WACO, Texas — With its season teetering on the brink and coming off an embarrassing first half in a 23-20 loss at home to Texas Tech on homecoming, West Virginia vowed things would be different.
And they were.
This time around the hole was so deep there was no second-half comeback.
All of the issues that were present a week ago showed up and seemingly multiplied as Baylor quarterback Gerry Bohanon set season highs in passing yards (336) and touchdowns (four) in a 45-20 Bears blowout win, sending WVU (2-4 overall, 0-3 Big 12 Conference) to its third straight loss to open league play.
On the second play from scrimmage, Bohanon hit wideout Tyquan Thornton on a slant pass that went for 75 yards and a touchdown. Although the Mountaineers came up with an answer on their first drive, West Virginia’s offensive woes and some surprising defensive deficiencies were far too much to overcome and keep pace.
“Bad football,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “I thought [Baylor] Coach [Dave] Aranda and their crew, they were ready to go, they soundly beat us in every phase.
“We did not block them. We didn’t consistently block them and we never covered them, so it was pretty simple. If you can’t block them on offense and you don’t cover them on defense, it’s going to be a long day and it was. Disappointing performance. Bad football and we weren’t very good today.”
After a week of bemoaning a no-show first half last week in which the Mountaineers found themselves trailing Texas Tech 17-0 at halftime, things couldn’t have started much worse Saturday.
Bohanon and Thornton’s early connection was followed by miscommunication and a timeout before West Virginia’s first offensive snap. It briefly got better as the Mountaineers marched 75 yards on six plays, capped by a 12-yard scoring throw from Jarret Doege to Sean Ryan to tie things at 7.
But WVU’s early blown coverage soon proved to be a trend and not an aberration as Baylor scored touchdowns on its first three possessions and four of its first five.
Those marches were highlighted by big plays off the arm of Bohanon, who completed throws of 44, 17, 22 and 58 yards in the first half, among others, the last of which set up an 11-yard strike to Thornton in the second quarter to make the score 28-7 with 9:52 remaining in the half.
The Bears (5-1, 3-1) entered as the league’s second-best rushing attack, averaging 240 yards per game, and while the Mountaineers did a relatively good job early against the Bears rushing attack, it found footing in the second half as the Baylor began to sit on a big lead. In the end, Baylor rushed for 171 yards, piled up 525 total yards and, for the most part, shredded a West Virginia defense that entered Saturday as the strength of the team.
“We just got exposed a little bit,” Brown said. “Defensively we’ve played above average at times but we haven’t been very consistent and we’ve struggled with coverage and they came out and they hadn’t shown the ability early to do that as far as throwing the football. Bohanon has played well, he hasn’t hurt them, I still think he hasn’t thrown an interception all year and we haven’t covered Thornton yet. He may still be out there running wide open.
“We played soft. Our underneath defenders didn’t do a good job getting out in the flats. We made it really easy for them to pitch the ball out there and complete it.”
The Mountaineers also struggled in the red zone again, settling for Casey Legg field goals with 6:17 to go in the first half and with 9:17 left in the third quarter. The second temporarily drew the Mountaineers within two scores at 28-13.
But, after Baylor recovered a West Virginia onside-kick attempt, the Bears traversed 47 yards on just three plays, with Bohanon finding tight end Ben Sims from 29 yards out to up the margin to 35-13. Sims converted both of his catches into touchdowns, accounting for 39 yards, Thornton led all receivers with eight catches for 187 yards and Drew Estraded turned four catches into 90 yards for Baylor.
Abram Smith and Trestan Ebner entered as the league’s best rushing duo but were limited in touches, with Smith carrying 11 times for 87 yards with a 31-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Ebner finished with 53 yards on eight totes.
Doege completed 20 of 31 passes for 237 yards and was picked off on a ball tipped at the line of scrimmage in the first half. Garrett Greene played the majority of the latter stages and had an 18-yard touchdown run with 4:18 remaining to complete the scoring. Greene finished as the team’s leading rusher with 55 yards on 10 carries on a day in which the Mountaineers struggled again on the ground, accounting for just 90 yards on 38 carries.
Though WVU’s previous three losses came by a total of 12 points, Saturday’s loss to the Bears was obviously of a different variety, at least in terms of the final margin. As the Mountaineers head into their first and only bye week of the season, Brown said everything will be examined.
“We’ve got to solve some issues,” Neal Brown said. “If you look at it through five games, we’ve been right there, but today was a totally different story so I think everything is on the table.
“They played well but we didn’t do enough to compete at this level and so, when that happens, everything is on the table.”