Time: 12:00pm EST
Date: October 3rd, 2020
Venue: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, WV
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN
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. We will also include the stream in our game thread, which will go live at 11:00 AM ET.
SiriusXM Satellite Radio will also be broadcasting the game on channel 81 on both Sirius and XM branded radios.
Streaming: ESPN.com, or the ESPN app
Spread: WVU +3
KNOW THE ENEMY
2020 Record: (1-0). The Bears opened their 2020 campaign with a comfortable 47-14 win against Kansas in Waco last weekend. Hard to know what to take away from that because, you know, Kansas.
Series History: (5-3). Baylor got us last year in Waco but we’d won the previous three before that one. The new streak starts Saturday.
Head Coach: Dave Aranda. Aranda is in his first year at Baylor after extremely productive defensive coordinator stops at LSU and Wisconsin. He doesn’t have any head coaching experience, but has been one of the top defensive coaches in college football for most of the last decade and brings a championship pedigree with him to Waco.
Offensive Coordinator: Larry Fedora. Fedora joined Aranda’s staff after spending 2019 as an offensive analyst at Texas. His previous experience as a head coach at North Carolina (2012-2018) should be invaluable as his boss wets his own beak.
Defensive Coordinator: Ron Roberts. Roberts is also in his first year at Baylor and brings with him some head coaching experience of his own. Neal Brown should be familiar with him - he previously served as defensive coordinator of the Sun Belt’s Louisiana-Lafeyette Ragin Cajuns in 2018.
BY THE NUMBERS
8.6, the average yards to gain on West Virginia’s 3rd down opportunities last weekend in Stillwater. You’ll remember that before the season I wrote about the disparity in our 3rd down conversion rate between opportunities of 6 yards or less (50%) and 7 yards or more (25%). We need to do a better job of staying on schedule and giving ourselves 3rd and manageable this weekend if we want to send the Bears home with a loss.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL
Key players: CB Raleigh Texada, CB Kalon Barnes, LB Terrel Bernard
The Bears 2019 unit was among the best in the country in terms of both points allowed and turnovers forced. They were particularly stingy against the pass, ranking 7th nationally with 46 sacks and 2nd with just 28 explosive pass plays allowed. Baylor returns two of the guys most directly responsible for that success in corners Raleigh Texada and Kalon Barnes, but with a new coaching staff and new starters at pretty much every other position, it will be a tall task to replicate last year’s success in 2020.
Starting up front, the Bears are breaking in four new starters and have two particularly huge pairs of shoes to fill following the departures of James Lynch and Bravion Roy. Guys like TJ Franklin and Gabe Hall will have high expectations after productive freshmen seasons, but the most likely potential difference maker might just be graduate transfer William Bradley-King, who has been one of the top pass rushers in the FBS over the last two years at Arkansas State.
The linebacker group also features new starters in transfer Dillon Doyle and unproven upperclassmen Logan Ashton, but returns 2019 leading tackler Terrel Bernard, who graded out as the 5th best linebacker in the conference last year per ProFootballFocus. Amen Ongbongbemiga had 13 tackles against us last weekend in a similar role to Bernard's, so I imagine we’ll be emphasizing doing a better job getting bodies to the second level on Saturday.
The secondary sports arguably the best corner tandem in the conference in the aforementioned Texada and Barnes - both of these guys are complete players who provide as much in run support as they do in coverage. The rest of the group is relatively unproven but is extremely athletic, with safeties Jalen Pitre and Jaeron McVae looking particularly active against Kansas last weekend. Given Aranda's success on the back end at LSU and Wisconsin you have to figure he’ll have these guys playing at a consistently high level sooner rather than later, so we’ll consider it a win that we’re catching them earlier in the year as opposed to later on.
What I’m keeping an eye on: How well are we executing on in the intermediate passing game?
Last week we had a number of productive drives stall out just outside of field goal range due to some combination of poor execution and questionable play calling. Obviously we'd be singing a different tune if we'd hit a couple more of our splash plays (game of inches and all that), but the flip side of that coin is what we saw against Okie Lite - missing vertical shots on early downs can kill a drive.
Given Aranda's history and the talent they have at corner, I think we can reasonably expect Baylor to give us a heavy dose of man coverage on the outside. I expect us to counter that with a mixture of the slant packages we saw last weekend and lots of meshy/shallow cross type stuff to work their inexperienced guys underneath. We'll still need to run the ball well and take the occasional shot to keep them honest, but I think this one will be won or lost on Doege and the receivers' ability to execute on those chain-moving intermediate routes and keep drives alive.
WHEN THEY HAVE IT
Key players: QB Charlie Brewer, RB John Lovett, RB Trestan Ebner, WR RJ Sneed, WR Tyquan Thornton
With one or two exceptions, Baylor’s offensive MO since we joined the Big 12 has been to lean on teams with the run before picking spots to attack downfield in the vertical passing game. If last weekend’s game against Kansas is any indication, the status quo appears to have been maintained.
Everything starts with quarterback Charlie Brewer. Brewer maybe didn’t make the second year leap that many expected him to in 2019, but there’s certainly something to be said about him playing well enough for them to win 11 games. He’s an effective enough passer to be successful in their RPO/play action-heavy offense, but in my opinion he’s at his most dangerous when scrambling. Our front 7 will have their hands full on Saturday making sure he’s not able to break contain and extend plays.
Their two running backs, Lovett and Ebner, are their two best offensive players. Both have home run potential, and more importantly, both are outstanding in the passing game as outlets for Brewer. Out wide the two the primary weapons are receivers RJ Sneed and Tyquan Thornton. Thornton is one of the better deep threats in the conference while Sneed will be more involved in screens and underneath work, but neither are as dangerous as Denzel Mims was for them last year.
The weakness for the Bears is their situation up front. They seem to have some big, athletic bodies up there and on paper they have plenty of experience, but they actually graded out even worse than we did last year in both run blocking and pass blocking per Pro Football Focus. I have to imagine that we’re looking at the matchup as one we can potentially exploit.
What I’ll be keeping an eye on: Are we creating negative plays?
Last year we nearly pulled the upset in Waco despite giving up 453 yards because we created a ton of negative plays along the way. We were the beneficiaries of some timely turnovers and had a clutch goal line stand, as well, but the 12 TFL and 8 sacks we produced would be enough to knock any offense off its rhythm. It’s unlikely that history repeats itself in the turnover department, but it’s essential that we replicate last year’s performance, especially along the defensive front, and force Baylor into situations where they have to beat us throwing the ball.
Trestan Ebner took two of his three kickoff returns to the house against Kansas last weekend, so we’ll need our coverage units to continue their excellent early season work. The Bears also return both their kicker and their punter, so we should probably expect solid play from them in the third phase.
This will feel harsh, but I didn’t think Baylor was as good as their record last year, and with a new coaching staff and several new starters I’m expecting them to fall back to Earth a bit this year. After looking at it all week, I can’t help but feel that we’re as good or better than them at every position besides corner. Simply put, this is a game that I think we need to win if we want to call ourselves a good football team.
West Virginia 27-17 Baylor