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Jordan Lesley, WVU Defense Unfazed by Baylor’s Fourth Down Aggression

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Many aspects of the Baylor offense have caught the attention of Mountaineer head coach Neal Brown.

As they should.

The Bears are coming off a stellar 12-win season where they claimed the Big 12 Conference Championship and a win in the Sugar Bowl, while still exhibiting the same factors that made the offense successful.

One key factor that has helped Baylor is the confidence from offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes, particularly the quick trigger when deciding to roll the dice on fourth down.

“You gotta know that going into the game,” Brown said during Monday’s news conference. “It kind of changes the mindset (for the defense).”

Grimes’ aggression on fourth down was shown off in 2021, when the Bears attempted 35 conversions and were successful on 22, good for a 62.8 percent rate.

Through five games this season, Baylor is on track to match, if not pass, the mark from last year. The Bears are 10-for-16 on fourth down, with their 62.5 percent success numbers currently tied for 31st in the FBS, and the 16 attempts are tied for fifth-most.

“You can look at this in a couple of ways,” West Virginia defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley said. “You’re playing two first downs or two second downs, depending on where the ball is. We just have to be aware that’s their philosophy, and that’s what they’re gonna do.”

Despite Baylor’s numbers being not quite near the top, where Texas-El Paso, Central Michigan and Texas Tech are all tied for the FBS lead with 25 attempts, Grimes and the Bears use their conversion confidence wisely, though some situations have more of a shock factor than others.

During Baylor’s loss to Oklahoma State on Oct. 1, the Bears attempted two fourth downs from deep in their own side of the field, but were successful in both.

The Bears, trailing by eight, converted a 4th and 1 from their own 11 yard line. They later faced a 4th and 5 from the 30, and threw a 70-yard touchdown pass.

“If you get a stop on first down, an incomplete pass, a second and long turns back into a first down,” Brown said. “It’s a type of defense call. That’s kinda how we think about it. We just have to adjust.”

Both coaches remarked on the Mountaineers’ 45-20 loss at the hands of the Bears last season, as the ability to make changes defensively on the fly will be crucial. Baylor lost a majority of its offensive skill players from last season, but retained one of its quarterbacks — Blake Shapen.

Shapen, despite only being a sophomore and seeing minimal time behind starter Gerry Bohanon last season, has taken the reigns of the Bears’ offense, including reaching nearly half of the fourth downs via pass. He has thrown for over 1,100 yards and compiled 11 touchdowns, nine through the air.

Lesley said his defensive preparation will not change due to every conversion situation being different.

“You just don’t know until you get to the game,” Lesley said. “You can get a couple things in your head based on field position or personnel, but until you know exactly what the down and distance is, the hash, you can’t make a choice.”

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