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#13 West Virginia vs Baylor - Season 126, Episode 7 - Hanging In The Balance

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It's been a long time since we've seen our Mountaineers whipped the way they were a few weekends back, which makes Thursday's matchup with Baylor a potential season definer - do we roar back and show the nation that what happened in Ames was an aberration, or will we fall into a tailspin like we did in 2012?

NCAA Football: Tennessee at West Virginia Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

When/Where

Date: October 25, 2018

Time: 7:00pm EST

Venue: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, WV

How to Watch/Listen

TV: FS1

Streaming: FoxSports app

Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG on TuneIn Radio.

Gambler’s Corner

Spread: WVU -14

O/U: 67

UniWatch

West Virginia:

Love it. Loooooove it.

Know Your Enemy

Series History: (4-2). We split our first four games with Baylor, but seem to have established a tiny foothold in the series after winning the last two meetings in the wake of their program's troubles these last few years.

Record: (4-3, 2-2). The Bears opened the season with wins over a pair of cupcakes, but since then it's been a bit of a rollecoaster. They got smacked by Duke to close their OOC slate and have been alternating wins and losses ever since, culminating in a hard-fought loss to Texas on 10/13. Here's to breaking that pattern.

Head Coach: Matt Rhule. Rhule is now in his second year in Waco after spending the previous four years in Philly pushing Temple back into the national spotlight. There aren't many who would've taken the Baylor job considering the state of the program following 2016, but Rhule has done a pretty good job of righting the ship and now appears to have things trending back in the right direction.

Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Nixon and Glenn Thomas. Nixon and Thomas are again splitting OC duties in their second years in Waco.

Defensive Coordinator: Phil Snow. Snow is a 35-year coaching vet who followed Rhule to Baylor after four years in the same role at Temple.

By the Numbers

Welcome to “By the Numbers”!

First, the weekly caveat: Google Sheets mobile limits my radar chart options so all numbers are displayed in terms of percentiles. Obviously the higher the better.

Second, definitions for the uninitiated:

Big Play Differential = (Big Plays For - Big Plays Against)

Toxic Differential = Big Play Differential + Turnover Margin

NFP, Net Field Position = Average Starting Field Position - Opponent Average Starting Field Position

Baylor's offensive radar profiles very much as a middle-class man's version of our own - they're just slightly worse than we are with regards to yards per play, 3rd down O, red zone TD %, and big play %, and are actually slightly ahead of us in total yards per game. Their problem this year has been on the other side of the ball, where they rank in the bottom third of the country in most of those same categories. The area that should be particularly concerning for them come Thursday night though is their defense's ability to limit big plays.

Through seven games the Bears have allowed 63 big plays in 450 snaps, yielding a big play allowed percentage of 14%. They've actually been OK against the pass, but they're absolutely terrible against the run where they allow their opponents to gain 10 or more yards on over 34% of their carries. I'm not a scientist or anything, but on paper it looks like a prime opportunity for our recently anemic running game to regain some of the mojo that was beaten out of us at Iowa State. We'll see later if Jake Spavital agrees.

When we have the ball..

Players to watch: DE James Lynch, EDGE Greg Roberts, LB Clay Johnston, LB Terrel Bernard, LB Jordan Williams, S Blake Lynch, S Chris Miller

Defining success: Gash them on the ground

Baylor's defense has often been at least one and sometimes several steps behind their offense over the years, but it's troubling that that trend is continuing this year even with the offense taking a step back.

They seem OK up front, where James Lynch and Ira Lewis are the primary playmakers, but they're definitely a bit thin out wide where they've been hit by injuries and are breaking in a pair of new starters. The strength of the unit is in the middle where safeties Blake Lynch and Chris Miller and linebacker Cody Johnston lead the way, but even so, the best way to attack the Bears appears to be to run the ball right at them.

As I mentioned above, they're allowing more than 10 yards on more than 3 out of every 10 carries and have been gashed by everyone on their schedule with the exception UT-San Antonio. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn't expect to do the same, feeble though our running game has been. You could not ask for a better matchup for building some confidence, and if we can get that working, everything else should just be icing on the cake.

When they have the ball...

Players to watch: QB Charlie Brewer, RB Jamychal Hasty, WR Denzel Mims, RB/WR Jalen Hurd

Defining success: Wrap. The F. Up.

The offensive side of the ball is traditionally where Baylor has made its bacon since we've been in the Big 12, but there's no denying that they've taken a step back since Rhule and Co took over almost two years ago.

Starting at quarterback, Charlie Brewer is back after a Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year campaign in 2017 and has thrown for 1798 yards and 10 touchdowns on 62% completions. Brewer is very much the modern college quarterback - he's mobile, he's accurate, and in general he's a pretty solid decision maker. Lining up next to him in the backfield will generally be one of Jamychal Hasty and John Lovett, though they'll occasionally hand the ball to Trestan Ebner and Jalen Hurd, as well. Hurd, who was a full-time running back at Tennessee, has actually spent the majority of his time in Waco split out wide, where he and Denzel Mims are a pretty formidable one-two punch. Mims is particularly effective in jump ball situations, so our corners will have to have their wits about them when the Bears get down around the red zone.

As for how best to stop them, I think we need to get back to what was working so well for us earlier this year - early down aggressiveness. For the first month of the season we excelled at creating negative plays on first and second down, knocking our opponents off schedule and rendering them predictably one-dimensional. We need to get back to that tonight, but even more important will be our ability to get guys on the ground when we have a shot at them. A reliable source informed me that we missed 31 (!!!!!!) tackles against Iowa State, which feels high for a month's worth of games let alone one single Saturday. That HAS to improve, both tonight and going forward, if we're going to accomplish what we want to this season.

Special Teams

Defining success: Kick the shit out of it, Billy

We're still coming out on top of the field position battle on average, but we were beaten badly in that regard in Ames. We need to be better on Thursday and set the tone for the rest of the season.

Closing Argument/Prediction

This one can really either go one of two ways - either we're going to roll over and let this year get away from us, or we're going to come out with a fire under our ass and right the ship. The fact that we're wearing our classic uniform combo is all I need to know to lean towards the latter. Let's do the damn thing.

West Virginia 38 Baylor 23