When the Mountaineers head to Waco on Saturday night, they'll do so as the deepest blue and gold underdog in a decade. in 2003 they headed down to Miami favored to lose by 27.5. The line against the Baylor Bears is 28.5. As we all remember, the Mountaineers nearly shocked the world against the Canes. Can they do it again versus the Bears?
As some of you know, I do some work for WVU radio sideline reporter Jed Drenning at his site TheSignalCaller.com. It's a fun gig because I get to pick the brain of a guy who's played quarterback and knows the Xs and Os of the game as well as anyone. It gives me an opportunity to get beyond "hey, WVU needs to not turn it over if they want to win" and understand the specifics of both what Baylor does and how WVU can stop it. We ran the full Blueprint to "Beat Baylor" post over at the site - it's got my complete thoughts and all of Jed's insights. I encourage you to give it a look, but here's a quick taste of what Jed and I see coming in Waco.
The Best Defense Is A Good Offense:
Baylor's prolific offense is getting all the attention, but it's what WVU does when it has the ball that could be their best weapon.
Traditional thinking would tell you that WVU needs to establish the run and grind out long drives. That would be great and all, but to paraphrase Rick Pitino, "Jeff Braun isn’t walking through that door." The WVU offensive line has been sub par in getting the kind of push required to consistently run block, so while a potent ground attack would be great, hoping for one wouldn’t be terribly realistic.
Fortunately for WVU the passing attack of Dana Holgorsen employs a variety of quick throws and screens that are really just glorified run plays. From the "hot potato" toss to a swing screen that Charles Sims turned into such a big gain last week, short high percentage throws can keep the chains moving while also getting WVU’s playmakers out in space away from the trenches. Clint Trickett needs to be accurate and WVU WRs and RBs need to make catches – even the small ones that seem of little consequence. The WVU offense hasn’t shown much of a propensity for big scoring plays, so every little 3 yard catch will matter. 3rd and 3 looks a lot different than 3rd and 6.
Baylor players haven't been tackled much this year and they certainly haven't seen anything like this WVU unit they'll line up against.
When they do tackle, Karl Joseph and company need to get their money’s worth. What’s been striking about watching this 2013 defense is the force they manage to put into hits. Even when they were supposedly getting torched by Maryland, Deon Long and Stefon Diggs paid dearly for their yardage with both leaving the game for injury at some point. Baylor has put up a collection of gaudy numbers against teams that are physically outmatched. It would be interesting to see how they respond to being physically challenged with a few hard sticks. Alligator arms can be a terrible thing.
Don't Get Combo'd
You just can't let any high-octane offense run downhill against you - Baylor is no exception.
Ask any boxer and they’ll tell you the most damaging thing isn’t getting hit by one big punch – it’s getting hit by a combination of punches. They have a cumulative effect, and the series of shots can do exponentially more damage that one hit ever could. You’re hit once and then twice and then three times and oh, look where did that nice man counting to 10 about 5 miles above me come from?
In many ways, fast offenses like Baylor and Oregon work the same way. It’s not the first score that gets you – it’s the fourth one. When the Bears inevitably score, WVU will need to hang tough. They don’t have to answer every score with one of their own (at least not immediately) but they can’t go 3 and out and hand the ball back to a lathered up Bears O or even worse turn it over.
This is an area WVU has not done well at so far this season. In fact, if you look in the all the games but Georgia State, WVU has never answered a score with a score on their following offensive possession. Even worse, 5 times they have actually turned the ball over on the ensuing possession.
"Baylor has made a habit of putting away their opponents early, averaging 30 ppg in the FIRST QUARTER. So they haven’t even played a second quarter all year where the opponent has had a chance. Makes you wonder how they’ll respond to some pressure. WVU can set the tone early, but they’ll need to play their best quarter of football of the year. The Mountaineers don’t have to play a perfect game, but a perfect first quarter could get things headed in the right direction."
WVU has one big advantage over the Bears at the front of their line. Leveraging that advantage - literally - to its fullest may be the key to keeping it close.
Will Clark and company will be more important than ever as they need to get the type of push that can keep Heisman candidate Lache Seastrunk from getting up to full speed. Make him stop and shift laterally or even better yet bump it outside to find running room. The best way to stop one of the best open field runners in America is to simply not let him get into the open field. We talked earlier about the importance of tackling and that still stands, but as Sun Tzu once said "you must tackle the enemy running back before he starts running." OK, maybe I made that up.
"Another bi-product of that Baylor spread is they pull defenders away from the middle and create interior running lanes for Lache Seastrunk and Glasco Martin. They’ll employ a quick double team on the O line and pop that seam. Will Clarke, Shaq Rowell and Kyle Rose simply can’t let that happen. They’re going to have to hold their own even in the face of a pair of blockers long enough to close that gap and allow Isaiah Bruce, Jared Barber and company to come to the rescue. It might not be fair to ask one guy to take on two, but I guarantee you WVU’s D linemen are the strongest Baylor has faced all year. Blow one up early and get in their heads."
He's Not A Machine, He's A Man! He Bleeds!
No team is above a bad day and Mountaineer fans learned long ago football is a humbling game.
One of my favorite moments of the Rocky series is in Rocky IV when Rocky finally gets to Ivan Drago and manages to cut him with a quick cross in an early round. Drago staggers backwards and is visibly shaken – as is the hostile crowd.
WVU needs a 'Rocky' moment on Saturday.
See, we WVU fans know all about being the shiny new thing. The point-piling darling. Both last year and in the midst of the Rich Rodriguez run we were piling up points and yards by the hundreds. Had QBs putting up video game numbers and skill players moving hither and yon unmolested to paydirt like it was a drill. We were the 70 year old lady cackling madly as the slot machine spilled more points than we could count into our palms. Everybody was watching and cheering and loved us and we were the best and couldn’t be stopped and oh, you’re in trouble here we come!!!
Until we weren’t.
Fact is it can all unravel in an instant. On the road or at home, under the lights or in the noon sun, once you’ve lost that mojo it can be hell to get back. A couple failed third downs, an inopportune turnover or bad break and before you know it the murmuring spreads through the stands and players are casting lost glances around the field. Guys are thinking instead of acting and then they’re scrambling instead of thinking and then it’s all falling through your fingers like smoke and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Head on over to TheSignalCaller.com and check out the full blueprint now. We'll see how accurate our blueprint is in just a few hours.....