Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

September 25, 2012

Confidence not a problem as Baylor visits WVU

MORGANTOWN — After Robert Griffin III won the Heisman Trophy and left for the Washington Redskins, many observers felt the Baylor Bears were heading back to their accustomed spot in the Big 12 basement.

No one told the Bears.

All Baylor has done is score 59, 48 and 47 and points in wins over Southern Methodist, Sam Houston State and early-season giant killer Louisiana-Monroe.

"We did what we had to do,” said Baylor head coach Art Briles, in a press release. “You have to win your non-conference games in this league, because the league is so strong and the games are so tough. That was the critical thing that we had to come out of the non-conference with three wins."

Baylor (3-0) has won nine straight games, averaging 50.3 points per game during that span that goes six games into 2011. Baylor’s 10 wins last season was tied for the most in school history and the Bears 6-3 mark was their best ever in the Big 12. They also won a bowl game for the first time since 1992, a 69-56 Alamo Bowl victory over Washington.

No wonder the Bears are ranked 25th in the latest Associated Press football poll, one of six Big 12 teams in the Top 25. Three other clubs are receiving votes in the poll. Only Kansas is getting no consideration.

"We try to keep our eyes off of things like that and focus on what we can control,” Baylor defensive back Ahmad Dixon said. “It's a great privilege to be named among the top teams in America. To know the name of Baylor is brought up among those teams, it just feels great, but we plan on climbing higher in the charts."

Baylor will open its Big 12 campaign on Saturday with a 1,298-mile trip to No. 7 (USA Today)/No. 9 (AP) West Virginia (3-0), in what will be the Mountaineers’ first game as a member of the league. The Bears are excited about the first-ever matchup between the two teams.

"We get to open those guys up to the Big 12. We get to show them how we perform in the Big 12,” Dixon said. “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."

"The fans talk a lot of trash but we zone them out,” added junior safety K.J. Morton. “We feel like it's us against the world. Being one big family, we pull together with high hopes and staying on top of our game.”

Briles understand what awaits the Bears as they are part of homecoming in what is expected to be a festive environment for a noon start. The game will be televised by FX.

"They are going to have a good stadium, it's not like it's going to be a big first-time deal for them,” Briles said. “They have been doing things right up there for a long time. The only significance is that it's their first Big 12 game."

He has faced Dana Holgorsen-coached teams before when the West Virginia head coach was an assistant at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

"Dana is a great coach. He has done a great job everywhere he has been. He is very passionate, very attentive to detail, and very intelligent,” Briles said. “I am certainly not surprised at all where he is at right now. I could see it back in 2000."

While Griffin was electrifying at times last season on his way to winning the most coveted award in college football, Baylor has turned to senior quarterback Nick Florence in his place, and all he has done is lead the nation in total offense (1,163). He has thrown for 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Baylor is ranked fifth nationally in passing offense (361.7) and scoring offense (51.33), and sixth in total offense (568.67). West Virginia’s pass defense, which is ranked 103rd (276.67) will be tested by the Bears.

“From what I've been told it's going to be awesome. First Big 12 game, they'll be excited,” Florence said. “Their fans will be excited and so will we. They have a lot to prove and so will we. It's going to be a good game."

Baylor can do more than pass the ball. They are averaging 207.0 yards on the ground, led by Jarred Salubi (73.7 ypg) and Florence (53.0).

“There are not many teams in America that are averaging 300 (passing yards) and 200 rushing a game,” Briles said. “We are certainly not where we think we will be, we feel like we have some energy out there that hasn't produced yet. We certainly feel like we are going to be capable of rushing the ball better than we have been."

Baylor, however, has struggled on defense, allowing 29.67 points per game. The Bears are 113th in total defense (492.67) and pass defense (315.0), and 88th in scoring (29.7).

They will be tested by West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith and receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, a trio who have helped the Mountaineers sit third in the nation in passing offense (370.0), 10th in scoring offense (47.33) and 14th in total offense (529.0).

Still, the Bears are confident in their defense, despite 42 points last Friday at Louisiana-Monroe, which has beaten Arkansas and lost to Auburn in overtime.

"Louisiana-Monroe is a great team. I'm not taking anything away from them, but we gave them 21 points,” Baylor defensive tackle Trevor Clemons-Valdez said. “It's a ‘we’ thing, and that is what (associate head) coach (Phil)  Bennett tells us, and that is how we are going to play it.

“We know West Virginia has a really explosive offense. We have our work cut out for us, but we are a great defense. We are a great team and we give great effort. I have all the faith in the world that we're going to go out there and handle business."

There was a time when Baylor was considered an automatic win the schedule. Not anymore, and the Bears are enjoying their new-found success on the gridiron.

"I think it benefits Baylor. I think it's a little bit of a carryover from the national recognition we got a year ago,” Briles said. “We need that recognition and that respect nationally that we still don't have, that we are still trying to earn.

“We are peaking in a crack at the door, they don't have it open yet, but we are peaking in and then they will shut it. We just have to get it where it will stay open and we will stay respected all the time."

—Contact Brian Woodson

at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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