Thursday Night NCAA Football – Baylor at West Virginia
This week’s Thursday night game is a prominent Big XII clash as Baylor and West Virginia face off. Baylor looks to build on its season of improvement having already quadrupled last season’s win count while West Virginia is still a Big XII title threat despite its ugly loss at Iowa State two weeks ago. Here is a look at Thursday’s Big XII game to start the final October college football weekend.
Match-up: Baylor Bears at West Virginia Mountaineers
Venue: At Milan Pusker Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia
Time/TV: Thursday, October 25, 7:00 PM ET ESPN
Line: West Virginia -14, Over/Under 62
Last Meeting: 2017, West Virginia (-10) 38, at Baylor 36
The Mountaineers climbed to #6 in the polls with a 5-0 start to the season but hopes of emerging as a sleeper in the national picture were extinguished with a mid-October loss at Iowa State. The 30-14 final score didn’t do justice to how badly West Virginia lost as one of its touchdowns came on a blocked field goal return while they wound up out-gained 498-152 in what head coach Dan Hologorsen called “the worst offensive performance I have ever seen.”
Having a bye week to regroup should be useful for West Virginia, who still controls its destiny in the Big XII race. Next week West Virginia head to Austin to face the current conference leader Texas while the Mountaineers host Oklahoma in the regular season finale. West Virginia is 3-0 at home with dominant numbers including a 35-6 win over Kansas State and they beat the other one-loss squad Texas Tech on the road.
The offense is led by Will Grier, who has thrown for over 1,900 yards with 22 touchdowns and 10.0 yards per attempt. He owns the third best QB Rating in the nation but has thrown seven interceptions while taking 18 sacks as a lot is asked of him in Holgorsen’s offense. Grier has a very talented receiving corps to work with and big plays have been the norm in this offense that features about a 50/50 run/pass split.
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After allowing 20 points in the first two FBS games of the season West Virginia has allowed 86 points in the past three Big XII games. Last season West Virginia surrendered over 31 points per game and 446 yards per game while finishing 7-6 and improvement defensively down the stretch will be the key to keeping the Mountaineers in Big XII contention.
Holgorsen is in his eighth season and despite some setbacks he has posted a 58-38 record and has had the Mountaineers in a bowl games in all but one season. Two years ago the Mountaineers won 10 games with a 7-2 Big XII record and getting his team in the Big XII title game would be a big milestone for the program.
Matt Rhule stepped into a challenging situation last year at Baylor following the multi-year fallout surrounding the departure of Art Briles. Rhule had a successful rebuild at Temple and was a respected hire if not a flashy choice. His tenure could not have started worse, losing to then FCS level Liberty as well as Texas-San Antonio in the first two games and eventually winding up 1-11 with only a win over Kansas.
Several results were competitive for the Bears however with an eight-point loss to Oklahoma and a two-point loss in this matchup with West Virginia. That game was fairly even statistically but West Virginia had a 38-13 lead before a great fourth quarter rally from Baylor.
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Then a freshman, Charlie Brewer took over at quarterback in that game and posted solid numbers the rest of the season. This year Brewer has just three interceptions along with 10 touchdowns leading the offense. He has already surpassed last season’s passing yardage total but is completing passes at a much lower completion rate this season while also posting a lower yards per attempt average.
Baylor hasn’t been a great rushing team but after averaging only 3.4 yards per rush last season the Bears are posting 4.4 yards per rush this season with a committee approach led by JaMycal Hasty. Jalen Hurd has been the go-to receiver with 622 receiving yards and 47 receptions this season.
Baylor and West Virginia had fairly similar defensive statistics last season despite the contrasting records. This season the pass defense numbers are also very close with a slight edge to the Bears in completion rate and yards per attempt but Baylor has allowed more passing touchdowns while generating fewer interceptions. Run defense was the weakness for Baylor last season and this year the Bears have surrendered 5.7 yards per rush, seventh worst nationally and it will be interesting to see if the Mountaineers attack on the ground more than usual this week.
This year Baylor has allowed 31 points per game but surrendering 66 at Oklahoma weighs on the numbers. The Bears have already played Oklahoma and Texas while West Virginia is still to play both of the conference heavyweights to factor into the numbers. In its last game Baylor had the ball down six at Texas seeking a major upset. Brewer led the Bears inside the Texas 20-yard line but his final three passes all fell incomplete for a narrow defeat but it was a confidence-building effort as the Bears will feel like they can compete in every conference game.
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Last season: West Virginia was in the national top 25 visiting winless Baylor in late October. The Mountaineers led 17-6 at halftime and 38-13 through three quarters to sit comfortably in front. Baylor scored two quick touchdowns early in the fourth quarter with a successful on-side kick in-between the scores. The Bears would add a field goal to trail by eight, eventually getting the ball back with fewer than five minutes remaining. Baylor was able to complete an 86-yard touchdown drive with 17 seconds remaining with a 3rd down score but failed on the two-point conversion that could have forced overtime. Grier threw five touchdowns in the game while the Bears out-rushed West Virginia 127-118 in a contest without a turnover.
Series History: Since West Virginia joined the Big XII in 2012 the Mountaineers are 4-2 S/U but just 1-5 ATS in this series. There has been great variance in the spreads with Baylor -30 in the 2013 meeting while West Virginia was -17½ in 2016. The most memorable and consequential meeting was the 2014 upset in Morgantown by West Virginia, winning 41-27 as an 8-point underdog. That was Baylor’s only loss on the regular season and they finished 11-1 and ranked #5 in the College Football Playoff rankings by season’s end. Ohio State controversially passed up TCU, who had been ranked #3 and shared the Big XII title with Baylor, in the final rankings to leave the Big XII out of the playoffs that season.
Historical Trends: West Virginia is 33-44-3 ATS at home since 2006, going 28-38-3 ATS as a favorite, and 20-25-3 ATS as a double-digit favorite. Baylor is 16-20 ATS on the road since 2011, going 8-7 ATS as a road underdog and 6-5 ATS as a double-digit underdog.