WACO, Texas — No. 12 Baylor came into Thursday college football game against visiting West Virginia University with all the momentum a team gets from winning its first seven games and earning the top spot in the Big 12.
The Bears, however, struggled to move the ball against a suddenly stout WVU defense. It was the type of game the Mountaineers had to force BU into if they wanted a chance to win in the game’s late stages, but in the end West Virginia came up short.
Baylor (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) was able to hold off West Virginia (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) for a 17-14 win in front of a spotty crowd at McLane Stadium.
"There’s a lot of guys hurting in that locker room," WVU coach Neal Brown said. "I don’t know if we got beat, but we came up short. Our kids really competed. We had a great week of preparation. I felt really good about this game coming in. I just hurt for our guys. I’m proud of them. It’s not OK to lose, but I’m proud of them."
Both defenses started the game with strong showings. Of the game’s first seven drives, six lasted only three plays. All seven of those drives, however, resulted in punts.
The Bears broke through for the first score Thursday late in the first quarter. BU junior quarterback Charlie Brewer marched Baylor down the field on an eight-play, 86-yard drive that finished with a 13-yard pass to redshirt sophomore receiver R.J. Sneed.
After that, however, offense was hard to come by for both West Virginia and Baylor. Neither team scored again in the first half as the WVU offense — as it often has this season — struggled to do much of anything with its possessions while Baylor’s offense had the Mountaineer defense in its face most of the time.
After two quarters, West Virginia had just 64 total yards and only 16 of those came on the ground. The Mountaineers averaged 1.7 yards per play in the first half, but the defense forced one fumble and sacked Brewer five times.
The third quarter, where West Virginia has folded on more than a few occasions this season, was the Mountaineers’ best stretch on Thursday.
The WVU defense forced a Baylor fumble on the first play of the half, then after not being able to capitalize — thanks in large part to a bad snap that pushed WVU from inside Baylor’s half of the field back to midfield — forced another Baylor punt.
On the first play of the following drive, West Virginia’s offense finally got something to work. Redshirt junior Austin Kendall threw deep for Florida State graduate transfer George Campbell, who beat his defender and ran for an 83-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7.
Baylor would have an answer. Brewer led the Bears down the field on a 75-yard drive that took seven plays and finished with a 21-yard touchdown pass to receiver Denzel Mims. With the extra point, BU took a 14-7 lead, but it would be short-lived.
Very short-lived, as it turned out.
West Virginia true freshman Winston Wright took the ensuing kickoff 95 mostly untouched yards for a touchdown, and former Cross Lanes Christian soccer and basketball standout Casey Legg’s extra point drew the Mountaineers level at 14-14.
The fourth quarter was less kind to the Mountaineers as Baylor began to find some room to move the ball on the West Virginia defense.
The Bears went back in front with 10:19 to play on a John Mayers 36-yard field goal and never trailed again, though WVU did have a chance to get level again.
A Josh Growden punt was fumbled by Baylor’s Sneed and recovered by WVU freshman Kerry Martin, a former Capital High standout. The Mountaineers were lined up to attempt a 43-yard field goal, but were flagged for delay of game and moved back 5 yards. The longer kick attempt by Legg was blocked with less than four minutes to play.
"That’s my fault," Brown said. "We have people in charge of looking at the clock, but that’s my fault. I’m sitting here worried about how we’re going to use our timeouts and how we’re going to kick off, and I didn’t see the clock. That’s on me."
For the game, WVU quarterback Austin Kendall completed 20 of 39 pass attempts for 205 yards with one touchdowns and one interceptions. Baylor’s Brewer connected on 20 of 26 attempts for 277 yards and two touchdowns.
As a team, the Mountaineers had 219 yards of offense and Baylor had 453 total yards.
"On offense, it was just a struggle," Brown said. "They whipped us upfront. We can sit here and we can talk about it, but they had their way with us upfront.
"We had five drops and three of them would have been for first downs. Two of them would have flipped field position. It was a struggle and we put a lot of pressure on the quarterback when we struggle to run the ball."
West Virginia next plays Nov. 9 at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown against Texas Tech.
West Virgina's injuiry situation was bad heading into Thursday game at Baylor, and it got worse during the game.
Starting placekicker Evan Staley was hurt early in the week and could not play against the Bears and Brown said after the game that WVU lost starting guard Chase Behrndt, starting fullback Logan Thimmons, starting receiver T.J. Simmons, running back Kennedy McKoy and receiver Bryce Wheaton to injury during the loss to Baylor and that's just on offense. On defense, safety Noah Guzman -- who finished with 11 total tackles to lead WVU -- had to leave the game early and starting free safety Josh Norwood was ejected in the first half for targeting.