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WEST VIRGINIA FOOTBALL PREVIEW - West Virginia Mountaineers at Baylor Bears

The Bears are down bad. Let's do the honorable thing and put them out of their misery.

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

OPENING THOUGHTS

Well gang, it's been a fun one. A bit of a rollercoaster and definitely not everything it could've been, but better than a lot of us (you, not me) expected. Dare I say, it's felt like a bit of a Climb™️?

RDN still has a good bit of work to do to win back a significant contingent of Mountaineer Nation, but based on what we've seen since October, it's hard not to look at 2024 with some level of optimism. Offensively, we'll return one of the best quarterbacks in the league, one of the best running back tandems, a trio of promising young receivers, and an offensive line that performed pretty well despite battling injuries for the majority of the season. Defensively, the majority of the front 6 will be back and will get a boost with Lathan and Trotter returning from injury. There will be some holes to plug on the back end, but hopefully we find those easier to plug at 8 or 9 wins than we did at 5. Either way, with Oklahoma and Texas out of the way the path should be wide open for this team to push for a conference title.

WHEN/WHERE

Date: November 25th, 2023

Kickoff: 7:00PM EST

Where: Waco, TX

WATCH/LISTEN

Live: FS1

Streaming: Fox Sports app

Radio: Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG (Radio Affiliates) | WVU Gameday App (Apple | Android)

Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), and Jed Drenning (sideline)

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DEGENERATION STATION

Spread: West Virginia -8.5

ML: WVU +320

Over/Under: 55.5

The line opened at -6, which feels like highway robbery. Kudos to you if you got in anywhere under a touchdown.

WEATHER FORECAST

Partly cloudy - high 62/47 low - Wind 8 mph

Not a bad way to wrap the season.

THE ENEMY

Where are they from: Waco, TX

All-time Series: 7-4. A series dominated by the home team, with the one outlier being our 38-36 win in Waco in 2017.

The Last Time We Played: West Virginia 43-40 Baylor. An exciting Thursday night affair that was arguably the high point of an otherwise crappy season.

Head coach: Dave Aranda (4th season, 23-24). How the mighty have fallen? Crazy to think Aranda won the conference and coach of the year and still might get fired before RDN.

2023 record: 3-8 (2-6). An absolute dumpster fire of a season for Baylor. The Bears are 4 points away from being 1-10 with a win over Long Island.

WOMEN LIE, MEN LIE, NUMBERS DON’T

1 - JaHIM White's 93.7 run grade and 8.2 yards per carry both lead FBS backs with at least 80 rushing attempts this year. Lock his ass in a Brinks truck with any and everything his little heart desires, then stash the truck in a secret underground bunker until next fall.

14 - Baylor’s rank among Big 12 teams in - inhales - rushing yards per game, yards per carry, explosive runs, TFL allowed, sacks allowed, points allowed, opponent passer rating, and explosive pass % allowed. A very balanced football team.

216 - Yards lost on 28 sacks in conference play by the Bears, about 7.7 per sack. Yikes.

15.6 - The average margin of loss for the Bears in Big 12 play, the worst in the conference.

WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL - LINEBACKERS IN CONFLICT

Mountaineers to Watch: QB6 Garrett Greene, RB22 Jaheim White, RB4 CJ Donaldson, WR2 Rodney Gallagher, WR7 Traylon Ray, TE87 Kole Taylor

Bears to Watch: DE95 Gabe Hall, LB2 Matt Jones, CB19 Caden Jenkins, CB15 Carl Williams

I'm not saying this to take the piss, but it really is hard to single out any strengths on Baylor's defense. The front 6 has no pop, and even the corners, who are grading out well individually, are still part of a pass defense that gives up explosive plays at a higher rate than any in the Big 12. However, I think it's their weaknesses at linebacker and safety that give us a massive advantage, as the zone read/RPO stuff that ripped BYU and Cincinnati to shreds should again be gravy (Thanksgiving pun!). My recommendation would be to avoid being overly respectful of who they are and what they do and instead focus on executing what we do. If we can avoid shooting ourselves in the foot I don't think they keep us under 40.

WHEN THEY HAVE THE BALL - MASSACRE THE POPULACE

Bears to Watch: QB ?, RB21 Dominic Richardson, WR80 Monaray Baldwin, TE89 Drake Dabney

Mountaineers to Watch: DE91 Sean Martin, DE3 Tomi Durojaiye, LB1 Lee Kpogba, CB11 Beanie Bishop

Baylor's offense has scored the second fewest points in the conference, only three teams have gained fewer yards, and nobody has run the ball worse. Simply put, they're bad, and now one of their few bright spots - QB Blake Shapen - is seemingly out with a head injury.

The problems start up front, as the core of the offensive line that plowed the way to the 2021 Big 12 Championship is now completely gone, and the group that remains leaks defenders like a seive. I say start, however, because none of their skill players have shown the ability to Dude Up enough to overcome those issues and take over a game.

If you're looking for things to be concerned about, the raw passing numbers (273 yards on 40 attempts per game) are impressive enough on the surface, but when you pop the hood and take a closer look it seems that's more a function of necessary volume than it is them being overly explosive or efficient (read: they can't run it well enough to stay on schedule and therefore have to pass frequently). And again, no Shapen this week. Overall, I'd put these guys up there with Pitt and BYU as the worst we've played. Should be a sack party.

X-FACTOR - DON'T BLOW OUR OWN LEGS OFF WITH A BAZOOKA

At a bit of a loss here as I don't see this being a close enough to be decided by X factors, especially if we play clean football. So maybe it's play clean football? Don't turn it over, don't halt our drives with penalties, don't extend theirs with penalties, etc.

FEAR FACTOR

1 out of 10. This is maybe the worst P5 team we’ve played this year, and that's saying something. Baylor is not a team that I see putting up a fight if we go down there throwing haymakers.

PREDICTION

These dudes are bad in all the same ways as the teams we've had our way with this year. The offense struggles to run the ball, the offensive line struggles to protect the passer, the defense can't stop the run, and the secondary gives up a high rate of explosives in the passing game. Check, check, check, checkmate. There's a reason they're 3-8, and if we play anything approaching our A game we should be able to name the score. Eers by at least two touchdowns. Happy Thanksgiving gang, and LFG.

West Virginia 48-16 Baylor