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Baylor vs. West Virginia Preview / Prediction Thread

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Baylor welcomes the Mountaineers to Waco this weekend in an attempt to make it to 6-0 on the season and 3-0 in Big 12 play.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
vs.
2/2 BAYLOR (5–0, 2–0) vs. NR/RV West Virginia (3–2, 0–2)
Oct. 17, 2015 | 11 a.m. CT
Waco, Texas | McLane Stadium (45,140)

TV: FOX
Watch | Listen | Gametracker Gametracker | Game Notes Notes | Tickets

OPPONENT: West Virginia Mountaineers
ODB GAME HUB: Baylor Bears vs. West Virginia Mountaineers 2015
MEET THE PRESS: Baylor vs. WVU
FIRST LOOK: Baylor vs. WVU
PREDICT THE SCORE: Baylor vs. WVU
ROLL CALL: Baylor vs. WVU
LIVE PODCAST: Baylor vs. WVU
ADVANCED STATS PREVIEW:
Baylor vs. WVU
SB NATION BLOG: The Smoking Musket, at right
SPREAD: Baylor –21.5 (Open: Baylor –17)
TV COVERAGE: FOX National, 11:00 a.m. CDT
WEATHER FORECAST: Sunny, with a high of 86°, NE winds 10–15mph (wunderground puts game time temp at 73°)
UNIFORM COMBO: We're still waiting, but it's apparently going to be "new."

SBNation.com WVU Preview
BaylorBears.com Preview
Bears vs. Mountaineers Coverage

INJURY/SUSPENSION NEWS:

Baylor -- After missing the last couple of games due to injury, Devin Chafin WILL PLAY tomorrow according to Craig Smoak (who heard it from Art Briles).  I believe that means we are totally healthy as of this writing.

West Virginia --  Obviously, Karl Joseph is OUT for the rest of the season due to injury.  WVU plays things pretty close to the vest on injuries, and the only other news I can find is that LB Edward Muldrow hasn't played in a while this season. Not sure what the story is there.

ADVANCED STATS:

I highly recommend you go check out Peter's Advanced Stats post for this week's game.  It's linked above, it's on the front page, and I've posted it on Facebook twice.  You should have zero problems finding it.

Here's the 35,000-foot level.

Category

Baylor (5-0)

WVU (3-2)

EDGE

Overall F/+ Rk 13 (37.6%)
77 (%)
Baylor
Overall FEI Rk 4 (0.228)
41 (.076)
Baylor
Overall S&P+ Rk 22 (14.0)
8 (18.7)
West Virginia
Field Position Advantage ---
---
---

Before any Mountaineer fans freak out, the EDGE category here is entirely arbitrary.  0-10 ranking spots different = EVEN.  11-40 = Standard Case for whichever team. 41+ = ALL CAPS for that team.

As Peter discussed in his post and we covered in this week's Live Podcast, the two main contributors to FootballOutsiders' F/+ rankings see this game in very different lights.  Where FEI has Baylor as one of the best teams in the country due to the fact that we've "won" 74% of qualifying possessions so far this season, S&P+ has a lot of concerns about the Bears due to field position and defensive woes.  On the flip side, S&P+ loves that Mountaineer defense and feels good enough about the offense to have them ranked #8 in the country.

We could talk for days about why and how these rankings work and what to take away from them, but the bottom line here is that it appears West Virginia will be the best opponent we've played this season overall, and definitely the best defense, even without their transcendent star.

Players to Watch (for West Virginia):

#3 QB Skyler Howard: The undisputed starter for Dana Hologram at QB is Skyler Howard, the 6' junior from Fort Worth, Texas.  So far this season, Howard has completed 93/151 passes for 1266 yards, 11 TDs, and 5 INTs.  He's also run 64 times for 149 yards (2.3 yards/carry) and 2 TDs.  The running part of his repertoire, though largely unsuccessful this season, intrigues me because it seems to be escalating as a part of the Mountaineer offense.  After running just 9 times against Georgia Southern to start the year, Howard had 12 attempts in the next three games before 19 (!!) against Oklahoma State.  Not having watched all of that game, I can't say whether that was intentional because they saw something they liked or a result of scrambles/plays breaking down.  Regardless, it's something to watch against a defense that has had trouble with running QBs in the past.

