Neal Brown, Mountaineers Set to Face Baylor’s Unique Defense
West Virginia head coach Neal Brown gave Baylor’s defense the most compliments out of all the team’s phases during Monday’s news conference.
The fourth-year leader of the Mountaineers is right to do this, as the Bears rank in the Top 25 in the FBS three defensive categories despite their 3-2 record.
This is due to a strong scheme and a quality lineup under veteran defensive coordinator Ron Roberts.
“Roberts is a guy that was at a bunch of smaller colleges for a long time and worked his way up to where he’s at,” Brown said. “He established Baylor running a front-reduced box. Nobody’s ran against them this year. They controlled the run game, which has allowed them to play two-safety defenses. They haven’t given up many big plays because of it.”
Standing opposite of a Baylor defense starts with a four-man front, though the Bears occasionally start with three down linemen and a bandit, a shorter name for a defensive end that can also drop into pass coverage depending on the down and distance.
Baylor then only holds six players inside the box instead of the usual seven, but as Brown noted, this gives the secondary an easier time defending the pass, as the extra defender covering the opposing receivers eliminates 1-on-1 matchups.
“They have really good answers to what they’re shown,” Brown said. “They’re good enough to play a man down in the box and still control the run game. They have some big bodies that are able to move to the ball.”
The Bears currently sit 25th in the FBS in total defense at 320 yards allowed per game. They also hold the 18th fewest first downs allowed (91) while allowing a 34.7 percent third down conversion rate (26-of-75).
Baylor’s biggest highlight defensively is allowing just 96.8 rushing yards per contest, ranking 18th in the nation and second in the Big 12.
“As a defense, they do some good things and put a lot on the front guys,” Mountaineers offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “They have big guys that can take out multiple people. Their big guys count for two people.”
One Baylor defender that Brown highlighted was tackle Siaki Ika, a 6-foot-4, 358-pound junior transfer from LSU.
Ika has recorded 11 tackles and one quarterback hit through five games. His presence on the line and ability to give the Bears’ linebackers the chance to make plays is one of the main attention grabbers on Ika’s scouting report.
During the Mountaineers and Bears matchup last season, Ika recorded three tackles, including two for loss and two sacks.
“He’s special,” Brown said of Ika. “He’s a monster, but he’s agile. Very tough 1-on-1. He was a big factor in our game last season.”
West Virginia’s key for success offensively will be the ability to gain yards on the ground once again. The Mountaineers were held to just 61 yards in their loss against Texas.
3 Keys to WVU Football Winning Impending Shootout with Baylor
Establishing the run will also open up more opportunities through the air for the Mountaineers, which will be helped by the emergence of multiple receivers, including Kaden Prather.
“We have to get it going,” Brown said. “That’s something we didn’t do a good job of at Texas. We have a chance to be really good on offense, and the expectation is we can be good every week. We just gotta do some things schematically.”