West Virginia-Baylor preview
The No. 2-ranked Baylor Bears host the West Virginia Mountaineers in a Big 12 clash on Saturday. West Virginia looks to play spoiler again after dashing Baylor’s playoff dreams a season ago. Saturday morning in Waco should feature a great matchup between a high-powered offense and a slumping—but potent—defense.
Baylor owns PFF’s No. 1 offense (+110.7) by a large margin. Every unit is loaded for the Bears, but the offensive line may be the most impressive. They have our best pass blocking (+31.0) and run blocking (+53.7) grades. The most decorated of the bunch is three-year starter and left tackle Spencer Drango (+16.4). Kyle Fuller (+15.0) is our third-highest graded center and is a major catalyst for this offense, which is averaging a nation’s best 64 points per game.
The skill positions for the Bears stack up among the best in the country, as well. Corey Coleman leads the NCAA in receiving touchdowns and is PFF’s fourth-ranked wide receiver (+10.0). Junior running back Shock Linwood was first-team All-Big 12 in 2014, and is PFF’s seventh-ranked RB. He paces Baylor with 719 yards on the ground and seven touchdowns through five games. Both of these position groups are deep with talent and have capable players ready to advance the ball.
The signal-caller for Baylor is junior Seth Russell. The dual-threat QB continues a strong line of quarterback play in recent Waco history. He’s been especially lethal 20+ yards down the left sideline, where he’s thrown for 276 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. He has jumped out to large leads and ceded playing time to backup Jarrett Stidham at times, which has pushed his numbers down slightly.
The Mountaineers suffered a major blow when four-year starting safety and the leader of the defense, Karl Joseph, went down with a knee injury. The leading candidate for Big 12 defensive player of the year is not easy to replace, but fill-in Jarrod Harper did an admirable job in his first start against Oklahoma State last week. The junior safety earned a +1.9 grade, and will be counted on to fill a major void going forward.
The highest-graded player on this defense is senior linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski (+16.5). The preseason first-team All-Big 12 selection is a force stopping the run, and leads the team with two sacks. Joining him in the linebacker corps are fellow seniors Shaq Petteway and Jared Barber. The experience between these three is a major benefit, and helped limit their three non-conference opponents to 23 points combined.
The West Virginia defensive line is anchored by senior nose tackle Kyle Rose (+13.6). He eats up space in the running game and has an impressive 15 stops on the year. The other highly-graded player on this unit is sophomore defensive end Noble Nwachukwu. He has the highest pass rush grade (+4.8) on the team, and they will need him to collapse the pocket against Baylor this week.
Baylor’s offense wins if:
They follow the script that’s earned them the most impressive offense title thus far. If their offensive line can continue to get movement and dominate like they’ve done in every game, this will be a short afternoon. Russell has to exploit the Karl Joseph injury when they need a big play through the air. If the Mountaineers decide to load the box up to stop the run, Russell needs to find Coleman early and often.
West Virginia’s defense wins if:
They stop the run and force Baylor to convert long third downs. Russell hasn’t had to carry the offense like past quarterbacks have. If the Mountaineers’ defensive backs can hold up in single coverage and allow the front seven (or eight) to focus on the run, they may be able to stun the Bears for the second season in a row.
Prediction: Baylor over West Virginia
The Mountaineers will not sneak up on the Bears again. This is arguably the most complete Baylor team in school history, and the offense is clicking on all cylinders. While West Virginia will hold this high-powered offense under their season average, this won’t be a close game. The Bears hang 45 points on the overmatched Mountaineers and cruise to a comfortable victory in front of their home crowd.