The statistics are fearsome. The speed is impressive. The Baylor Bears are an offensive machine that leave destruction and broken hearts in their wake. They're fresh off making the formidable defense of the TCU Horned Frogs look foolish, coming back from 21 down in the last 11 minutes to win. Now they're coming to Morgantown with the Mountaineers set squarely in their sights.
But maybe there's some reason for hope. We checked in with our buddy Jed Drenning to find out what @TheSignalCaller sees when he looks at the Baylor Bears. For those that don't know Jed was a prolific college quarterback and holds double duties for the WVU IMG game telecasts as both a pre and post-game co-host and sideline reporter. Put simply the man knows his football.
@abpriddy: So let's start with the most obvious question. What does Baylor do on offense that makes them so formidable?
@TheSignalCaller: Put simply they strain you defensively. Their spreads are so wide across the field that they make you declare your intentions. You can't hide anything. If you're going to have guys cover, they can't hover in the middle threatening to blitz because those receivers are so far away you need to get over there on them. So before the snap they already have a good idea who's doing what on defense. It robs a defense of an advantage.
An interesting way to think of it is they essentially do the opposite of what Coach Holgorsen does with his diamond formation. With that set he's bunched everybody up in the middle so the defense has to match those bodies in the box and they're limited on the perimeter - again, they have to declare their intentions.
@abpriddy: So how can you combat that? What is the key to minimizing the damage the offense can do?
@TheSignalCaller: You just can't give up big plays. Make tackles and don't make mistakes. Texas was able to do that and only give up 28 offensive points. The secret was the longest play Baylor had all day was 30 yards. You have to force them to drive the field.
@abpriddy: Any other weakness you've seen?
@TheSignalCaller: Their 3rd down numbers are worse than you'd expect. Once you take away the cupcakes from their schedule and look just at Big 12 play, they're 32% on third down conversions. That's second to last in the conference. Far worse then their percentage in recent years. They could be more vulnerable there than folks expect. Also their road record isn't great. All five of their losses in the last 27 games have come outside of Waco.
@abpriddy: Any other encouraging tidbits?
@TheSignalCaller: Well, I'll just tell you that if you compare the 3rd down completion numbers of Bryce Petty and Clint Trickett, I guarantee it will put a smile on the face of any Mountaineer fan. I covered it all in my Hot Reads piece over at WVUSports.com. I think if folks give it a look they'll be happy. I won't give away any more than that.
@abpriddy: Already did, haha. It's great stuff as always. So we covered the Bears offense, what about the WVU defense? They clearly had more success getting stops in the second half against Texas Tech than in the first half. Was there something schematically that changed?
@TheSignalCaller: Not really. It was a lot like what we saw from the Mountaineers on the offensive side - just capitalize on opportunities. Just make plays when they're there. Don't blow assignments. Play sound football. In the first half the defense struggled with that. In the second half they executed their plan much better. That's exactly what they need to do on Saturday.
@abpriddy: So speaking of defense what can we expect from Baylor? Will they lay back in coverage the way Texas Tech did?
@TheSignalCaller: No, the Baylor defense wants to press the issue. Their corners play up and they'll want to bring a lot of pressure - that defense has a ton of TFLs (tackles for loss) and sacks. But that's where the opportunities will be for WVU. Clint Trickett is the most accurate passer Baylor will have seen all year - Boykin wasn't terribly efficient and Swopes just isn't there yet. And Kevin White the best downfield threat. But WVU has got to make plays when they get chances.
@abpriddy: That defensive front is pretty impressive though, right?
@TheSignalCaller: Oh certainly. They're better up front than we were a year ago, but we're better too and we're the team that got beat by 31 last year. When I watch the Baylor defense I see a lot of athletes out there but they're just not terribly disciplined. Think a poor man's old-school Miami team.
@abpriddy: So how would they compare with Alabama or Oklahoma?
@TheSignalCaller: Not in that conversation. I don't see two or three first round picks on that defense, I just see a lot of good football players.
@abpriddy: Jed, we appreciate you letting us pick your brain. Good luck on the telecast tomorrow and we'll be listening.
@TheSignalCaller: My pleasure. Live pregame radio coverage starts at 7:30 AM and I'll see you at the fifty!