MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - The test that West Virginia's defense faces Saturday from the offense of No. 17 Baylor is one the Mountaineers would have flunked a year ago.
In fact, it's one they did flunk.
Sure, WVU managed to win, but no 70-63 football victory has ever been credited to great defense. The Mountaineers gave up 700 yards of total offense and nine touchdowns. Get this: West Virginia had a receiver, Stedman Bailey, who had 13 catches for 303 yards and he wasn't even the most productive pass-catcher on the field. That's because WVU's own notoriously inept pass defense allowed Terrance Williams 17 catches for 314 yards.
Don't look now, but Baylor's offense has improved since last season. The Bears are, in round figures, averaging 751 yards and 70 points.
West Virginia's defense, though, is no longer inept. In fact, through the first five games of the season, a defense that was routinely abused last season has yet to be even mildly embarrassed this season. Oklahoma scored but 16 points and Oklahoma State only 21. Maryland got 37, but largely because the WVU offense handed out scoring opportunities.
The West Virginia defense is playing with confidence and energy and is succeeding.
"Yeah, that's obviously true,'' coach Dana Holgorsen said. "But we'll see how they do this week playing the best offense in college football in Baylor."
Indeed, that's another kind of test.
West Virginia (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) faces Baylor (3-0, 0-0) Saturday night in Waco, Texas. The 8 p.m. (ET) game will be televised by Fox Sports 1.
That's where the Mountaineers will be tested perhaps in a way they won't be tested again this season. Perhaps no offense ever has had some of the off-the-charts numbers Baylor's posting this season. In additions to those averages of 751.3 yards and 69.7 points per game, consider:
What chance does a defense have if it can't even get to third down? That's the challenge that faces West Virginia. It's a challenge last year's defense would have had no chance of answering. This year? Well, they have as good a chance as most anyone else.
What a difference a year makes.
"Yeah, it does. But we're not playing 10 true freshmen now,'' Holgorsen said. "That's probably the biggest difference.''