Another WVU-Baylor shootout?
WACO, Texas - The last time West Virginia and Baylor played, a mere 60 minutes of football produced 1,507 yards of offense, 133 points, 19 touchdowns, 67 first downs, two 300-yard receivers, another 200-yard pass catcher and two quarterbacks who combined for more than 1,200 passing yards.
There were 194 plays, only four of which were punts.
That type of offensive explosiveness is but a distant memory for West Virginia, which has already suffered a shutout and a seven-point performance in five games this season. Although they have been better of late, the thought that the Mountaineers could come anywhere in the zip code of those numbers again seems preposterous.
Baylor? The Bears this season are pretty much averaging the kind of numbers they put up in that game. In fact, they are exceeding them with norms of almost 70 points and over 750 total yards in three games.
All of which begs perhaps one basic question where tonight's game between the teams is concerned: Can the Mountaineers stop it from becoming another shootout? Because it would seem they are at a distinct disadvantage on that front this time around.
The answer comes at 8 p.m. (ET) today when West Virginia (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) faces No. 17 Baylor (3-0, 0-0) at Floyd Casey Stadium here. The game will be televised by Fox Sports 1.
In truth, Baylor has not faced the most challenging of schedules, so the outrageous numbers the Bears have put up so far are perhaps a bit of a mirage. They are at least suspect, what with the opposition being Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe.
Still, West Virginia played arguably even lighter competition in William & Mary and Georgia State and scored a combined 24 first-half points in the two games combined. Baylor is averaging 46.3 points per game in the first half and then generally has turned things over to the backups.
West Virginia's defense has improved, but it's a long shot that the Mountaineers will be able to contain Baylor. It's just the nature of the Bears' offense, which has an active streak of 30 games with at least 400 yards of total offense. That's twice as many as any other school currently has.
"It's just how they play,'' said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen, whose team faced an up-tempo offense last week against Oklahoma State, but nothing like this. "It wasn't the only high-scoring game that they were in last year and it wasn't our only one, either. It's kind of how they play. They're much more up-tempo than Oklahoma State. We pushed the ball last week, but not as much as we did last year.''
It's not that Holgorsen and the Mountaineers don't want to push the tempo, but while using three different, inexperienced starting quarterbacks in the first five games - not to mention an entirely different group of skill-position players from a year ago - just executing the offense has been a challenge.
Florida State transfer Clint Trickett gets his second start tonight and perhaps that will help. But the fact remains that Baylor is far more polished on offense than West Virginia and will score some points. Can WVU's defense limit the Bears enough that the Mountaineer offense can make it a game?
That Baylor is a four-touchdown favorite seems to indicate most think not.
For Baylor, the notoriety over its offensive production has been considerable. It's the task of coach Art Briles to see to it that his players don't buy into the hype over a 70-point-per-game offense. The truth is, Baylor hasn't even played a game in two weeks and has played just one in the last four, the result of an odd schedule that included two off weeks in September.
"Quite honestly we haven't even paid any attention to that,'' Briles said of the lofty offensive rankings. "And I can say that with a straight face because we understand where we're at in our season. We understand we're 0-0 in conference play, and we've played one game in the last 27 days. So we've kind of been just sitting on the outside looking in for the last three or four weeks. We feel like we've just got to get on the field and try to continue the little bit of momentum we had created earlier.
"We look at it like we're at point zero. If we look up in seven or eight weeks and we're still rolling on both sides, then we'll be feeling pretty good about where we're at.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.