MORGANTOWN, W. Va. - Job description for Big 12 defensive coordinators:
Thick skin required. No Twitter and/or Facebook accounts; lack of Internet proficiency a plus. Must be able to sleep at night after allowing 50-plus points and/or 600 yards total offense; ability to instantly disregard opponents' long-distance touchdowns; must describe how your defensive scheme will stop opponent offenses that feature accurate quarterbacks, running backs who are capable of 100-yard games and wide receivers who run 4.3 40s with sticky fingers.
In the aftermath of West Virginia's Big 12 Conference debut Saturday, here's what coaches on opposite sides had to say.
"I'm beat from the feet up."
The first quote is from Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett after the Bears helped Geno Smith's Heisman Trophy campaign with a season's worth of highlights. But to be fair, a number of completions were deep throws where the West Virginia receivers were covered but Smith's spirals were perfect.
The second quote is from West Virginia associate head coach/defensive coordinator Joe DeForest, who spent the last 11 seasons coaching at Oklahoma State. He's familiar with the kind of carnage Big 12 offenses can produce.
For DeForrest it was unacceptable that his defense allowed 63 points and 700 total yards to No. 24 Baylor (3-1, 0-1). What was acceptable? The seventh-ranked Mountaineers (4-0, 1-0) rolled up a school-record 807 total yards. They needed it all in a 70-63 track meet at Milan Puskar Stadium. The teams averaged almost a first down (9.8 yards) per play.
"Not every Big 12 game is like this," said second-year West Viginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who designed offensive schemes at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State. "Not every Big 12 offense is like this and not every game is going to be like this. It was a situation where both offenses were playing at a pretty high level.
"To say that the defenses didn't play very well is an understatement."
There are those who will say the Big 12 is spelling with a 25-letter alphabet – no D. But consider some of the scoreboard lighting that occurred Saturday.
Tulsa and UAB combined for 56 first-half points, Ball State and Kent State scored 54 in the second half of their game. Fans went to a game in Athens and a Big 12 game broke out – Tennessee and Georgia were tied 30-all at halftime. The Bulldogs prevailed by an un-SEC-like 51-44 score. And Arkansas got spanked at Texas A&M,58-10.
Smith, who is putting up numbers to rival Robert Griffin III from last season, was scintillating. He completed 45 of 51 for 656 yards and eight touchdowns … so Smith had more TDs than incompletions (an RG3-type stat). His passing yards in one game surpassed the 605 yards Army accumulated … in 12 games last season.
"It did feel like one of those classic Texas shootouts," said Smith, lamented the fact six of his attempts fell incomplete. "That's kind of what the Big 12 is about."
Holgorsen recited Smith's numbers and marveled, "Can you please tell me how you can improve on that?"
And West Virginia needed its quarterback playing at the highest level because Baylor's Nick Florence was on a similar plane. He finished 29-of-47 with five touchdowns and a school-record 581 yards.
"We expect to score that many points a game," Florence said. "But the goal is to score more than our opponent and we came up a little short today."
Holgorsen hired DeForest in the off-season to help West Virginia get ready for the Big 12. DeForest noted that last season the Mountaineers' offense was a season-long work in progress as it adjusted to Holgorsen's play book
"Welcome to the Big 12," DeForest said. "Our No. 1 goal going into the game was to not let Baylor tempo us and for us to get lined up. We did that. Baylor didn't do anything we didn't expect; they ran four pass plays and four run plays. But we have to make plays."
"Against these offenses, you've got to make the other team make mistakes. If you pressure 'em with a blitz, one guy misses … and you look bad."
And welcome to the Big 12, West Virginia. There will be a small fee for rewriting the record book. Smith tied the record for touchdown passes (eight) and set the record for total offense (687). The Mountaineers' Stedman Bailey would have set the single-game record for receiving yards. He had 303, besting the 300 by Oklahoma State's Adarius Bowman in 2006. Bailey picked the wrong game to go crazy; Baylor's Terrance Williams finished with 314 yards on 17 receptions.
