Halloween night continued a week-long house of horrors for the Big 12’s top teams. While No. 12 Baylor was able to remain unbeaten with a 17-14 win over sliding West Virginia, it didn’t come easy. The Bears turned the ball over three times — a surefire way to keep any underdog in a game — and were unable to generate enough daggers on offense to put the Mountaineers away for good.
Credit to Neal Brown’s team. The Mountaineers may not be all that good, but they are remarkably well-coached on defense, which has given them a shot to at least be competitive in most of their games. They play hard and don’t give up, and in Thursday’s game that was nearly good enough to win. Instead, Matt Rhule’s Bears continued their dream season by surviving and advancing. It’s good enough this week, but the next month will be fascinating as they race towards the Big 12 Championship Game.
What did we learn from Thursday night’s near-upset? Here are three takeaways from the game.
1.This will not be a fun week for Baylor’s offensive line in the film room. This may not be your Art Briles’ Baylor Bears, but this was a poor offensive showing no matter how you slice it. This was especially true up front by the offensive line. The Bears allowed eight sacks on the night and 12 tackles for loss. West Virginia’s defensive front is a problem — more on that bright spot below — but Baylor simply had no answers in the trenches for the Mountaineers. It’s not like West Virginia was bringing five or more guys every other snap. They were getting pressure with three or four. But the way the Mountaineers work up front gave Baylor all kinds of fits, to the point where defensive lineman Darius Stills literally called out Baylor’s O-line to ESPN’s sideline reporter in the middle of the game. Stills, by the way, finished with 10 tackles and three sacks.
The film room sessions for the offensive line leading up to their next game against TCU won’t be fun. And if Baylor doesn’t get right quickly, those close wins might turn into losses quickly.
2. West Virginia would be a decent bowl team if its offense could do anything. The Mountaineers have a legitimate defense, regardless of what the stats say. They’re well-coached and they play hard. They win a lot of battles up front (see above). Despite Baylor gaining 453 yards of offense, it averaged only 5.5 yards per play. The Mountaineers defense forced two turnovers and had a goal line stand. They played as well as they possibly could given some difficult situations they were put in. If the offense could do something — anything — West Virginia would probably be 5-3 instead of 3-5 and likely headed to a bowl game. How bad was West Virginia’s offense? Of its 219 total yards, 83 came on one play — a touchdown pass to George Campbell. Allowing only one sack all night, West Virginia averaged 0.5 yards per rush. Two errant snaps contributed to that number, but still.
Yes, quarterback Austin Kendall is limited. But it’s not just him. This team can’t run the ball. It can’t block. And the Mountaineers lead the Big 12 in dropped passes (19 coming into Thursday with another handful in this one). It’s astonishing how bad this team is offensively, which makes how good its defense is all the more impressive.
3. It’s been a revealing week for the top of the Big 12. Week 10 will be a light one for the Big 12 as most teams are on a bye. But November is going to be a fascinating month for this conference, especially in the context of the College Football Playoff race. In the past week, Oklahoma, Iowa State and Texas all lost — and then Baylor nearly gave the game away on Thursday night. Sure, even the best teams have down weeks, but this was not the best foot forward for the conference’s favorites. Keep in mind that over the next three weeks, each of the aforementioned teams will play two other favorites in back-to-back weeks. Will there be some order to the madness when we get to December, or will the Big 12 cannibalize itself out of the playoff race? If the last week has revealed anything, the latter is quite possible.