Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Big men, big battle: WVU’s Frazier, Baylor’s Ika in the spotlight

MORGANTOWN — If there was ever a moment where the unsung hero gets his moment of glory on a football field, Thursday’s West Virginia-Baylor game may be it.

You know the unsung heroes, the ones who do the all the dirty work. The ones who block and the ones who take on the blocks.

Their statistics are scratches, bruises and scars on their body, which are far less-celebrated than a running back who rushes for 100 yards or a quarterback who throws for 300 in a game.

Yet, while the marquee may read West Virginia vs. Baylor, what it really should read is Zach Frazier vs. Siaki Ika.

Frazier is the all-Big 12 offensive lineman, the Mountaineers’ center who has the responsibility of making sure his fellow lineman are all on the same page, play after play.

The Fairmont native stands out in any crowd, listed at 6-foot-3 and 306 pounds.

Ika, a native of Salt Lake City who began his college career at LSU before transferring to the Bears in 2020, is the all-Big 12 defensive lineman, maybe the top one in the Big 12.

He, too, really stands out in a crowd at 6-4 and 358 pounds.

“He’s special,” WVU head coach Neal Brown said of Ika. “He’s not just a big guy. A lot of people look at him and just see a monster of a man, but he’s also agile. He’s a tough matchup. I’m not sure anyone has had success this year blocking him one-on-one.”

Since it takes more to block Ika, the Bears (3-2, 1-1 Big 12) are able to play a six-man front as their base defense, or what Brown refers to as a “light box.”

“He takes up two gaps,” Brown said. “Their front six has done a good job of controlling the run game.”

Baylor enters the game second in the Big 12 in fewest rushing yards allowed (96.8 per game), while the Mountaineers (2-3, 0-2) need its rushing attack to be productive to have a shot at winning.

WVU is coming off its worst rushing game of the season (61 yards) against Texas in a 38-20 loss.

“That’s a good question. I don’t know how you do it,” WVU offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said when asked how the Mountaineers would handle Ika. “Their defense as a whole does a lot of good things, but they put a lot on those front guys, probably because they’re big dudes and are hard to move.”

On the season, Ika has recorded just 10 tackles and no quarterback sacks, but Brown said Ika has accomplished so much more than what his stats say.

“He does what he does about as well as anyone in college football,” Brown said. “It’s not like he’s just a big body. He’s a big body who can move laterally and use his hands.

“There’s a difference between getting statistically rewarded and actually making a play. So many times (Ika) makes the play, even though he’s not rewarded. He’s moving double teams backwards and the linebacker gets the tackle, but it was Ika who made the play.”

On the flip side, it’s Frazier who will be face-to-face with Ika for most of the evening.

And so you have the battle of the behemoths — Frazier and Ika — in what could be a car wreck in the middle of the field every time WVU has the ball.

“It’s strength on strength,” Brown said. “My assumption — and I think it’s a pretty fair assumption — is they probably have a lot of respect for the way Zach plays.

“It’s a little bit of a chess match there. It’s a challenge for Zach, just like I think it’s going to be a challenge for (Ika).”

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Baylor at WVU

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Milan Puskar
TV: FS1 (Comcast 30, HD 857; DirecTV 219; DISH 150)