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West Virginia Going For First Big 12 Win

Baylor coming off first loss of season

West Virginia quarterback Garrett Greene (6) is defended by Texas Tech defensive back Reggie Pearson Jr. (22) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Morgantown, W.Va., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Kathleen Batten)

MORGANTOWN — Neal Brown is in unfamiliar territory.

He’s in his third season at the helm of the West Virginia football program and his sixth as a college head coach but, for the first time, his team has opened the season with a somewhat undesirable 2-3 record, and 0-2 in the Big 12.

Losses are a difficult fix, but the head coach said earlier this week that the team’s recent struggles are not connected to the players on the field.

“I think schematically, everything that we’re doing is sound,” Brown said.

“I think that if you asked me what a well-coached unit looked like, or a group that’s prepared going into a game, you’re not asking your players to do something they can’t do. I feel confident that, in all three phases, we’re not asking our players to go out and execute something they can’t do.”

The Mountaineers have been within a possession in all three of their losses this season. Still, the team has struggled to develop a consistent, well-rounded attack, and they enter this week in the midst of a two-game skid.

West Virginia travels to Waco this weekend in hopes of turning around against Baylor (4-1, 2-1 Big 12), which suffered its first loss of the season last week against No. 12 Oklahoma State. The Bears represent arguably the first true Big 12 test for the Mountaineers, as the team currently ranks third in the conference in total offense and total defense.

The game is scheduled for a noon kickoff Saturday and will be broadcast on FS1.

The run game is the catalyst that has vaulted Baylor’s offense to the top of the Big 12.

Fifth-year rusher Trestan Ebner and converted linebacker Abram Smith have split carries, placing the Bears second in the conference with nearly 239 rushing yards per game.

Quarterback Gerry Bohanon also has played a role in the unit’s success, having rushed for five touchdowns and more than 100 yards. Through the air, the junior is averaging about 200 yards per game.

On defense, Jalen Pitre has developed into one of the Big 12’s most feared defenders, and arguably Baylor’s most versatile. Pitre plays the star position, which is a linebacker and defensive back hybrid similar to West Virginia’s spear position.

“He adds on the edge really well, he’s a great blitzer, he’s instinctive,” offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said.

“He can run the line of scrimmage when runs (are) away, he can attack you when runs (are) at him. If you try to pull the ball and throw [run-pass options] at him, he’s very instinctive and can jump in pass lanes. That is really what he does well, and they use him to those strengths.”

Linebacker Terrel Bernard has also been a factor on the Bears’ defense this season. He collected 21 tackles before missing the previous game and a half after suffering a leg injury. All signs point to him returning to the lineup on Saturday, according to head coach Dave Aranda.

Together, the duo ran roughshod against the Mountaineers a season ago. Bernard tallied a team-high 13 tackles while Pitre followed closely with 11.

“Those two guys, if you’re not playing against them, they’re fun to watch,” Brown said. “Worth the price of admission. They play the game the way it’s supposed to be played at all times.”

History is on the Mountaineers’ side as they’ve emerged on top in four of the last five matchups, with the only loss coming in Brown’s first year as head coach.

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