#4 RB Wendell Smallwood: It only seems like I've been writing about Smallwood for a decade because I have.  Smallwood, who resembles our own Shock Linwood in many ways, has really come on for West Virginia this year, leading the team in rushing with 89 carries for 589 yards and 5 TDs.  He's averaging 6.6 yards/carry on the ground and is WVU's primary back unless they want to go a little bigger with Rushel Shell (#7, 73/266/3).

#1 WR Shelton Gibson / #5 WR Jovon Durante / #6 WR Daikiel Shorts, Jr.: There's not really one WR you can pinpoint for WVU this season in terms of usage since the above trio have 20, 18, and 17 receptions on the season, respectively.  Still, Gibson is probably the best of the three since he has nearly as many yards as the other two combined and more than that many TDs.

#35 LB Nick Kwiatkoski: Leads WVU in tackles and is second in TFL from the Sam LB spot in the Mountaineers' 3-3-5 defense.  Keep an eye out for Kwiatkoski as a play-side blitzer.  WVU blitzes, blitzes, and then blitzes some more, and we'd better be ready for it.

#42 LB Jared Barber: Fourth in tackles and first in TFL as WVU's MLB.  Like Kwiatkoski, he's a redshirt senior with a ton of experience in this defense.

What I'll Be Watching For:

Run Blocking! A year ago, WVU blew up our running game in Morgantown, holding us to 95 yards on 42 carries.  They did that by blowing up the middle of our offensive line repeatedly, something we just couldn't handle with a first-year starter at center and guys still adjusting to their roles beside him.  Shaq Riddick, who now plays for the Cardinals, also had an absolute field day against us, racking up 4 TFL and 3 sacks of Bryce Petty.

The biggest difference for Baylor this season offensively has been our tremendous success in running the ball.  On that front, there's at least some reason to be a little skeptical, since WVU grades out extremely well by the advanced stats in their rush defense.  If Baylor is going to set the tone for this game early and establish our offense, it will have to block a defensive front designed to throw a ton of varied looks at you from angles you don't normally see.  This will be a big challenge.

Containing Howard! Until we show that we can consistently contain a QB capable of running a bit, I'm going to keep wondering if we can.  Our defense has made strides in this regard, particularly DEs Jamal Palmer and Shawn Oakman, but there's still work to be done.  I'm curious if the 3-man front we've shown in two different alignments (a modified 3-3-5 with Taylor Young, Grant Campbell, Travon Blanchard, and Pat Levels; and a 3-4 with Young, Campbell, Blanchard, and Aiavion Edwards) may help with this by bringing additional guys off the edge.

Start Fast! We're at home; we're on a roll, and it's the team that kept us out of the CFB Playoff last year.  While I don't personally think this is a revenge game, I'd understand if the team did.  And if that's how they get going to a fast start against the WVU defense, great.  The more pressure we put on their offense to keep up, the more one-dimensional they will become.  That plays exactly into what we want, defensively.

My Prediction:

As of this writing, Baylor is a 21/21.5-point favorite in this game.  The O/U is either 75 or 76.  That means Vegas, if you believe those numbers work together, expects this one to be about 44-22 or thereabouts.

I'm going to give both sides a little more credit than that on offense and take the over.  I think Baylor, at home, will come out guns a-blazin' on offense and exploit Joseph's absence in the secondary.  The running game will probably take at least a minor step back against WVU's disruptive front, but they'll do enough to open things up down the field.  On the other side, WVU won't be able to keep up with Baylor's offense, but they will keep it close enough until late that we'll get to see our starters in the fourth quarter.

Last week, I predicted a score of Baylor 66, Kansas 13.  The final score ended up being 66-7, and I'm pretty happy with that.  This week, I'm going with ...

Final Score: Baylor 56, WVU 31.

Baylor covers and the two teams clear the over easily.