Early Conference Defeat Makes Baylor A Must-Win For Title Hopes
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s comeback against Texas Tech left it sitting in a five-way tie for second place in the Big 12.
That it’s the most competitive and balanced year in WVU’s history in the league also sets up an intriguing final six weeks, with games remaining against the likes of No. 10 Oklahoma State, No. 9 Oklahoma and a pair of tough tilts against Texas and Kansas State. Add in the 8 p.m. kick time at Baylor this week – a place the Mountaineers have never won – and there isn’t a surefire win left on the slate.
“You can’t look past anybody,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “I am aware of what the record is, but you turn on the video – we have a past with these guys – and it’s a lot of the same guys who lined up for Art (Briles) down in Waco two years ago. That thing went down to the wire up here last year. They have a bunch of players running around there, and they play really well at home.”
Baylor (0-6, 0-3) is off to its worst start since 1969. While program hasn’t truly fallen to the historic depths of despair – the Bears failed to win more than three games in nine of 11 seasons before the arrival of Briles in 2008 – it’s in a rocky rebuilding mode under first-year head coach Matt Rhule. Unlike West Virginia, however, BU has already ran through a pair of top 10 teams in OU and OSU, and that’s given the team a belief that it can turn the second half of the season into a success starting Saturday.
What the means for the Mountaineers (4-2, 2-1), fresh off a momentum-building win, is an underrated test in a venue in which WVU has dropped two games by scores of 73-42 and 62-38. That’s a combined 135 points over two games, including the second-most ever allowed by a West Virginia defense dating to a 130-0 defeat at Michigan in 1904.
“It’s all about Baylor and we better be ready to go,” Holgorsen said. “If you have aspirations of playing in that championship Saturday, you can’t afford to lose. Once you have lost it makes it that much harder, which we already have. It’s a competitive league. Who knows? TCU is the only undefeated team right now in the league. There are a lot of good teams out there and every game will be competitive.
“I’ve been here since 2000 and I’ve never seen this kind of parity. It’s the same week-in and week-out. We have to line up every week and play. You do need some things like health and breaks in order to continue to win.”
WVU quarterback Will Grier was named the Big 12 Newcomer and Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 352 yards and a career-best tying five touchdowns in the 46-35 comeback victory over then-No. 24 Texas Tech. It marked the sixth straight 300-yard passing game for Grier, who completed 32-of-41 passes. Grier’s 21 touchdown passes tie for the national lead, while his 2,092 yards rank ninth.
He’s also been incredibly efficient, with a 167.8 rating. That’s good for eighth in the FBS. Grier’s yardage total at the halfway point of the season still ranks as the 13th-most in school history with six games remaining, and he’s on pace to finish third behind a pair of 4,200-plus yard performances by Geno Smith. His 21 pass TDs tie for seventh in school history and are on pace to exceed Smith’s 42 scores in 2012 if the Mountaineers reach a bowl game.
“I don’t know if I have been around a guy who is as accurate as him,” Holgorsen said. “We chart bad throws and bad decisions and he doesn’t have many of them. He is a very intelligent guy. He may rush some throws and throw incompletions and you ask him why he did it and he has answers. Most of the incompletions are a result of dropped passes or poor protection. He does a good job of not taking negative plays. I don’t know if I have been around (a quarterback) who is more accurate.”