No. 13 West Virginia has had an open week to lick its proverbial wounds as it looks to return to its winning ways when it hosts improving Baylor on Thursday night as Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W. Va.
The Mountaineers (5-1, 3-1 Big 12) will have to improve across the board to wipe away the bad taste that came with a definitive 30-14 loss on Oct. 13 at Iowa State. That dropped them from the ranks of the unbeaten and likely doomed the fleeting Heisman Trophy chances for quarterback Will Grier.
Everything that could go wrong did for West Virginia in that defeat, which is even more difficult to fathom because Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said his team was ready to play and play well.
“You know what’s weird is I felt like we were ready to play,” Holgorsen said. “You look at the way we played, we didn’t have loafs, we didn’t have lack of effort, which is weird because we got whooped. But you’re not going to see panic out of our players, or, in particular, our senior leaders. This is going to motivate us more than it’s going to discourage us, I can guarantee you that.”
West Virginia’s vaunted offense was limited to just 152 total yards on 42 snaps, an average of 3.6 yards per play. The Mountaineers’ longest play was a 26-yard run by Kennedy McCoy. Grier completed 11 of 15 passes for only 100 yards with one touchdown and an interception. It was his worst passing performance in 17 career games at West Virginia.
“There were a lot of times there wasn’t anything Will could do,” Holgorsen explained. “He got frustrated because there wasn’t anybody to throw to, and he missed a couple of reads.
“When you’re one of the top quarterbacks in the country, there are throws that I think you could make even when guys are covered, so he has to trust his ability and continue to trigger those throws and not worry about some bad things that could potentially happen.”
Baylor heads to the Allegany Mountains on the heels of a 23-17 road loss to then-No. 7 Texas on Oct. 13. The Bears (4-3, 2-2) had late chances to win in Austin, throwing three times into the end zone after moving to the Texas 17-yard line in the final seconds.
“The biggest lesson our players learned from the loss to Texas is that you can’t win big-time football games against big-time teams on the road when you make a ton of mistakes,” Baylor coach Matt Ruhle said Monday. “The team that makes the fewest mistakes wins. If you want to be great, you have to learn how to be great every day. They were certainly disappointed after that game, but I think it’s the lessons that they learned that are important.”
While a win over Texas would have been a major step, the Bears are a confident team that’s ready to continue its fight for bowl eligibility. Baylor has focused on the fundamentals in its open week since the loss to the Longhorns.
“The bye weeks are all about getting back and taking a few days, resting, and watching a lot of film, and having a couple of nice, concise physical practices,” Baylor offensive lineman Blake Blackmar said. “It’s all about pounding little fundamentals that you kind of regressed on since fall camp. We’re going to work on taking that next step.”
Since joining the Big 12, the Bears have gone 0-3 in road games at West Virginia, including a 41-27 loss in 2014 for the only regular-season defeat in Baylor’s Big 12 championship season.