Football, Sports, WVU Sports

Mountaineers want to close regular season strong with a win at Baylor

MORGANTOWN — West Virginia football coach Neal Brown believes there is a season for everything.

“There’s a season where people are going to worry about NIL, and there’s a season when they’re going to worry about transferring and there’s a season when they’re going to worry about bowls,” said Brown, whose 7-4 Mountineers are bowl-bound this season. “We’re in the season of there’s one game a week, we’re in the regular season and we need to have a singular focus on this week.”

Without classes this week due to Thanksgiving break, Brown wants West Virginia (7-4, 5-3 Big 12) to be singularly focused on their regular-season finale against Baylor (7 p.m./FS1).

The Bears (3-8, 2-6) haven’t had the season they’ve wanted and will be without starting quarterback Blake Shapen, who suffered a head injury at their end of their game last week.

“I’m not sure we need to be overlooking anybody,” Brown said. “To me, it’s just about finishing. We’ve got a singular focus this week, it’s the only game where there’s not any school stuff to worry about.”

The Mountaineers are coming off of one of their most impressive performances of Brown’s five-year tenure, a 42-21 win over Cincinnati in which they rushed for 424 yards and five touchdowns. Baylor has the second-worst rushing defense in the Big 12, allowing 179 yards per game, and last in scoring defense, allowing 33.3 points per game.

“For me, it starts with their d-line,” Brown said. “They’re extremely well-coach, they’ve got great size and length, they rotate a lot of guys in there, they can rush the passer and they can play you in a lot of different fronts.”

The Bears are led by senior linebacker Matt Jones, who leds the team with 74 tackles and 10 tackles for loss with three sacks. Lineman TJ Franklins leads the team with 3.5 sacks and has eight tackles for loss. True freshman cornerback Caden Jenkins has a trio of interceptions this season.

On offense, Baylor ranked second-last in the Big 12 in scoring (22.4) and fourth-worst in yards (381.8).

“You can see the team, on both sides of the ball, has real strong identities,” Baylor coach Dave Aranda said of WVU. “On offense, running the ball and on defense a 3-4 structure with single high (safety). You know what you’re going to get, the problem is you’ve got to deal with it.”

Without Shapen, Baylor will start either Sawyer Robinson or RJ Martinez at quarterback. Robinson started games earlier in the year in place of Shapen and has thrown for 349 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.

Running backs Dominic Richardson (494 yards) and Dawson Pendergrass (322, five touchdown) lead the rushing attack while Monaray Baldwin leads the team with 623 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Drake Dabney has set a new Baylor single-season high for receiving yards by a tight end with 529 to go with five touchdowns.

WVU is 1-4 all-time in Waco, with the lone win coming in 2017.

“It’s a tough place to play. We haven’t had a lot of success there as a program,” Brown said. “The key for us is we’ve got to have a good week. And then we’ve got to handle the travel and handle playing at night down in a venue we’ve struggled at.”

West Virginia is 2-3 on the road this season. The team’s latest trip was a 59-20 loss at Oklahoma.

“We didn’t handle our last road trip very well, so that’s extra incentive,” Brown said.