By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
West Virginia University vs. Baylor.
Need we say more?
A year ago it was 70-63, West Virginia, in the wildest game ever played in Mountaineer Field.
Will this be a repeat?
In a way, save for the winner, Baylor hopes so.
The Bears score points – 69.7 of them a game this year with the nation’s most prolific offense.
Of course, they played perhaps the nation’s most pathetic schedule, so who knows?
WVU does not score as it did a year ago, for it is without the departed trio of Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. Smith threw for 656 yards and eight touchdowns in last year’s Baylor game.
Not to be outdone, Baylor quarterback Nick Florence threw for 581 yards.
Bailey caught passes for 303 yards … and wasn’t the days leading receiver for Baylor’s Terrence Williams caught passes for 314 yards.
Florence is gone and so is Williams, leading to the question, who knows what will happen?
Certainly the Bears have filled their holes with quarterback Bryce Petty and receiver Antwan Goodley, while running back Lache Seastrunk is a Heisman Trophy candidate.
It’s the way they do things at Baylor.
“He’s replacing the guys with others who have already been in the program,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said of Baylor coach Art Briles. “Robert Griffin III was replaced with (Nick) Florence, who was a fifth-year senior and very experienced. When they lost a receiver to the NFL, they replaced him with Terrance Williams. He leaves, and they replace him with this (Antwan) Goodley kid. They’re all players who have been in the program.
“They don’t quick fix it like we had to do because we didn’t have the numbers,” Holgorsen continued, referring to bringing in transfers like Clint Trickett, who starts at quarterback, or Charles Sims, the top running back, or junior college and freshman receivers. “They’ve got guys who have been in the program, and when those guys leave they replace them with guys who have been sitting in those meetings and practicing with them over the course of however many years.”
The teams are similar in that both rebuilt their defenses, Baylor’s turning point being the WVU game while it took WVU until the off-season to let Keith Patterson take full control of the defense and for a number of freshmen and JC players, to say nothing of seniors like Darwin Cook, Shaq Rowell and Will Clarke to come of age.
WVU believes it can limit Baylor’s scoring machine.
Rowell, the nose tackle, was asked why this year’s game would be different. This is how he put it:
“Because I’m a senior. It’s my last time here, and I’m just going to sell out and give it my all.”
It is difficult to doubt the WVU defense is better. It comes into the game off limiting Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to 17 and 21 points and actually upsetting No. 11 Oklahoma State. Baylor, on the other hand comes into the game off … well, off being off, having played just once in 27 days.
“We’re glad to be back in the game. The thing about these open dates early in the season is that you feel like you’re just starting and stopping, and that’s kind of the way we feel right now without question. But the good thing is that our guys are fresh, energized and anxious, and when you’re anxious to do something then you usually have a lot of anticipation and get out there and do it,” Briles said.
“Oklahoma State came into their place, hadn’t been there since 1928, and West Virginia does a great job of putting on a home crowd and a home environment and did a great job of protecting their house. They really played well Saturday on both sides of the ball.”
And, the fact that WVU is playing so well on the defensive side of the ball, as is Baylor, makes one suspect that 70-63 does not await the full house that will be on hand Saturday night.
“Defensively, they’ve shown a whole lot of improvement,” Holgorsen said of Baylor. “It is about the same guys that we faced when they were here last year. They haven’t changed a whole lot.
“Any time you bring back seven starters like Oklahoma State did last week on defense, they were tough. Baylor’s defense is similar. They have seven or eight starters, who have taken a bunch of snaps. Coach (Phil) Bennett has been there for a while and has been speaking the same language to these guys. They created nine turnovers, and they’ve scored five or six times on defense. When I’m watching the tape I think, ‘Geez, there’s another touchdown for their defense.’”
Is West Virginia ready for the challenge?
“It’s a new week; it’s Baylor; it’s a tough team,” linebacker Jared Barber said. “(They’re) definitely good offensively. We still have a chip on our shoulder, and people still are not giving us much respect. I think we are a four-touchdown underdog. We just have to go out and play hard.”
And Baylor maintains it will not be surprised by WVU the way Oklahoma State was.
“We’re going to play them like we do everybody else. Everybody’s a threat. We’re going to treat them like a threat, and we’re going to win games,” Seastrunk said.
Petty says they can score what they did a year ago … and maybe more.
“You never want to think of football as a revenge type of game,” he said. “We are ready to go out there. Even though we did score 63 points last year, there were still points left out there. As a team a couple things just didn’t go our way, but I thought we played really well being in that atmosphere. Opening up Big 12 at home against them, it needs to be a win for us for sure.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.