When Baylor takes the field in Morgantown this weekend, it will do so for the first time in this young season as the pronounced underdog, and if we're being completely honest, it's really not surprising that is the case. Despite what you make think about their defense and the opposition the Mountaineers have faced thus far, WVU's offense is one of the very best in the country and it is on the strength of that side of the ball that WVU has achieved their lofty rankings. With our defense underwhelming to say the least but our offense excellent to elite, the outcome of this game turns on how much we can do to slow them down since stopping them completely is probably out of the question. We'll also have to deal with the road factor of playing in an unfamiliar environment in front of a hostile crowd that's been waiting for years to play in a conference other than the Big East. Here's the five names you need to know going into Friday's game.
1. Geno Smith -- QB -- #12 -- He's the Heisman favorite at this point and the QB executing the best Robert Griffin III impersonation since the man himself. All he's done so far is complete 81.4% of his passes so far for 1072 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions. Thankfully, due to the efforts of Maryland's defense, we won't have to hear about his TD-to-incompletion ratio during our game, but he's easily the best QB we've seen this year so far and might be the best we see the rest of the way. Physically, he stands 6-3 and weighs 214 pounds, so I'm guessing he's probably a little bigger than you expected. He's also probably not nearly as good of a runner, though he moves skillfully in the pocket to avoid the rush and can make plays with his feet when he has to. I'm willing to bet, however, that Dana Holgerson wishes he never had to because he's not exactly fleet of foot. So far this season he's rushed for "only" 67 yards on 16 carries, less than our own Nick Florence in both yardage and YPC, and 65 of those came against Marshall in the first game of the season. Since that game he's actually rushed for only 2 yards on 8 carries. What I'm saying is that he doesn't run well and we should take advantage of that. Maryland did by bringing constant pressure with their linebackers and it paid off for them with the first two sacks allowed by the Mountaineers this season.
Blitzing constantly may lead to different problems, however, because though he's no RGIII with his legs, Smith has a cannon for an arm and makes good decisions. WVU has surrounded him with fast receivers not unlike our own and he finds them to the tune of nearly 360 passing yards per game. That puts defenses in sort of a Catch-22 where if you blitz he may burn you but if you don't, he may burn you anyway when his receivers get open. Hardly anyone has corners capable of locking WVU's receivers down indefinitely. Speaking of receivers...
2. Tavon Austin -- WR -- #1 -- WVU's version of Tevin Reese in both style and production, Austin is the biggest playmaker on the Mountaineer offense outside of Smith himself. His best tool is, like Reese, tremendous athleticism reflected in raw speed and agility in the open field. When he gets the ball in space and the defender doesn't have a good angle, it's basically over. Already this season he's caught 5 of Smith's 12 touchdown passes and racked up 345 yards on 34 (!!) receptions. That's double the number of receptions of Terrance Williams, who leads Baylor's team. If Smith can find Austin he will, and if he finds him, things normally go pretty well. They certainly did last week when Austin set career highs in receptions (13), yards (179), and TDs (3).
The good news is that Austin shares something else with Reese-- a diminutive stature that makes him vulnerable to physical defenders. At only 5-9 and 174 pounds, he lacks the strength of a TW to fight off the press. That leads me to hope against hope that Bennett puts Demetri Goodson, our tallest rotation corner, on him and lets him actually play man. We'll see if it happens. Another trait Austin shares with Reese is that WVU will use him occasionally in the running game on end around runs or jet sweeps. That's something to keep an eye on. They barely did it at all against Maryland.
3. Stedman Bailey -- WR -- #3 -- If they can get the ball to Austin in the passing game they will, but if they can't, they'll probably look for the underrated Bailey on the other side. Last season, Bailey racked up a school-record 1279 yards despite having 22 fewer receptions than the more-touted Austin. This season, Bailey is well on his way to repeating his stellar 2011 with 28 catches for 332 yards and 5 TDs of his own. That makes his yards per reception slightly higher than Austin's, but I think most agree that Austin is the bigger threat, if that makes sense. Bailey is slightly larger at 5-10, 188, but he is also extremely fast. That's a theme you'll see repeated in this game as Holgerson took the lessons he learned in Stillwater to coal country. We can't let either of these guys repeat their performances against Maryland and Marshall, respectively, or we're going to be in trouble.
4. Shawne Alston -- RB -- #20 -- At the risk of saying this and having it thrown in my face like last week, it's worth noting that WVU has not run the ball well this season. They were particularly bad in that aspect against Maryland because Alston, their starting RB, missed the entire week of practice with a deep bone bruise and only played one play. I've read that he's expected to be back this week, but I don't know how effective he'll be. Without him, WVU is weak both in the running game and in pass protection, both areas where Alston is clearly their best option. If he plays, expect to see a powerful 5-11, 235-pound runner not unlike our own Glasco Martin, but not quite as good. Think Glasco's running style with Salubi's blocking, if you want a rough estimate. Still, even if Alston does play, WVU's offense will rely on the pass as they have all season, they'll just be a little better on the ground when they do decide to run. Of course, they may also look at our game tape from last week and decide to take their chances.
5. Andrew Buie -- RB -- #13 -- I only added Buie to this list because in the event Alston doesn't play or is limited, Buie probably gets the majority of the carries. I also had trouble finding a fifth person for the list after the previous four. If Alston is the thundering power back then Buie is lightning, but he's not considered to have elite speed and is not a strong blocker at the point of attack. That's probably due to the fact that he's almost exactly the same size as Tavon Austin. Let's hope for those reasons alone that Alston doesn't play; that would go a long way to making WVU completely one-dimensional, like they were against Maryland, and much more predictable. Buie, for the record, has 27 carries for 144 yards and 1 TD. He's also caught 12 passes for 166 yards, healthy numbers for a running back in WVU's system.
Obviously the success of each individual player on this list is extremely dependent on the others, but those are the five Baylor will have to stop to have a chance on Saturday morning. If I was ranking them based on my own fear, it would go Austin->Smith->Stedman and then the running backs. I've just seen enough of Tavon Austin to know that he's the kind of player that can and probably will feast on our safeties if given the chance. How we defend him across the middle will be, I think, our single biggest key to this game.