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Saturday, September 29, 12:00 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Scott Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME N OTES: The ninth-ranked West Virginia Mountaineers play their first conference game in the Big 12 this weekend, when they welcome the 25th-ranked Baylor Bears to Morgantown for a top-25 showdown at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Dana Holgorsen's Mountaineers are one of the Big 12 favorites this season and have opened with three straight wins, topping Marshall (69-34), James Madison (42-14) and most recently, Maryland (31-21).
Art Briles' Bears are also 3-0 on the young season. After posting comfortable wins over SMU (59-24) and San Houston State (48-23), Baylor almost became another upset victim of ULM, winning a shootout with the Warhawks last week, 47-42. The win was the ninth straight for Baylor, the second longest active streak in the country.
Holgorsen and Briles were both on Mike Leach's staff at Texas Tech (2000-02), but this marks the first meeting between these two and the two schools.
Baylor is once again putting up big numbers on offense, averaging 51.3 ppg on an equally impressive 568.7 yards per game. The passing game is netting 361.7 yards per game, complemented by a ground attack that is churning out 207.0 yards per outing.
The Bears are under new leadership on offense, as Heisman winner Robert Griffin III has taken his enormous talent to the NFL. Quarterback Nick Florence has been charged with filling those large shoes and has played well to this point, leading the nation in total offense at 387.7 yards per game. Florence has completed 64.5 percent of his passes, for 1,004 yards, with 11 TDs and four INTs. Florence has several targets downfield, led by the trio of Lanear Sampson (19 catches, 202 yards, two TDs), Terrance Williams (17 catches, 353 yards, four TDs) and Tevin Reese (15 receptions, 304 yards, three TDs).
The rushing attack has its own three-pronged attack, with tailbacks Jarred Salubi (221 yards, 73.7 ypg, one TD) and Glasco Martin (142 yards, 47.3 ypg, three TDs) and Florence (53.0 ypg) all making contributions.
Briles is impressed with the ground game thus far, but knows there is still room for improvement.
"I think we've been ok, we've been averaging over 200 yards a game," said Briles. "There are not many teams in America that are averaging 300 [passing yards] and 200 rushing a game. We are certainly not where we think we will be, we feel like we have some energy out there that hasn't produced yet. We certainly feel like we are going to be capable of rushing the ball better than we have been."
Defensively, the Bears have failed to keep pace, and have been generous to say the least, yielding 29.7 ppg, on a hefty 492.7 ypg. Opponents have been able to move the football both on the ground (177.7 ypg) and through the air (315.0 ypg). Despite the large gains allowed, Baylor has been able to make big plays, with 10 forced turnovers in the first three games.
Sophomore LB Bryce Hager leads the defense with 39 total tackles and two forced fumbles. Junior LBs Ahmad Dixon (26 tackles, one interception) and Eddie Lackey (25 tackles, one interception) follow.
The Mountaineers certainly have the weapons on offense to match Baylor score for score. West Virginia enters this contest ranked 13th nationally in scoring (47.3 ppg) and 15th in total offense (529.0 ypg). Most of that comes through the air, as WVU is ranked sixth nationally in passing (370.0 ypg).
Heisman hopeful Geno Smith has played as well as any quarterback in the country, completing a ridiculous 81.4 percent of his passes, for 1,072 yards, with 12 TDs and no interceptions. It certainly helps to have one of the nation's premier receiving duos to look to in Tavon Austin (34 receptions, for 345 yards, five TDs) and Stedman Bailey (28 receptions, 332 yards, five TDs).
Tailbacks Shawne Alston (6.2 ypc) and Andrew Buie (5.3 ypc) do enough on the ground to keep defenses honest.
The defense in Morgantown is a step or two behind the offense in terms of productivity. The Mountaineers are allowing just over 400 yards of offense per game (403.7), but a lot of that comes from teams trying to keep pace, averaging 281.7 yards passing. Overall, West Virginia has recorded 29 TFLs, 10 sacks and forced six turnovers.
Redshirt freshman LB Isaiah Bruce is averaging an even 10 tackles per game, leading the team with 30 stops, with 4.0 TFLs and one fumble recovery. Senior LB Terence Garvin ranks second on the team with 25 tackles and is tied with fellow senior LB Josh Francis for the team-lead in sacks with two.
Holgorsen has kept the team focused on the task at hand, that being the Baylor Bears.
"We are not playing the Big 12, we are playing Baylor. We need to do a good job because they are a quality football team," said Holgorsen at his weekly press conference. "They have won nine games in a row. I have personally competed against Baylor nine times. I know a lot about them, and I have worked with coach (Art) Briles for three years. Our team needs to get to know Baylor, what their schemes are, what their players are and what we have to do to win the game on Saturday."
Expect the Mountaineers to do just that. Baylor will bring some challenges to West Virginia, but getting this game at home and beginning league play is plenty of motivation. Smith should have another big game and if that happens, expect West Virginia to win in a high-scoring affair.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: West Virginia 40, Baylor 31
09/26 10:36:56 ET