean Mahone are both top-ten in the Big 12 for tackles, while the defensive line duo of Taijh Alston and Dante Stills are both top five in tackles-for-loss.
Kickoff between the Bears and Mountaineers is set for noon ET at Baylor’s McLane Stadium on Fox Sports 1. Gameday starts at 9 a.m. ET with The Neal Brown Show on Nexstar stations across West Virginia. That is followed by a live edition of Mountaineer GameDay at 10 a.m., with a second hour at 11 a.m. on AT&T SportsNet.