MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Will Grier got his groove back and No. 13 West Virginia forced four turnovers while dominating Baylor 58-14 in Big 12 action Thursday night.
Rebounding 12 days after their listless loss against Iowa State, the Mountaineers (6-1, 4-1) raced out to a 41-0 halftime lead. By that juncture Grier had amassed 302 of his 353 passing yards and fired three touchdowns.
The nation’s No. 3-rated quarterback found Gary Jennings alone for a 53-yard score on the third play from scrimmage, and Grier tacked on touchdowns of 25 and 65 yards to David Sills. He also ran for a short score on the heels of Tevin Bush’s 79-yard sprint.
In less than three quarters of work, Grier finished 17 of 27 without an interception. Sills gained 139 yards on five receptions, Jennings added three catches for 100, and West Virginia piled up 567 overall — a crisp recovery for an offense that suffered seven sacks and gained only 152 yards in Ames.
Baylor (4-4, 2-3) also exhibited a stark turnabout — not in a good way — from its 23-17 near-upset at No. 9 Texas. Failing to cross midfield on the first 11 possessions, the Bears ultimately benched quarterback Charlie Brewer, who was 1 of 8 with three interceptions. Two of those turnovers went through the hands of receivers.
Recapping the updates throughout the game:
— WVU PUNT: A three-and-out for the second-team offense ended with Allison taking a huge pop on a keeper.
— BAYLOR PUNT: McClendon lost 10 yards on a sack by Dange Stills and made things worse by trying to throw the ball away. It went backward and resulted in a minus-17 play.
— WVU PUNT: With 9 minutes left, the Mountaineers finally punted.
— BAYLOR FAILED FOURTH DOWN: A 44-point deficit is no time to punt. Fourth-and-13 was the time, however, for WVU redshirt freshman Exree Loe to record his first sack.
TOUCHDOWN: Jennings 36-yard pass from Jack Allison (14:53) WVU leads 58-14
Baylor’s onside kick failed and the Bears suffered the indignity of a 15-yard penalty for kick-catching interference, setting up WVU in prime position. Allison capitalized with a play-action fake that preceded a deep throw to Jennings, the receiver’s eighth touchdown this season. (Drive: 2 plays, 34 yards in 0:26)
TOUCHDOWN: Jalen McClendon 1-yard run (0:23) WVU leads 51-14
After going 6-of-6 on the drive for 67 yards, the Bears quarterback plunged in for the score. Tyquan Thornton caught three passes for 37 yards and Denzil Mims set up the touchdown with a 17-yard grab down to the 1. (Drive: 10 plays, 75 yards in 5:11)
TOUCHDOWN: Leddie Brown 1-yard run (5:34) WVU leads 51-7
Wesco turned a catch into a 20-yard gain with more bullish running, and the Mountaineers escaped a second-and-24 when Alec Sinkfield took a wide-open screen for 31. The ground game took over with seven runs on 10 plays. (Drive: 10 plays, 72 yards in 4:12)
TOUCHDOWN: Josh Fleeks 2-yard run (9:52) WVU leads 44-7
On its 11th possession Baylor finally crossed midfield. It evolved into a scoring drive when backup quarterback Jalen McClendon twice converted third downs: A third-and-1 sneak followed by a third-and-4 completion to Jalen Hurd. Hakeem Bailey’s pass interference flag also factored. (Drive: 9 plays, 56 yards in 4:20)
FIELD GOAL: 44-yarder by Evan Staley (14:20) WVU leads 44-0
You knew it was West Virginia’s night when a zero-yard drive still resulted in points. Thanks to the special-teams takeaway on the fumbled second-half kickoff, the Mountaineers started within Staley’s range. (Drive: 4 plays, 0 yards in 0:32)
— BAYLOR TURNOVER: Halftime adjustments be damned. None of those mattered when Bears returner Chris Platt fumbled the third-quarter kickoff at the 25. Hakeem Bailey recovered.
— West Virginia outgained Baylor 435-87, averaged 10.9 yards per play and led 16-5 in first downs.
— Will Grier was 15-of-22 for 302 yards and three TDs.
— BAYLOR PUNT: The Bears didn’t score, but in a moral victory, they milked most of the final 3 minutes and didn’t allow WVU another chance before halftime.
TOUCHDOWN: Will Grier 1-yard run (3:09) WVU leads 41-0
West Virginia continued its crazy output. Tevin Bush took a jet sweep 79 yards and was brought down just shy of the goal line. After a review, Grier surged in on the sneak. That made three touchdown drives in the span of six snaps and 95 seconds, (Drive: 2 plays, 80 yards in 0:48)
— BAYLOR PUNT: Jalen McClendon entered at quarterback. The result? One first down and another punt.
TOUCHDOWN: Martell Pettaway 33-yard run (6:11) WVU leads 34-0
West Virginia was looking unstoppable. A second-and-10 draw by Pettaway caught Baylor in a blitz, and the junior ripped off a career-long run. (Drive: 2 plays, 33 yards in 0:14)
— BAYLOR TURNOVER: An interception by Shea Campbell gave WVU it’s third takeaway of the half and the ball at Baylor’s 33.
TOUCHDOWN: David Sills 65-yard pass from Will Grier (8:23) WVU leads 27-0
Touchdown No. 9 for Sills came after two Baylor defensive backs failed to make a play on Grier’s deep sideline throw. It was Sills’ second-longest score of his career, behind the 75-yarder against East Carolina in 2017. (Drive: 2 plays, 67 yards in 0:33)
— BAYLOR PUNT: Another three-and-out with Zeke Rose adding a sack.
