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2020 West Virginia Opponent Preview: Baylor Bears

West Virginia v Baylor Photo by Adrian Garcia/Getty Images

The first home Big 12 game of the 2020 season will be against the Baylor Bears. If the pandemic continues to progress the way it progresses, this may be the last game of the year if we, as a nation, can’t get this illness under control. Interestingly, the Bear have chosen not to play an out-of-conference game and don’t open their season until September 26 against the Kansas Jayhawks. The Mountaineers will be their second game of the season.

In 2019, year 3 for former head coach Matt Rhule, who oversaw the transformation of the program after the dismissal of Art Briles and most of the coaching staff following a sexual misconduct scandal, the Bears went 11-3 and played the Georgia Bulldogs in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Quite an accomplishment for a team that went 1-11 two years prior.

Rhule was hired away by the NFL, taking on the head coaching duties for the Carolina Panthers. His replacement is former National Championship winning defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who helped the LSU Tigers go 15-0 last season en route to their national championship.

Key Losses

Leading wide receiver Denzel Mims has graduated and taken his 1,020 yards last season with him. Along with Mims, Chris Platt won’t be with the Bears in 2020. They combined for 13 touchdowns last season. Both players averaged over 13 yards per catch.

Running back JaMycal Hasty and his 600 yards rushing will no longer be in the backfield, leaving John Lovett to carry the load. Hasty was second on the team in rushing touchdowns with 7, behind quarterback Charlie Brewer.

Most of the losses for the Bears are along the defensive side of the ball. The biggest loss is All-American defensive end James Lynch. Lynch was a terror on the line with 13.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. His partner in crime, Bravvion Roy, who had 61 tackles and 5.5 sacks is also gone. James Lockhart is also gone and so are his 6 sacks. The Bears lose 3 players with a combined 25 sacks from last season, over half of the 46 the Bears accumulated last year.

In the secondary, safety Grayland Arnold graduated to the NFL and takes his 6 interceptions with him. In all, the 2019 Bears defense only returns two starters from a team that won 11 games, leaving new head coach Dave Aranda with a big rebuild in his first year.

Key Returners

It starts at quarterback and Charlie Brewer is now a senior. You’ll remember Brewer as the freshman who came in and nearly led the Bears to a comeback when West Virginia jumped out to a huge lead in 2017. Brewer, a 6’-1 200 pound player, had 143 rushes last season but only ran for 344 yards but 11 touchdowns. He has 16 rushing touchdowns in his career on top of his 48 career passing touchdowns.

John Lovett, the Bears leading rusher in 2019, brings his 655 yards back to the Bears. He won’t be alone though, as he will be joined by senior Trestan Ebner, sophomore Craig “Sqwirl” Williams and redshirt freshmen Qualan Jones and Jonah White.

Tyquan Thorton will be Charlie Brewer’s favorite target after catching 45 passes for over 700 yards last season. Out of the shadow of Jalen Hurds, Thorton will be looking to shine this year.

On defense, the Bears are going to be starting a lot of new faces but it will have linebacker Terrel Bernard back and his 112 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 3 fumble recoveries back to spearhead an inexperienced squad. He will be joined by Raleigh Tejada at corner.

Prediction

The Baylor game last year was possible a turning point for the squad. The defense played inspired and showed how good it could be against one of the better squads in the Big 12 last year. This year, they’ll get a Bears team that is lacking experience on the defense early in the season and at home. The Bears didn’t play Jarrett Doege last season so I’m optimistic.

Mountaineers 28 - Bears 24