Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty (14) celebrates his touchdown against the Buffalo Bulls during Week 2.

 

WACO, Texas — A Baylor program that toiled in obscurity until the arrival of Art Briles is now embracing the spotlight of a second Heisman candidate in three seasons. But there’s much more to the Bears than running back Lache Seastrunk and his 139 yards per game.

Some other players to watch as West Virginia heads into a conference showdown at Floyd Casey Stadium:

Bryce Petty, quarterback

The redshirt junior, who developed in the shadow of RGIII and Nick Florence, is on pace to put up numbers that would make his predecessors proud. He has eight passing touchdowns and no interceptions this season—in fact, he has no interceptions ever at Baylor, when you include the 14 mop-up duty pass attempts from the past two seasons.

It speaks to Baylor’s stat-stuffing system, and the Big 12’s dearth of returning quarterbacks this fall, that the media tabbed Petty as preseason all-conference. And in a strange twist, Baylor and Petty can thank Lane Kiffin for their union. The kid who played his high school ball in nearby Midlothian was committed to Tennessee and coach Phil Fulmer, but then Kiffin took over the Vols program and never reached out to Petty.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor’s Bryce Hager (44) jumps to block a pass by Louisiana-Monroe’s Kolton Browning during the Bears’ 70-7 win.

Bryce Hagar, Mike linebacker

Let’s first address the lineage: Hagar’s father Britt played nine NFL seasons and still owns the University of Texas single-season record of 195 tackles from 1988. (Hagar planned to walk-on at Texas until Baylor dangled an offer.) Along with stellar DNA, dad also gave his youngest boy some stellar advice: “Have fun, play fast and hit hard.”

Hager endured all kinds of struggles against West Virginia last season—as did every player on the Baylor defense—but he rebounded to lead the Big 12 with 9.5 tackles per game. With sub-4.5 speed in the 40, Hager can cover lots of ground in the Bears’ 4-2-5 defense; and those wheels were on display during his 91-yard fumble return against Buffalo in Week 2.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor guard Cyril Richardson pass protects against Wofford during the Bears’ 69-3 win.

Cyril Richardson, offensive guard

Last season’s Big 12 lineman of the year is a 6-foot-5, 340-pound road grader who will be making his 32nd career start.

He popped up on a number of preseason All-American lists and hasn’t disappointed, leading the Bears with 21 knockdowns and back-to-back grades of 91 percent the past two games.

“I played against him last year,” said West Virginia nose guard Shaq Rowell, “and he gave me fits.”

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Baylor receivers Antwan Goodley (5) and Tevin Reese (16) celebrate a touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe.

Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley, receivers

They call Reese “Sweet Feet” but his 23-yards-per-catch average actually trails Goodley’s 26.4. Both stand 5-foot-10, but the stocky Goodley has a 50-pound edge at 220 and looks like fullback, at least until he outruns secondaries.

“They’ve got receivers who can catch a hitch route and take it 90 yards if you miss a tackle,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.

Goodley’s four touchdowns this season have covered 83, 65, 63 and 27 yards, and did we mention he squats 660 pounds—second-most on the team? “He can run but he’s also one of the most physical kids I’ve ever seen,” said Petty.

Reese’s three scores have gone for 61, 47 and 44 yards—no surprise, considering the 957 receiving yards he racked up as a junior while playing opposite Biletnikoff finalist Terrance Williams.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Safety Ahmad Dixon is one of five third-year starters on Baylor’s defense.

Ahmad Dixon, safety

The five-star prospect stunned the recruiting universe in 2010 by signing with Baylor over the likes of Oklahoma, Alabama and Texas. Now a senior, Dixon has started the last 29 games and projects to be in the lineup Saturday despite an arrest last week for misdemeanor assault on a 21-year-old man who reportedly bragged about breaking into Dixon’s apartment. (Cue a Texas justice soundtrack …)

A physical player with speed and athleticism, Dixon has shifted back to safety after playing two seasons at the hybrid linebacker/nickel back spot in the Bears’ 4-2-5 defense. He’s one of five three-year starters on the unit, which explains some of the vast improvement from the easy-to-slice outfit WVU encountered last season. When the Bears speak of winning the Big 12 this season, there’s actual validity to such ambition.

