Baylor’s Speed, Skill & Surprise Issues For WVU, Holgorsen
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – There’s little doubt this isn’t the Baylor of previous seasons, when its offense lit up scoreboards and opposing defenses with routine 50-plus point games.
These Bears are more grounded, preferring to run the ball out of a myriad of sets, and protect quarterback Zach Smith by giving him manageable situations. That’s a trademark of first-year head coach Matt Rhule, who was hired from Temple to restructure a renegade program that went through multiple legal and NCAA investigations for various assaults.
It also provides a challenge for West Virginia’s coaching staff, which has little history or background with the current BU staff. It makes this match-up a touch different from most in the Big 12, where the Air Raid offense and its various branches have exploded and given the league its trademark style.
“This is one of the more challenging weeks with what I have known Baylor to be and what they currently are,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “There are a lot more unknowns. From a coaching and program perspective it is a little different. We will have to make our guys aware of what the new schemes are, the coaches. I don’t have a lot of familiarity with their coaches. That’s odd in the Big 12. There’s usually a lot of knowledge from the past you can pull from. We have to do a good job researching who these guys are and what their philosophy is.”
Which is basically a multiple spread offense which likes to pull and trap along the line, backed by a run-first philosophy. Defensively, Baylor utilizes four down linemen, with two tackles and a pair of ends, and a base back seven of three linebackers and four defensive backs with no hybrid players. That’s the norm in many leagues, but not so in the Big 12, where three-down linemen – which is what WVU emplys under Tony Gibson – rule the day to enable another defender against the pass-oriented styles.
“They get into a lot of different formations,” Holgorsen said. “They want to run the ball. We have to get a feel for what they want to do. I imagine they will try to run the ball on us like several other teams have done.
“Defensively they are giving up plays because they are playing a lot of people. There’s so much three-down in this league that the four-down is a little different from what we practice every day, from what Texas Tech gave us, from what Oklahoma does. It’s more of a four-down deal which is what Kansas State and Oklahoma State does.”
The centerpiece for Baylor’s defense is weakside linebacker Taylor Young. The senior has 32 tackles over the initial six games with a pair of sacks. The two-time All-Big 12 selection was the league’s Newcomer of the Year in 2014, and has lived up to his early billing. Of now, Young ranks fourth in school history in sacks (14.5) and sixth in career tackles for loss (33). He’ll be a key on the outside, and a play-maker to watch against the Mountaineer offense.
On the flip side, quarterback Zach Smith entered the season as the reserve and took over starting duties in game three. Despite a more run-based style and playing from behind the majority of the year, Smith ranks fourth in the Big 12 in yards per completion and first in the FBS with five completions of more than 70 yards in the all-or-nothing BU style. Despite the differences in scheme, the Bears can still attack deep with athletes at receiver, and that’s one aspect WVU must eye during its prep week.
“(Smith’s) a tough kid. He was out here last year and we hit him – a lot – and he kept getting up and kept playing,” Holgorsen said. “He gave them a chance to win. He is throwing the ball well. He’s a good player. They’re still deep at running back and receiver. They still got guys who look like the ones who were there the last five years. Long, can run, fast. Not surprising. You recruit the sped they recruit around there, you are going to have guys who can stretch the field.”
Baylor’s problem has been trying to find the proper personnel fit. Rhule has played 17 true freshman this season, the fourth most nationally, while BU’s 22 first-time starters rank as the second-most in the FBS. It’s created continuity problems while depth is established that have led to an 0-6 start and a continuation of the slide from last year that has seen the program drop their last dozen contests.
Still, a night game in Waco could prove a tall task for the No. 23 Mountaineers, who are 0-2 in the venue and were barely able to hold off Baylor in last year’s regular season finale’ in a 24-21 win in Morgantown.
“I don’t mind a night game at all,” Holgorsen said. “I know everybody here wishes we would have a night game. Nothing we can do about that. But we have to do better at night. We are 0-1. Let’s change that. We are 0-2 at Waco. Lot of motivation to change that. Don’t care what their record is. We have to be prepared for a wild Homecoming atmosphere, a night home game. The last time they played there they should have beat Oklahoma. They should grab your attention, along with what they have done to us the last two times there.”