West Virginia will be back home Saturday hosting the Baylor Bears as they look to recoup after taking their first loss of the season on the road last season to No. 15 Oklahoma State. The action kicks off at noon ET on ABC.
The all-time series between West Virginia and Baylor only dates back to the Mountaineers’ entrance into the Big 12 Conference in 2012. Short as it may be, the rivalry got off to a bombastic start with a 70-63 track meet which saw Geno Smith throw for 656 yards and more touchdowns (6) than incomplete passes (5).
There have been plenty of other exciting installments in subsequent seasons, including the Mountaineers’ home upset over the fourth-ranked Bears in 2014, and the 17-14 nail-biting Baylor win last season.
The 2019 contest was seized by the Stills brothers, especially the elder Darius, who busted through the Bears’ line for three sacks and 10 total tackles.
“I want to make sure I say this. Stills — 56 — he’s one of the best players we’ve played against,” said former Baylor coach Matt Rhule after last year’s meeting. “This kid…is everything that I thought he was going to be. And [Dante], his brother, lights out.”
Since he said those words, Rhule headed for the coast and is now on the sidelines of the Carolina Panthers along with West Virginia alumni Will Grier and Rasul Douglas — and this weekend’s matchup is reportedly on all three of their radars.
The Mountaineers enter this contest on the heels of their 27-13 road loss to Oklahoma State, but still maintain a 1-1 record. The Bears, however, have played just one game after two games were forced to be postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. They ended up winning their first game, a 47-14 victory over Kansas in Waco.
This matchup will also showcase two of the newest and highly-anticipated coaches in the Big 12: Baylor’s first-year head coach Dave Aranda and WVU’s second-year head coach Neal Brown.
Here are some of the top storylines ahead of this matchup:
Run, Baylor, Run
Just one game into the Dave Aranda era and Baylor looks to be a change of pace in Big 12 football — literally.
In their season opener, the Bears rushed for 203 yards — 54 more yards than Charlie Brewer’s passing total (149 yards and a touchdown). This wasn’t indicative of a struggle in the pass game, but rather a strong run game.
“With the talent they have at running back, people try to get their best players the ball and those running backs are special,” Brown said. “So we do anticipate them coming in and establishing the run.”
John Lovett was the Bears’ main ballcarrier, with 17 touches for 78 yards and a touchdown — but they have an entire corps of capable backs which includes Craig Williams and Travis Ebner, who both combined for 96 and two touchdowns on the ground.
Ebner will be a threat for West Virginia in special teams, which means the…
14 of Baylor’s points came off of Travis Ebner kick returns, which demonstrates how dire it is for the Mountaineers to stay on their toes on every play this week.
West Virginia lost plenty of opportunities due to simple mistakes against Oklahoma State, especially on special teams. They missed out on three points in the second quarter on a dropped field goal snap, and by the final whistle, WVU had committed 12 penalties for 106 yards — almost doubling their averages from a season before.
Many of those flags proved to be critical, killing drives and negating large chunk plays.
“Where we’re at right now as a program, we cannot beat ourselves, whether that’s turnovers, missed assignments, or penalties,” said Neal Brown.
Quarterbacks and Texas natives Jarret Doege and Charlie Brewer go way back, as does their connection to Neal Brown, who coached both of their brothers at Texas Tech.
“I used to go to camps, me and Charlie Brewer used to go — and Neal would take us down to the stadium, and it would just be me and him throwing and Coach Brown would just be evaluating just us two,” Doege recalled.
This week, the two signal callers will meet on a Big 12 field for the first time in Morgantown — but Brown is hoping to see a little more out of his starting quarterback, who had 285 yards and a touchdown last week.
“He missed some throws. He did some things uncharacteristically of him. What I mean by that is he had his eyes placed wrong,” Brown said. “He usually does a really nice job with his footwork, but in the pocket he got his feet crossed up a couple of times and missed some throws. So, he has to play better and there is no doubt in my mind he will bounce back and have a solid performance this week.”
That’s not to say Brown lost any confidence in his quarterback — in fact, he expects him to bounce back this weekend against Baylor.
Brown also had high praise for his opposing quarterback, calling him a “winner.”
“That’s about as good a compliment I could give,” Brown said. “He’s a winner and he’s won at every level, comes from a winning family.”
Where to watch
Action between West Virginia and Baylor gets underway at noon ET on ABC. You can also watch the action on WatchESPN.
Be sure to start your Saturday with Gold and Blue Nation. The Neal Brown Show airs on West Virginia Nexstar stations at 9 a.m., followed by the live Mountaineer GameDay pre-game show, which features Anjelica Trinone live at the stadium with Nick Farrell and Amanda Mazey at the stadium.