MORGANTOWN, W.Va.– After suffering two straight losses by ranked opponents the West Virginia Mountaineers will travel to Waco, Texas on Saturday to take on the No. 2 Baylor Bears.
This is the fourth year these two teams have played and WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen gives his coaching opponent a lot of credit.
“It seems like they are in a good position with their program,” he said. “I think Art (Briles) has been there for eight or nine years now. He has done a good job with building that place up to where they are recruiting at a very high level. They are recruiting really good players. They are doing a good job of developing them as well.”
Holgorsen is well aware of the talent Baylor posses offensively.
“With them, everything starts offensively,” he said. “With Art being an offensive guy, it’s the same stuff with only a few more experienced and talented guys. I hate to say it, they have more talented guys. They put four or five receivers and several quarterbacks in the league the last few years.”
Holgorsen knows Baylor’s junior quarterback Seth Russell is a big threat.
“He understands the offense,” he said. “He knows what to do. He is mobile for how big he is, and he can throw when he needs too. Their whole offense starts with the run game, and you have to have a quarterback that understands that.”
Holgorsen sees a lot of similarities in Russell and last year’s quarterback Bryce Petty.
They are both big,” he said. “They are both physical. They are both smart. They both have live arms. Seth is probably a better runner. When he gets out, he can hurt you with his feet.”
Baylor also has a strong running game, featuring three of the Big 12’s best backs.
“They have three great backs,” Holgorsen said. “Everyone wants to talk about (junior running back) Shock Linwood, but the other two are pretty good as well. They keep rotating backs in there.
“That’s a pretty difficult position to have one guy carry the load. Especially when you are running the ball 66 percent of the time, which is what they are doing. ”
Baylor’s offense has been so success partly due to an experienced offensive line.
“They have a bunch of big, old linemen,” Holgorsen said. “All their guys are back. They have four or five seniors, if you count the tight end. They have a junior as well. All those guys have played. They have good experience, and they know what to do. They are going to try to pound you.
“They are going to make you put more people in the box to where you have to stop the run. When that happens, they look for one-on-one matchups with what is probably the deepest receiving core in the country, or maybe even several decades. They have a lot of guys that can make plays downfield.”
Holgorsen believes Baylor’s offense is simple, but it’s successful because they believe in it.
“They believe in what they do, and they just keep doing it,” he said. “When you’re at a place for a long time things continue to get better. Your recruiting continues to get better. When you do the same thing over and over again with better players it typically works out pretty good for you. They have obviously hit on some guys as well. They have real good stability, real good commitment from the administration, and they continue to get better.”
While Baylor is known for its offense, Holgorsen knows the Mountaineers have to be prepared to see one of the Bears’ best defenses in recent years.
“Defensively, they have made more strides in the four years that we have played them than anywhere else,” he said. “They are at a point where they are shutting some people down. Their numbers are better than they have been in the past. They have eight or nine starters back from last year’s team.”
“They have a big, physical defensive line that is led by one of the best players in college football (junior defensive tackle) Andrew Billings. He is one of the best nose tackles in the league. They have the same two corners that we went against last year. They have the same two safeties and one of the two linebackers are back.”
Billings and defensive end Shawn Oakman anchor the Baylor defense and are a force to reckon with.
Turnovers and penalties were detrimental for WVU against both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
“Two years ago, we didn’t commit a turnover (against Oklahoma State),” Holgorsen said. “We didn’t put our defense in bad situations. We didn’t give them points. This year, if the three fumbles didn’t happen in the first half, we would’ve led the game 9-7 at halftime.”
Holding on to the ball is something the Mountaineers are working hard on this week.
“We are going to keep stressing to the guys about ball security,” Holgorsen said.” We are going to work them hard in drills, and we are going to coach them hard. I can assure that we made them understand that that loses football games.”
Holgorsen admitted that blitzing is something WVU will have to do Saturday against Baylor.
“You have to,” he said. “You have to do what you have to do to get there. If you just rush three, then their o-line will give that guy 20 seconds to throw the ball. You have to do whatever you have to do to get pressure. They are big and physical upfront. They are going to protect with a tight end at times and a back as well.”
WVU fans saw redshirt freshman William Crest Jr. in a new role against Oklahoma State, and he could be back out there in a similar role against Baylor.
” We will see how he does in practice today,” Holgorsen said. “He got banged up. That’s the downside of it when you take a guy that you are trying to develop as a quarterback. Playing those snaps, understanding the offense and understanding football is good for him, but he is going to be tackled and hit as well. He took some shots. We will see how he is today, and we will see what he can do.”
With junior quarterback Skyler Howard struggling, fans are curious to why Crest hasn’t been given a shot, but Holgorsen doesn’t believe he is ready to take over the reigns.
“He’s a redshirt freshman,” he said. “He’s taking reps. He has to continue to understand what I want him to do with the ball and where I want him to put his eyes. He has to make the appropriate checks in the run game. There are some certain things that No. 3 (Skyler Howard) does that nobody sees.
“What he sees allows us to get to a point where we are rushing for 200 plus yards a game. William has to understand offensive football. He has to keep putting his eyes and his feet where they need to be and throw accurate balls.”
Holgorsen believes one of Howard’s biggest problems is that he is rushing things. Howard’s heart is in the game, but he has to fix the mistakes.
“He cares, and he does good things in the run game,” Holgorsen said. “He’s done what we asked him to do in the past, but he has to do that all the time. If he can’t do it all the time, then we have to find someone that can.
“That’s the bottom line. That’s what we work on. We watched the film, and we told him that this isn’t what it needs to look like. We have to get out there and practice it. There are things you can do in practice that simulate that. We will force him to put his eyes where they need to be, settle the feet and throw the ball accurately. It has to go from point A to point B. That’s on him. We’ll coach his technique up.”
Wendell Smallwood didn’t practice prior to the Oklahoma State game and is still banged up.
“He plays his butt off. He didn’t practice at all,” Holgorsen said. “He was cramping up during the game, but he’s going to get out there and do what he can do. We practiced last night, and he was out there limping around again. We’ll see what he can do today.”
WVU and Baylor will square off at noon on Fox.