The Times West Virginian

Sports

October 3, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Potent Baylor offense even better than last year

MORGANTOWN — Before we immerse you completely into the challenge that awaits West Virginia University this week in Waco, Texas, which is the Baylor Bears football team, we think it is best we make you aware of three facts.

1. Baylor’s offense has not had a three-and-out this season.

2. Baylor’s defense has scored more points than it has given up.

3. West Virginia punter Nick O’Toole has punted more times in three separate games this season than Baylor’s punter has had to punt in all the Bears’ games combined.

We might add one other fact. The good Lord willing and a strong tail wind and WVU will still show up for this Saturday’s 8 p.m. game.

You might remember Baylor from a season ago. They came to Morgantown, a year removed from having Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III quarterbacking them, to introduce West Virginia to Big 12 play … and quite an introduction it was.

The Bears scored 63 points on West Virginia.

That they didn’t win tells you all you needed to know about both teams last season.

This year, believe it or not, Baylor’s offense seems improved, which is a statement WVU cannot make.

The Bears’ three games – albeit against a grade school, a middle school and a sub-.500 high school, or some facsimile thereof — have seen them score 69.7 points a game while giving up 7 a game.

There is no typographical error there. In the nation, they rank No. 1 in scoring, No. 5 in rushing, No. 1 in passing, No. 1 in total offense, No. 1 in passing efficiency, No. 3 in turnover margin, No.1 in tackles for loss, No. 4 in punt return defense (not very good news considering that WVU ranks No. 102 in punt returns) and No. 1 in red zone offense.

They have been, for lack of a better word, fabuspectacufantasic.

“It should be a fun game in Waco on Saturday night,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen acknowledged. “When you get right down to Baylor, obviously it’s about some offense. Knowing coach (Art) Briles and what he does offensively, and the offense they’ve put on the field over the course of the season, it’s pretty impressive what they’re doing.”

Of course, one might temper that by asking the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

When Baylor steps on the field it will be after having played just one game in 27 days. Considering that most coaches dislike so much as a single off week when going well, one can only imagine what they think of two of them in three weeks.

Don’t expect Briles to whine about it, however.

“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,” he said.

“So from that standpoint, we’re certainly ready to go, and

we certainly have a lot of respect for West Virginia. They’re an extremely talented football team that seems to be playing really well, especially coming off last week.”

Baylor coming off a lot of time off and no real challenges adds to the intrigue of the game, especially with WVU coming off the stunning upset of Oklahoma State and already having played a good Oklahoma team tough on the road.

A 27.5-point spread seems to be giving Baylor more credit than it has proven it deserves and giving WVU less respect than it has proven it deserves, but this really is a difficult matchup to figure out.

Perhaps it was Briles who put it best.

“Every game is different, of course. It’s all about matchups in football, just as it is in any sport — how do you match up with the other team?” the Baylor coach said. “If you look at the two losses they have against Oklahoma and Maryland, those are two undefeated football teams and both games were on the road.

“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.’”

As much as Baylor’s defense has improved, WVU’s has improved even more, for Baylor took steps forward at the end of last year that WVU did not.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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