MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — As skeptical as he is stout, West Virginia nose guard Shaq Rowell needed convincing when defensive coordinator Keith Patterson told a roomful of players they could be conference champions.
“Back in January, he told us we could win the Big 12 and, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t believe him,” Rowell said. “But the more we bought in from January until now, the more I started believing.”
The Mountaineers (3-2, 1-1) remain a long way from a Big 12 title, but not nearly as far as they were before upsetting preseason favorite Oklahoma State. Though it seems fanciful to imagine, West Virginia—after splitting games against Oklahoma and OSU—could become a serious contender with a victory over No. 17 Baylor (3-0, 0-0) on Saturday.
Rowell fawningly credits Patterson for this season’s defensive turnaround, while joking that his coordinator is “bipolar” — a hollering taskmaster during practices who becomes reassuringly optimistic on gamedays.
Likewise, Patterson returns the compliment, saying his senior nose guard “is playing at whole new level.” Through five games, Rowell is fourth on the team with 23 tackles, atypical for a heavyweight lineman who frequently encounters double-teams. Yet as he showed on one downfield tackle against Oklahoma State, Rowell isn’t content with simply plugging holes at the line of scrimmage.
The play developed when OSU tailback Desmond Roland found a seam on the left side. Though Rowell got penetration on the opposite side, the 6-foot-4, 305-pounder tracked down the runner after a 22-yard pickup.
Rowell was shocked when he noticed the play on film, struggling to recall the last time he showed such downfield mobility.
“Probably back in my wee days, when I was little,” he said. “It was just pure hustle— a matter of wanting it. I just ran and did it.”
Rowell might not be so fortunate to catch Baylor’s running backs, especially 4.3 speedster Lache Seastrunk, the Oregon transfer who’s averaging 11 yards per carry.
Compounding the difficulty is that Baylor’s variation on the spread offense employs different principles—and more tendencies—than what WVU faced in its first five games.
“The first five weeks we faced the same offense—let’s be real about it,” Rowell said. “They all ran the same things, they were just different teams. I could tell what they”re doing.
“But Baylor, I can’t pick it up. I’m out here playing chess right now instead of checkers. I’m confused right now. I’ve just got to go in there and watch a little more film. By the time Saturday comes, I’ll figure something out.”