Offense Aplenty In Morgantown
MORGANTOWN – West Virginia’s festive arrival in the Big 12 even has Baylor pumped up.
The 25th-ranked Bears (3-0) would like nothing more than to make it a shaky debut for the ninth-ranked Mountaineers (3-0) in the team’s conference opener today.
This much is for sure: fans who miss even a minute of action on the field might be asking “what happened?” These teams average a combined 98 points a game.
“From what I’ve been told it’s going to be awesome,” Baylor quarterback Nick Florence said. “First Big 12 game, they’ll be excited. Their fans will be excited and so will we. They have a lot to prove and so will we.”
Baylor wants to prove it belongs in the rankings while seeking a school record-tying 10th straight victory. So far, the Bears are doing fine without Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. But their defense, which allows 315 passing yards per game, has yet to face someone like West Virginia’s Geno Smith. And a rugged Big 12 schedule still lies ahead.
Likewise, the Mountaineers will have their hands full trying to slow down Florence, the nation’s leader in total offense with a penchant for taking off with the ball.
“We’re going to try to make him one dimensional,” West Virginia linebacker Isaiah Bruce said. “But as much as he widens the field, it’s going to be a challenge to keep him contained.”
Baylor is one of seven FBS teams averaging at least 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing. Bears receivers Terrance Williams and Tevin Reese each average more than 20 yards a catch.
Coupled with West Virginia’s Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, who are first and third nationally, respectively, in receptions per game, the expected aerial show will keep the statisticians hopping.
West Virginia is looking to validate its top 10 perch and will be pressed to stop Baylor’s streak of seven straight games of more than 40 points. During its winning streak, the Bears have surpassed 500 yards of offense in every game.
The deciding factor could be which defense is less porous. Baylor is giving up 493 yards per game, West Virginia 398.
“We have got to cover the field sideline to sideline because of their splits, and we have to make sure that they don’t get behind us because they have got great speed and they are going to run the ball,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “They are going to run the ball 50 percent of the time, and then they are going to take shots down field. If you are successful one out of three times, that is pretty good.”
Florence threw for 351 yards and a career-high four touchdowns in a 47-42 victory at Louisiana-Monroe last week, but only after his two interceptions helped put Baylor in a 14-0 hole.
“We can’t do that this week. We’ve got to protect the football and execute well,” Florence said.
Smith, who’s averaging 357 yards passing, said the Mountaineers aren’t looking at it as needing to match Baylor point for point.
“No, it’s a team game,” he said. “I expect our defense to go out there and play really well. If anyone’s expecting our defense to give up a lot of points, then whatever, I don’t believe that.”
Whether West Virginia leading rusher Shawne Alston will play could be a game-time decision. He bruised his right thigh two weeks ago and didn’t get a carry in a 31-21 victory against Maryland last week, and the Mountaineers were limited to 25 yards on the ground overall.
The game marks a reunion between Holgorsen and Baylor’s Art Briles. They were together on Mike Leach’s staff at Texas Tech from 2000-02. Holgorsen was an assistant at Oklahoma State when the Cowboys beat Briles’ Bears in 2010.
It also will be the start of a challenging stretch for the Mountaineers, who play at No. 12 Texas and at Texas Tech the next two weeks.
“We get to open those guys up to the Big 12,” Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon said. “We get to show them how we perform in the Big 12. It’s their homecoming as well. We know that they’re going to be taking a lot of shots, so we have to stay focused and do what we have to do.”
Boilermakers gearing up for up-tempo Marshall
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) – Purdue understands this week’s challenge. Figuring out how to stop Marshall and the nation’s No. 1 passing offense is another matter.
“They’re a hyper-speed, up-tempo offense,” coach Danny Hope said.
What makes this week so tough is trying to simulate the pace of an offense few college teams can match.
While the Thundering Herd leads the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards passing per game (383.5) and ranks seventh in the nation in total yards (561.0), the most astounding statistic is plays per game (92.8). That puts Marshall on pace to break an FBS record that has stood more than four decades. Notre Dame averaged 92.4 plays per game in 1970 – long before spread offenses and basketball scores became trendy in college football.
And Marshall (2-2) has figured out a way to mix things up, too.
With quarterback Rakeem Cato running the show and a bevy of capable receivers eager to make plays, the Thundering Herd uses quick throws to spread out a defense. Should Purdue dare Cato to go with the run, Marshall can excel in that phase, too. Last week, freshman Steward Butler ran for 166 yards and a TD and redshirt freshman, Kevin Grooms, rushed for another 103 yards and four TDs in a 54-51 double overtime victory at Rice.
If the Thundering Herd continues to excel in both, there will be nowhere for Purdue’s defense to hide.
“We aren’t one dimensional as far as getting the ball just to Aaron (Dobson) or Tommy (Shuler). We’ve been able to spread the ball around,” coach Doc Holliday said of Marshall’s gun-slinging ways. “We were able to run the football a bit last week and hopefully that will help us. We just have to continue doing what we are doing.”
Purdue (2-1) does take a couple of advantages into the game.
Thanks to a well-timed bye, the Boilermakers (2-1) got an extra week to prepare for this fast-break offense, and as the first Big Ten team to extensively use the spread offense, Hope simply instructed quarterback Caleb TerBush and the Purdue offense to practice at breakneck speed.
At least it helped Hope make his point about how to defend Marshall.
“They do a lot of quick throws, so we’ve got to get in their face as much as possible,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “We have to make him (Cato) uncomfortable – and, uh, bruise him up.”
Short is not likely to be as polite on game day.
What else might help? The Boilermakers are better positioned to make a defensive stand than they have been in the recent past.
Hope calls this the most talented defensive line and secondary he’s been around – a perfect combination to slow down Marshall. Purdue also ranks second in the Big Ten in fewest points allowed per game and total defense, and is No. 5 in pass defense.
The challenge goes both ways.
“Their defense is what really stands out,” Holliday said. “Their front four have a couple of guys that will probably be first or second-round draft picks.”
Plus, if Purdue finds itself engaged in a wild shootout, it has an offense that knows how to fend off Doc Holliday’s big-hitting gang.
In two games against non-BCS foes, a trio of quarterbacks – Rob Henry, Robert Marve and TerBush – has averaged 51 points per game. Marve is not expected to play this week after tearing the ACL in his left knee for the third time since transferring to Purdue.
The Boilermakers also could give their defense a break by generating a steady ground game. They have run for more than 100 yards in two of their first three games, and hope to fine-tune that part of an offense before heading into Big Ten play next week.
And they’re still averaging nearly 40 points per game.
It’s enough to make Hope and his players believe that they have enough to match Marshall play-for-play and point-for-point this weekend – however the Thundering Herd decides to attack.
“I’m excited about our football team because we have played pretty good up to this point in time. I see lots of areas that we can improve in,” Hope said. “We’re going to continue as a football team getting better and better and better and if we continue with that we will be tough to beat.”