MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – In the days leading up to kickoff between West Virginia and Baylor Thursday night, head coach Neal Brown believed there were three keys to victory.
“The turnover margin, which we won. Who could establish the run game, which we did. And then, scoring touchdowns in the red zone, which we did good enough,” said the head coach.
Thursday’s thrilling win over Baylor was just the second time this season that the Mountaineers had won the turnover battle, and just the first time against an FBS opponent. It was also the first time this year that WVU’s defense forced its opponent into committing multiple turnovers.
“We had some guys come in and make plays, and we forced turnovers, which is huge,” Brown said.
Jasir Cox’s scoop and score in the second quarter was nominated for the Big 12 Smokin’ Play of the Week, and both of the second-half turnovers WVU’s defense forced came while the Bears were on West Virginia’s side of the 50-yard line.
“The biggest play of the game was the fumble recovery that got returned,” Brown added.
Tony Mathis Jr. racked up a career-high 163 rushing yards against the Bears. His big day was part of the third instance this season of the Mountaineers eclipsing 200 rushing yards as a team.
West Virginia has won all three of those games, and is 3-1 when winning the battle on the ground.
“I thought Tony Mathis he was decisive,” said the Mountaineers’ fourth-year head coach. “And that’s where he hadn’t been this year.”
Mathis and Justin Johnson Jr. carried the load for the Mountaineers, who were without leading rusher CJ Donaldson.
Red zone scoring has not been as straightforward in determining a winner in West Virginia’s contests this season.
WVU’s Week 5 loss to Texas was the only time this season West Virginia’s opponent has made more trips to the red zone than the Mountaineers this year. Meanwhile, the Week 2 loss to Kansas and Thursday night’s win over Baylor are the lone instances this year of WVU’s opponent scoring more touchdowns in the red zone than the Mountaineers.
Graham Harrell’s offense scored on all four drives that finished inside the 20-yard line against the Bears, and found the endzone on half of those trips. Dave Aranda’s offense had five drives go inside WVU’s 20-yard line. Baylor scored on four of those five opportunities, and found paydirt three times.
|Red zone scores (wins)||16-17 |
|Red zone TDs (wins)||10-17|
|Red zone scores (losses)||13-14|
|Red zone TDs (losses)||10-14|
The Mountaineers have been much more efficient at scoring in the red zone, compared to the opposition, in their three victories, as shown in the table above. That is both in terms of overall scoring, and scoring touchdowns from plays ran inside the 20-yard line.
West Virginia, however, has been just as efficient in overall red zone scoring in losses. However, it’s West Virginia’s defense that has made the difference.
Opposing teams that have beaten WVU this year have not only scored on all but one red zone drive this season, but they have scored touchdowns on all but one of those drives.
West Virginia (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) faces Texas Tech (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) on Saturday, beginning at 3 p.m. ET on FS1.
The Red Raiders rank last in the Big 12 in red zone offense and red zone defense. TTU has allowed opposing teams to score on nearly 92 percent of drives that have traveled inside the 20-yard line.
Texas Tech also ranks in the bottom third of the Big 12 in rushing offense and rushing defense, and has a -7 turnover margin this season.