WACO, Texas — Thursday’s college football game between West Virginia University and Baylor was, in their own words, the Mountaineers’ best defensive effort of the season by far.
That, however, does not soften the blow of another loss — four in a row now for WVU to end a winless October for West Virginia.
Yes, WVU had an opportunity to beat the No. 12 Bears in Texas and add to the Big 12’s wild week of upsets, but the reality of the situation is the Mountaineers are now 3-5 with just one win — a narrow victory at last-place Kansas — in the league after the 17-14 loss to Baylor.
“Our kids really competed,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “We had a great week-and-a-half of preparation for this game. I know we were 18-, 19-point underdogs, and people didn’t give us much of a chance, but I really felt good about this game coming in, so I just hurt for our guys.”
Brown wasn’t the only one hurting after the loss at Baylor, and some of the players confirmed as much when it was their turn to speak to the media.
“It’s very frustrating because I play my heart out every snap, every game, and when you invest so much into this game and you come up short, it hurts a lot,” junior defensive lineman Darius Stills said. “I’ve never hurt over a game so much in my life. We’ll just go back to the drawing board and start from square one again and figure out what we’ve got to do to win.”
A peek at the statistics might not paint a true picture of how Thursday’s game played out on the field. WVU allowed 453 total yards and an average of 5.5 yards gained per play while Baylor held on to the the ball for more than 36 minutes of game time. The Mountaineers fielded a secondary that was pieced together on the fly as injuries and an ejection hit their depth at the position hard on Thursday.
Still, Baylor came into the game as one of the most explosive offensive teams in the country and had shown balance in succeeding with both the pass and run game.
West Virginia held that explosive offense to just 17 points and sacked BU quarterback Charlie Brewer eight times — including three by the elder of the Stills brothers and two more from sophomore Dante Stills.
“They’re a very good team, and they’re coached very well, but I don’t feel like they were aggressive up front,” Darius Stills said. “I really don’t talk down on teams, but from playing out there they weren’t being very aggressive up front.
“We were stunting a lot and getting in their chest fairly quick. They couldn’t handle that. We just need to start winning games. Us, as a defense, played a really good game but it just wasn’t enough. I just want to win.”
It was a performance, not just from Dante and Darius Stills but from the entire defense, that can certainly be pointed at as an example of what is possible for this team and this program as Brown rebuilds both to his liking.
“They hurt because they invested,” Brown said.
“There is no doubt [that was WVU best defensive game of the season]. They kept us in it. We just played really hard. We played hard on offense, just not very good, and some of that is what we’re down to [on the depth chart]. I thought especially our defensive line, they really put pressure on Charlie all night.”
LEGG UP AT KICKER
Redshirt freshman placekicker Casey Legg got into one game in 2018 — a brief cameo on a kickoff at home against Baylor. On Thursday, with senior Evan Staley not playing due to an injury suffered in practice this week and Baylor again on the opposite sideline, Legg found himself at the top of the depth chart when it came time for WVU to kick extra points and field goals.
Legg made both of his extra-point attempts and connected on a 43-yard field goal attempt that would have tied the game at 17 late if not for a delay of game call against the Mountaineers. When WVU took another try at it, this time from 48 yards, the attempt was blocked.
Outside of the short 2018 appearance, Thursday was not just Legg’s first game action of his collegiate career. It was the first time he was featured in a football game ever. Legg did not play in high school because the school he attended, Cross Lanes Christian, does not offer football. He was a standout on the Warriors’ soccer team, but it’s no secret a soccer pitch in the small league of West Virginia Christian high schools and a Big 12 gridiron are vastly different experiences.
Despite all of that, Brown said he was happy with what he saw from Legg on Thursday.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” Brown said. “Any pressure situation we’ve put him in at practice, he’s come through. I think he kicked off one time against Baylor last year, but this was the first time he had been in a football game, period. He didn’t play football in high school, but I’ve got confidence in him.”