Same Bears, different results
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - There's good news and bad regarding the Baylor defense that West Virginia faces Saturday night in Waco, Texas.
The good news is it's essentially the same group of players playing in the same scheme as a year ago when the Mountaineers scored 10 touchdowns.
The bad news is it's essentially the same group of players playing in the same scheme as a year ago when the Mountaineers scored 10 touchdowns.
No, that's not leading into a riddle of some sort. It's a plus and it's a minus all in one.
The plus, of course, is that West Virginia has proven it knows how to attack the Bears. Even if Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin aren't around anymore, at least the formula doesn't change much.
The minus? Well, Baylor's defenders are nearly unanimously more experienced and better suited to execute that defense.
That would be the defense that surrendered 10 touchdowns and 807 yards in a 70-63 loss to WVU in Morgantown.
"You look at how Baylor played from that game on,'' West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. "They got better and better defensively as the year went on, and they got a lot of experience. It's pretty much all the same guys coming back.
"It's all those guys that bought into what [defensive coordinator Phil] Bennett was teaching them and the philosophy. They didn't change a whole lot. They just kept getting good at what they were doing, and now they're doing the same stuff with the same people and they're just a lot better at it.''
Indeed, Baylor is much better on defense - light years, in fact. Granted, the competition the Bears have faced during a 3-0 start is not high shelf (Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe), but BU ranks second in the country in scoring defense and has scored - get this - more touchdowns on defense (four) than it has allowed (three).
The scores of those first three games were 69-3, 70-13 and 70-7. While the first of those numbers is staggering (69.7 points per game), the second (7.7 points allowed) is perhaps even more surprising. After all, the offense is doing what was expected. The defense? That's out of character.
Well, at least it's out of character based on what West Virginia fans remember of the Bears of last season. But this defense has evolved.
"I think through time, through patience, through good players and just through a determined mindset of our football team - in general, not just defensively - we progressed,'' Baylor coach Art Briles said. "Those guys on defense just got better as the season went on.''
Indeed, after that 70-63 loss at West Virginia in the fourth game of 2012, Baylor steadily improved on defense. It didn't always show in the stats - the Bears still gave up more than 40 points twice in the last five games and finished 119th nationally in total defense and 110th in scoring defense - but they weren't routinely giving up 10 touchdowns and 807 yards per game, either.
And this year that defense has just gotten better, although it can be argued that even with WVU's offensive issues, this is the first legitimate test the Bears have faced.
Baylor was actually in a similar situation last year when the WVU game came around.
"We're talking about the fourth game of the year this year, just like it was last year,'' Briles said. "We go up there on the road to their first-ever game in the Big 12 and they had a good football team. They put some points on us. But if you check down through the league, you know what happened to other teams throughout the season also.
"How you respond kind of determines where you end up. And fortunately our guys responded well and we ended up playing really sound defense toward the end of the year. And it's carried over into this year. We have eight of those [2012 starters] back, and they feel really confident about what they're doing over there.''
Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.