TOUCHDOWN: David Sills 25-yard pass from Will Grier (8:23) WVU leads 20-0
Alec Sinkfield saw his first action since Week 2 with a carry and a catch, but it was Grier’s keeper on fourth-and-3 from the Bears’ 32 that proved vital. He dodged a tackler at the sticks and gained 7, signalling first down while flat-backed on the turf. One play later, Sills beat man coverage and Grier dropped in a perfect lob for the eighth touchdown connection of the season. (Drive: 6 plays, 52 yards in 3:02)
— BAYLOR PUNT: A three-and-out with three TFLs. David Long registered two of them, capped by a third-down sack of Brewer.
FIELD GOAL: 47-yarder by Evan Staley (13:21) WVU leads 13-0
Having driven inside Baylor’s 25 on its opening five drives, West Virginia inflicted only minimal damage. Sills leapt for a 42-yard catch but Dominique Maiden had no shot to grab an overthrown pass in the corer of the end zone. Baylor’s blitz ambushed Grier for a 15-yard loss before Staley drilled the kick (Drive: 7 plays, 41 yards in 2:11)
— BAYLOR PUNT: The Bears stalled after Hurd’s 14-yard run, with Brewer being dropped on a third-down sack by JoVani Stewart.
FIELD GOAL: 25-yarder by Evan Staley (2:53) WVU leads 10-0
West Virginia started from Baylor’s 33 after the Toyous Avery interception, and Grier struck quickly on a 23-yard pass to Trevon Wesco. After two Martell Pettaway runs netted little, Grier’s third-and-8 pass into the deep corner of the end zone was bobbled by T.J. Simmons and caught out of bounds. Staley, on his third field-goal attempt of the opening quarter, finally got one to go through. (Drive: 5 plays, 25 yards in 1:28)
— BAYLOR TURNOVER: Brewer’s catchable pass sailed through the hands of Jalen Hurd, who made a puny attempt with Kenny Robinson lurking. Toyous Avery’s interception led to a 32-yard return.
— WVU MISSED FG: Staley’s 40-yard try was deflected by 6-foot-4 defensive lineman James Lynch. Earlier in the drive, Grier and Sills missed a 38-yard touchdown hookup by millimeters.
— BAYLOR TURNOVER: Belted on an earlier crossing route, Mims ran it again and exhibited alligator arms while tipping the ball to cornerback Keith Washington. WVU took over at its 45.
— WVU MISSED FG: A nearly 5-minute drive netted nothing when Evan Staley pushed a 44-yard attempt wide right. Getting there featured a third-and-9 completion to Jovanni Haskins and Baylor defensive end Greg Roberts lining up in the neutral zone on third-and-4. Bears safety Jordan Williams also drew a pass interference flag for flattening Kennedy McKoy on another wheel route
— BAYLOR PUNT: The Bears started three-and-out, including an incompletion to Denzel Mims on a jarring hit by safety Kenny Robinson.
TOUCHDOWN: Gary Jennings 53-yard pass from Will Grier (14:10) WVU leads 7-0
The best way to forget that putrid performance in Ames? How about a rapid-strike scoring drive on which Grier went 3-for-3. A short pass to David Sills netted 9 yards before a screen to Marcus Simms popped for 13 — and nearly much more as safety Christian Morgan barely tripped Simms. Next came Jennings in motion and thanks to a Baylor coverage bust he wound up uncovered on a wheel route down the home sideline. (Drive: 3 plays, 75 yards in 0:50)
— My pregame column with Five Questions for WVU-Baylor.
— Leddie Brown (ankle) is dressed and looking nimble for West Virginia. I’m told to expect Joe Brown to be available at right guard, where the revolving door has spun all season.
— Still in the thick of the Big 12 race, yet also in a period of serious self-reflection, the Mountaineers (5-1, 3-1) want some relief from all the soul-searching that transpired since a 30-14 upset loss at Iowa State. Heisman candidate Will Grier threw for a meager 100 yards and West Virginia netted only 152 overall, the program’s fewest since 1995. It became a jarring episode for an offense that fancied itself one of the nation’s most prolific.
Sacked seven times by Iowa State, Grier contributed to the negative plays while holding the ball too long. The nation’s third-ranked passer couldn’t capitalize on his trademark scrambles that typically allow receivers to run open downfield.
“I think that I’m trying to extend plays and give us a spark,” Grier said. “In certain situations I have to get rid of the ball, and that’s the gray area being the playmaker and being the quarterback. If somebody gets open and I throw a 60-yard touchdown, then I don’t think anybody is going to tell me to throw the ball away. That’s part of playing this position — it falls on me.”
— Under second-year coach Matt Rhule, the Bears are two wins shy of bowl-eligibility with five games left. They are two-touchdown underdogs in Morgantown, the same long odds they faced at Texas in what became a 23-17 loss. Quarterback Charlie Brewer drove Baylor 80 yards in the final minutes before misfiring three times into the end zone.
In last year’s 38-36 loss to West Virginia, Brewer came off the bench and led Baylor to 23 unanswered points. His potential game-tying two-point pass in the final 17 seconds was foiled by a sack.
While this Baylor offense won’t rival the scorching attacks of the Art Bridles era, Brewer has sufficient weapons. They include Tennessee transfer Jalen Hurd, a converted running back who leads the team with 47 receptions and 622 yards, and preseason All-Big 12 receiver Denzel Mims, who’s aiming for another 1,000-yard season.
— Football beat writer Alex Hickey said WVU’s high-revving offense became a moped struggling to climb a mountain highway at Iowa State.
— Sean Manning got a tad sentimental for weeknight games of the Big East era.
— The MetroNews sports staff predictions (with the Mountaineers favored by 13.5) …
Hoppy Kercheval: West Virginia 48-24
Brad Howe: West Virginia 42-27
Goose Gyorko: West Virginia 45-24
Kyle Wiggs: West Virginia 24-17
Me: West Virginia 31-20