“The defense has never given the offense a chance to come close to reaching these goals,” Dixon told ESPN.com. “Now guys defensively are in tune, they know what’s going on.”

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas running back James Sims chases his fumble in front of Baylor linebacker Eddie Lackey.

Eddie Lackey, Will linebacker

The San Diego product—thought to be undersized by most BCS programs—spent a season at Division II Northwood (Mich.) before returning to California for a year of junior college action. He made every start last year upon arriving at Baylor, and among his team-leading four interceptions were crucial game-changing picks against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State.

Lackey knows the Baylor defense was far more sound late last season than it was in its Week 5 trip to Morgantown, whereby WVU rolled up 807 yards.

“It was a pretty tough day for us to go through,” he said.

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Comments

  • Will

    Bears mopped the floor with WVU this weekend. Game was over after one quarter. The nation better recognize Baylor as a top program. Just ask Bob Stoops how it is to play in Waco on a Saturday night. I was there to watch RG3 light up the boards to hand OU their first loss two years ago. Whole team is stacked with NFL talent. Any of you that think different, start running searches on the individual players. Watch their O Line block. Watch their speed and tackling ability on D. Best revieving and running corp in college football. Yeah I said it. Sleep on Baylor, I dare ya. Sic em.

  • Bill

    As always, thanks Allen for your coverage of the Mounties.

  • NWFLEER

    It's a shame Alan doesn't promote WVU as well as he does Baylor. He makes it sound as if we should just get back on the plane and forget playing the 60 minutes of fun.

    • Allan Taylor

      Not promoting, NWFLEER—informing. (Every other post this week was from WVU's perspective.) I'm looking forward to tonight's game, though the winds are gusting in Waco.

  • Big Larry

    Better check your stout D!!!
    If your talking about defense, your speaking big LARRY's language.
    I am all pro at tackling people at Ryan's buffet.
    " told you granny!!! Thems my mashed taters!!"

  • mark u

    Well, when Baylor rolls another +60 points over you and our stout D holds you to below 20 will you change your minds?

    • JoeG

      I suppose you are basing your stout "D" off of Wofford, Buffalo, and ULM?

      • Jonathan

        That same stout D whooped UCLA at the end of last year. Just a thought.

        • Chet Ubetcha

          An overmatched UCLA team that hadn't beaten anyone though

    • Uhavebeardenvy

      You are the Marshall of Texas .. We are not impressed with your victories. Might wanna check our "stout defense" your WR will be limping the 2nd qtr because Joseph and Cook are going to be hitting like Ronnie Lott .

    • tw eagle

      are you asking if i'll love my Mounties any less? Stupid question, mark, to pose on any West by God Virginia site ... if I seem to see what you propose, i'll rollover and make a fresh pot of coffee, cause I've woken up from a nightmare ... and the Baylor bears, even with some "home cookin" help from the zebras will never lay what your dreamin on the WVU Mountaineers . . .

  • tw eagle

    if i'm noticing Baylor players, that would mean they are making some plays ... i'd rather just notice the Mountaineers as the D sticks them and the O runs over, around, and through them ... I'd appreciate some help here if at all possible ... my stock of wax couches is running low ... would anyone here know mark garrett's web site, or know an outlet where these Gold & Blue couches can be purchased?

  • Rob T.

    Just play good D and let Mr. Trickett make some plays and we should be fine!!!! We forget FOOTBALL is a game and WVU has forgotten how to PLAY! Let's have some fun and support the kids wearing the GOLD AND BLUE!!!

  • Dave

    They don't sound so tough to me.

    LET'S GOOOOOOOO MOUNTAINEERS !!!!!!!!!!!

    • Larry

      I'm with you, Baylor is still Baylor, they are not a perennial football power, they may very well beat WVU, but I don't consider them as a superior program in any way.