This is the moment all Mountaineer fans have been waiting for since last October. The No. 7 ranked West Virginia University Football Team plays their first Big 12 contest this Saturday against the No. 24 Baylor Bears at Mountaineer Field.
Both teams come in at 3-0 as they enter conference play and both teams have lit up the scoreboard this year. For West Virginia, it has been all about the play of quarterback Geno Smith and his wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. WVU is averaging 47.3 points per game.
Last week against Maryland, the Mountaineers struggled to get anything going on the ground with the absences of Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke for most of the game. Even with the running game averaging an abysmal 1.0 yard per carry, the passing game didn't skip a beat. Geno Smith still put up 338 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions and currently ranks second in the nation in QB rating at 191.2.
Alston is day-to-day and expected to play Saturday, but Clarke's status is even more in jeopardy.
Defensively for Baylor, it has been struggle to this point. They gave up 42 points to Louisiana-Monroe last Friday night and they currently rank 90th nationally in points allowed per game this season. ULM was able to rush for 262 yards against the Bears which added to their 90th ranked rush defense.
Baylor's pass defense has also had it's share of struggles this year, ranking 116th out of 124 teams, giving up 315 yards per game through the year.
However, the Bears have been excellent in turnover margin. They are 6th in the nation and have forced 10 turnovers in just three games.
"They get turnovers man," Quarterback Geno Smith said. "They may be ranked whatever [in pass defense] but they may lead the country in turnover margin and we all know that's the name of the game. You can give up as many yards as you want but if the other team can't score then what does that mean?"
The key offensively for West Virginia this week is balance. If Shawne Alston is able to go, expect a heavy dose of him and Andrew Buie. If the running game is effective, that will open up the passing game for Geno Smith and the Mountaineers will keep it rolling. If not, then expect Baylor to bring the blitz much like Maryland did last week.
There is a reason why many people believe this game will be a shootout. Unlike Maryland, the Bears run an uptempo style offense. Robert Griffin III may be gone, but so far Baylor has not missed a beat. Quarterback Nick Florence has been fantastic, averaging 334.7 yards per game and has tossed 11 touchdowns with just four interceptions. He has also been dangerous with his legs, averaging 7.6 yards per carry.
Running back Jarred Salubi has also contributed to the running game, rushing for 221 yards through the Bears' first three games.
Florence has spread the ball around pretty evenly to four different wide receivers this year. Terrance Williams, Tevin Reese, Lanear Sampson and Levi Norwood have each caught over 200 yards worth of passes.
"They run an offense similar to ours but they tempo you so much more," Defensive Coordinator Joe DeForest said. "They put a lot of formation into the sideline. What they try to do is just get you outflanked."
The West Virginia defense has given up 22.3 points per game and has been heavily criticized. The Mountaineers pass defense has been a real struggle, giving up 276.7 yards per game through the air which is 106th nationally. They are much better against the run, ranking 39th in rush defense, giving up 122 yard per game.
For West Virginia, the key defensively will be to slow down Baylor's tempo. Much easier said than done, but putting pressure on Florence and forcing him to stay in the pocket will be very important to WVU's success.
This will be the first ever meeting between these two schools.
It's beginning to feel like fall in Morgantown and it will feel like it this Saturday. It is currently calling for a high of 68 degrees with a 10% chance of rain.
The game will be aired at 12:00 ET on FX.