Smith missed the Big 12 single-game passing record by five yards and tied the record for touchdown passes. The 133 points set a record for most points in a Big 12 game. Six receivers finished with 100 or more yards. There were other records, but further reportage would turn this story into "War And Peace."
The teams were tied 35-all at halftime. Baylor scored on a semi-Hail Mary play, a 67-yard Florence to Lanear Sampson. That was the play that DeForest deemed unacceptable.
In what amounted to a tennis match, West Virginia broke serve after halftime. The Mountaineers took the kickoff and drove 75 yards in seven plays with Tavon Austin catching a 45-yard TD pass. After a Baylor three-and-out, West Virginia went up 49-35 on Austin's 52-yard scoring play. Austin, by the way, broke the existing West Virginia single-game record for receiving yardage … but he was surpassed by Bailey, his teammate.
Smith, who was sacked just once in 51 attempts, had plenty of time on the second TD throw to Austin. That allowed Austin, one of the most electric players in college football, the ability to run a stop route into the middle of the field where he was covered by Baylor linebacker Bryce Hager. Austin pivoted and ran for the corner, running away from Hager like Usain Bolt leaves Olympic sprinters.
West Virginia's lead grew to 56-35 but on this day not even 21-point leads were safe. The Mountaineers were able to run out the last 3:08 before lining up in the victory formation.
Did the defenses try everything? Yep. Baylor and West Virginia were each flagged for a pass interference penalty on plays where if the defender had not grabbed the receiver, it was a TD.
Special teams weren't that special. The game's first punt traveled 45 yards – and was returned 45 yards by Baylor's Levi Norwood. Baylor was offside on a kickoff and it cost them 30 yards of field position. The Bears' Aaron Jones missed two field goals.
The misses by the usually reliable Jones kept Baylor from setting a dubious record. The Bears' 63 points is tied for the FBS record for most points scored by a losing team. Baylor ran a play every 17 seconds of possession time. The Bears' nine-game winning streak ended but they proved that their offense is more dangerous than juggling vials of nitroglycerin.
"Did you notice how wide the field was, how Baylor spread out their formations? What are the top offenses in the country," DeForest said, knowing that five Big 12 teams entered Saturday averaging at least 45 points and 500 yards per game. "It's not acceptable to allow the yards and the points we did today, but that's the way of life in the Big 12.
"Ultimately, you have to make one more stop."
Fast And Furious Scoring
There were 19 touchdowns in West Virginia's 70-63 victory over Baylor Saturday. Only two of the drives lasted more than three minutes, only one covered less than 54 yards and only four required 10 or more plays. The scoring drives averaged seven plays, 71 yards and 2:05 in time of possession.
|Team||Scoring play||Drive distance, plays, time|
|Baylor||1 yard run||67 yards, 5 plays, 1:32|
|West Virginia||1 yard run||75 yards, 9 plays, 3:40|
|Baylor||7 yard run||54 yards, 9 plays, 2:49|
|West Virginia||7 yard pass||60 yards, 6 plays, 1:46|
|Baylor||1 yard run||23 yards, 4 plays, 1:03|
|West Virginia||47 yard pass||75 yards, 6 plays, 2:05|
|Baylor||65 yard pass||68 yards, 2 plays, 0:30|
|West Virginia||20 yard pass||69 yards, 5 plays, 1:20|
|West Virginia||2 yard pass||87 yards, 8 plays, 1:58|
|Baylor||67 yard pass||65 yards, 2 plays, 0:25|
|West Virginia||45 yard pass||75 yards, 7 plays, 2:29|
|West Virginia||52 yard pass||84 yards, 7 plays, 2:42|
|West Virginia||1 yard run||71 yards, 7 plays, 2:36|
|Baylor||37 yard pass||94 yards, 9 plays, 1:53|
|Baylor||1 yard run||63 yards, 11 plays, 2:36|
|West Virginia||87 yard pass||87 yards, 1 play, 0:12|
|Baylor||7 yard pass||86 yards, 11 plays, 2:59|
|West Virginia||39 yard pass||75 yards, 10 plays, 4:54|
|Baylor||8 yard pass||75 yards, 10 plays, 2:47|