Last week the Mountaineers had what I would describe as a must improve game against Oklahoma State. You can't call it a must win when the #11 team in the country comes to your place. Because if that's the case, you've really put yourself in a horrible spot. Holgorsen and the staff were definitely in a bad spot. But they weren't getting fired with a loss. Most level headed fans were just looking for improvement. The fact that they won makes the performance that much sweeter.
At the same time, though, last week's win changes the dynamics of this week's game against Baylor. A win against the Bears Saturday night makes a bowl game a very real possibility. It also at least keeps hope alive that this team could win the Big 12 title. It's still unlikely, but I bring it up because it's funny what a difference a week makes. No?
At the beginning of the season I fully expected a lot of highs and lows with this team. I think it's what you get with a talented but inexperienced team. A lot of folks were hoping we would see a resurrection of the 2005 Mountaineers this year, for all the obvious comparisons. But this team might be better compared to the 1987 team. That team started out 1-3 and despite the talent, was looking for an identity. Was it the team that could do nothing against Ohio State and Pitt or was it the team that put up 40+ points against Cincinnati and East Carolina? The answer was the latter as they would only lose two more regular season games the rest of the year. By four points at #18 Penn St. and by one point at #6 Syracuse. Coincidentally, it would lose a nail biter to #11 Oklahoma State in the Sun Bowl. But those hard losses hardened the team and showed them what they needed to do in 1988 to be successful. Along the way, they found out who they were.
This year's Mountaineers are in a similar situation. Are they the team that lost 37-0 to Maryland or are they the team that beat Oklahoma St. That's what's really at stake here. Win or lose, if they are able to put up a similar performance against Baylor, they will have found some consistency. That's not to say that the defense isn't already there. But they can't do it all themselves. And make no mistake, the defense will be tested against Baylor.
The offense is going to have to step up again this week. I think they found their leader at the quarterback position last week. Clint Trickett doesn't have the strongest arm and he has the least experience in the offense. But he showed something that's been missing this year. I say that from the outside looking in, because I know nothing about any of the quarterbacks on the roster other than what I see from the stands or on TV. However, he played the fourth quarter noticeably in pain, and I don't know how else to explain it but he carries himself like a leader. Despite his flaws, he pushes forward whether he's right or wrong. He isn't subject to paralysis by analysis. He makes the best of bad situations and I hope that's something the rest of the offense can latch on to.
As for Baylor, they're churning along at almost 70 points per game. I don't believe they've had a three and out. And I'm pretty sure they lead the nation in about every offensive category that matters. The defense has scored more points than they've given up. I just have to stop and say this. I hope Art Briles never takes the Texas job. I poked some fun at him in my previous post today. But I have nothing but respect for his ability to run an offense and coach a team.
The Bears are led by quarterback Bryce Petty. The junior is completing 74% of his passes for 1001 yards, 8 touchdowns, and no interceptions. I'd like to tell you that if we just take away receiver x we could shut this team down. That just isn't the case, though. The Bears receiving squad is co-led by Antwan Goodley and Tevin Reese. Both are averaging well over 20 yards per reception and have over 350 yards receiving. In fact, Baylor has seven receivers that average over 20 yards a reception. Which probably explains why Goodley and Reese only have 14 and 15 receptions respectively. On the ground, all-name team running back Lache Seastrunk is living up to the preseason hype by averaging 11 yards per carry for 417 yards and six touchdowns. From what I can tell, the only reason all the above haven't produced more is that they've been so far ahead in all their games that it would be stupid and unsportsmanlike to leave them in. Also, the Bears have only played three games.
The defense has been equally impressive. Although they haven't faced any offensive juggernauts, they rank 15th nationally in total defense. They are 25th in rushing defense and 29th in pass defense. Where they excel is in scoring defense where they've given up 7.7 points a game to rank 2nd nationally.
For West Virginia to win, they are going to have to bring it on all three sides of the ball. They don't have to play mistake free ball. But it needs to be something close to that. The one advantage the Mountaineers have is that they've had to fight though adversity to get where they are. Baylor has not. The Bears might handle it just fine. Or they might take a step back. It's imperative that the Mountaineers disrupt the timing of Baylor's offense and keep their defense guessing. The Mountaineers aren't potent enough to play from behind with Baylor. They''ll have to get an early lead and keep the game close into the 4th quarter if they want to win this one.