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2021 Opponent Preview: A preseason look at the Baylor Bears

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The Mountaineers escaped with the win in a sloppy showdown in Morgantown last season. Can West Virginia upend the Bears in Waco this year?

NCAA Football: Baylor at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Series Record: 6-3, West Virginia. Baylor put it to us a couple of times early in the Big 12 era, but we largely had our way with them for the back half of the 2010s.

Last Meeting: 27-21. We managed to outlast the Bears last in Morgantown after four sloppy quarters and two overtimes. Neither team played well, with 6 turnovers and 24 penalties between us, but it has to be said that we deserved the win.

Opponent Record 2020: 2-7. It wasn’t anything approaching an ideal start for first year HC Dave Aranda with their only two wins coming against the Kansas schools. They played some other teams tough besides us, but on the whole that 2-7 mark feels representative of the quality of their football team last year.

2021 Outlook

We’ll start on the defensive side of the ball here because if the Bears’ results are to show any improvement this year it’ll be because the D dragged the offense kicking and screaming to a few wins.

Starting up front, Baylor will have to replace its most productive pass rusher in William Bradley-King, but does add interior transfer Siaki Ika who played in every game for LSU’s national championship squad as a true freshman before deciding to transfer last year. Pairing the 6’4 350lb monster with returning starter Gabe Hall should make the Bears much tougher to move off the line of scrimmage.

Linebacker is the strength of the defense (and the team). Jalen Pitre was outstanding as their Star backer last year and will combine with 2nd team All-Big 12 performer Terrell Bernard inside to give the Bears one of the best 1-2 punches in conference. Ashton Logan and Dillon Doyle round out an extremely solid second level.

The secondary will be experienced if not overly talented, with corner Raleigh Texada returning as the standout performer. Kalon Barnes is back on the other side, though it has to be said that he’s always been more of a great athlete as opposed to a great football player.

On the other side of the ball, the addition of BYU OC Jeff Grimes should boost things a bit and the offensive line should be about average, but question marks at QB and a dearth of skill position talent limits their ceiling.

The two guys competing for the starting quarterback job are Jacob Zeno and Gerry Bohanon. Who wins the competition will likely come down to the style that Grimes wants to play – if he wants to run zone read and RPO they’ll likely go with Bohanon, but if he wants to go with more of a vertical passing attack they’ll likely go with Zeno.

The marquee returners elsewhere include running back Trestan Ebner and receivers RJ Sneed and Tyquan Thornton. Ebner was below average as a runner last year (just 2.3ypc) but flashed some explosiveness in the kick return game and as a receiver out of the backfield. It’ll be interesting to see how that productivity translates this year with higher usage and more consistent touches.

Sneed and Thornton both have the physical tools to be better than they actually are, but it’s difficult to pinpoint how much of that should be attributed to the quality of quarterback play. Sneed will act as more of the possession type while Thornton is a pure deep threat who averaged about 18 yards per catch last year.

Game Outlook

The Baylor defense mucked up the game and kept things close last year, and considering the number of guys they have back on defense you have to concede that they may be able to do the same again this year. The difference is going to have to come in our quarterback play. 2020 Baylor was arguably Jarrett Doege’s worst game of the season until the bowl game, with a pair of interceptions and fumbles and at least a few more of turnover-worthy plays that he got away with. If he (or whoever the quarterback may be) is even marginally better this year then I don’t think this one should be all that close. Baylor’s offense last next to nothing last year even though their defense consistently gave them the ball with a short field, and regardless of who the quarterback is this year he won’t be much of an upgrade from Charlie Brewer (if at all). I think 20 points should be enough to win this one, and if the passing game hype coming out of camp is to be believed we shouldn’t have all that much trouble getting there.