Neal Brown’s rebuilding West Virginia program will square off against Matt Rhule and his seemingly rebuilt Baylor Bears in a Thursday night matchup on Halloween.
The Mountaineers (3-4, 1-3 Big 12) hit the road looking for just their second Big 12 win on the season against the Bears (7-0, 4-0 Big 12), who are currently the top team in the conference. Rhule has Baylor in a vastly different position from where it was just two seasons ago, when the program was coming off one of the biggest scandals in recent college football history.
“Coach Rhule and his staff, they’re to be commended. They’ve done an excellent job in year three.” Brown said. “If you look at where they were when they took over the program to where they’re at now, it’s incredible.”
The all-time series between West Virginia and Baylor only dates back to the Mountaineers’ move to the Big 12 in 2012. But the young rivalry between the two conference opponents has seen some real fireworks dating back to the opening contest — that game, a 70-63 barn-burning victory for West Virginia in Morgantown, was the first of WVU’s five victories over the Bears, compared to Baylor’s three in that time.
Last season’s matchup was also a Thursday night tilt between the two teams, with No. 13 West Virginia favored by two touchdowns . That night, Will Grier’s 3 touchdowns would lift the Mountaineers to a 58-14 win, their largest victory over the Bears since the two programs began competing against one another.
This year, it seems the situation has flip-flopped. The Bears — now ranked 13th — host the Mountaineers as 17.5-point favorites. Quarterback Charlie Brewer, who tossed 3 interceptions in just 8 passing attempts before leaving the game with an injury, will look to keep his 9-game winning streak as a starter alive.
The Bears have earned themselves some marquee wins, including a road victory over Oklahoma State and a strong win over then-No. 22 Kansas State.
In their quest for a perfect season, Baylor has gotten it done on all facets of the game. They are helped by experienced players — as Brown noted in his weekly press conference, he counted 10 upperclassmen starters for Baylor on defense alone.
The issue of experience has been a running one for West Virginia. In fact, Brown is no longer using the word “freshman” around his team, saying it’s a “built-in excuse.”
Luckily for West Virginia, interceptions leader and senior Keith Washington will return to the Mountaineer defense. The cornerback has missed the last two games with an injury.
Here are some of the most intriguing matchups of the night:
Could we have a sack party?
Baylor and West Virginia have two of the toughest defensive lines in the Big 12, ranking 1st and 3rd respectively in the sack column. Defensive tackle James Lynch leads the way for the Bears and the Big 12, sacking the quarterback 8.5 times so far this season.
While the Mountaineers’ offensive line has noticeably struggled through the year, they’ve interestingly been able to keep quarterback Austin Kendall on his feet this year. West Virginia ranks second in the conference in sacks allowed, with their quarterback only taking 11 so far in 2019.
West Virginia’s defensive line has put on a strong showing this season, with their efforts spearheaded by the Stills brothers, junior Darius and sophomore Dante. Both Stills brothers rank top five in sacks, although that number has slipped since West Virginia has entered Big 12 play.
The Brown-Brewer connection
Interestingly enough, Neal Brown and Charlie Brewer have a personal history that dates back to when the quarterback was in elementary school.
It began during Brown’s short stint at Texas Tech, when he helped recruit Brewer’s brother Michael to the Red Raiders. Michael would end up joining Texas Tech as Brown’s first commit, and, ironically, would go on to play backup to Seth Doege — the older brother of West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege.
“One of my favorite families I’ve ever had the opportunity to recruit,” Brown said.
Brown says he began tracking Charlie when he was young, “probably going back to elementary school,” but the quarterback would end up at Baylor.
“I’ll pull for him, except for this game on Thursday night,” Brown joked.
Don’t miss a special Mountaineer GameDay tonight!
West Virginia Illustrated has a special Thursday edition of Mountaineer GameDay coming at you live from Waco with Nick Farrell and Anjelica Trinone, while Scott Nolte and Amanda Mazey will be back at the studio in Morgantown.
Nick got the chance to catch up with former WVU kicker Pat McAfee, who gave his thoughts on the state of the Mountaineers as well as the “cannon” arm of punter Josh Growden. That airs at 6 p.m. on AT&T SportsNet and at 7 p.m. on Nexstar affiliates across West Virginia.
The game kicks off in at McLane Stadium at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. Along with Adam Amin and Matt Hasselbeck, McAfee will be on the call giving color commentary.