For 11-months West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen has kept from discussing the Big 12 Conference with his team. But with Baylor set to come in this weekend for the Mountaineers long-awaited conference opener, the time for those talks begin now.
No. 24/25 Baylor (3-0) comes to Morgantown on a nine-game winning streak heading back into last season and it will be the challenge of the West Virginia coaching staff to avoid the excitement surrounding the matchup and focus on the task at hand.
That task is taking care of step one in the Mountaineers goal of winning a Big 12 Conference championship and that begins with familiarizing themselves with Art Briles team and what to expect on both sides of the ball.
"From a coaches and a player standpoint, we need to get to know our opponent and play Baylor not the Big 12," Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen and Briles both coached on the same staff at Texas Tech from 2000-2002, and the Baylor head coach has established a program in Waco according to the second-year West Virginia head man. Baylor will utilize an up-tempo spread offense, but the similarities to West Virginia's offensive attack end there as the two offenses have evolved at different coaching stops over the years, Holgorsen said.
The Bears will stretch the field sideline to sideline and run the football around half the time, while taking shots vertically to keep the defense on their toes and force them to cover sideline to sideline.
Offensively, senior quarterback Nick Florence has had the daunting task of filling in for Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Robert Griffin III and has put the Bears in the position to succeed due to his experience in the program.
"Is he talented like some of the other guys out there? Not as talented, but is a winner, runs the ball well and we have to make sure we contain him," Holgorsen said. "He understands the system, gets them in the right plays and does a good job completing balls. He takes some chances and hopefully he takes a few too many that we can capitalize on."
On the outside the Bears have two receivers over the 300-yard mark with Terrance Williams (352, 4 TD) and Tevin Reese (304, 3 TD) and both should challenge the Mountaineers secondary as two of the fastest receivers that West Virginia has matched up against to date.
"They're faster, the Maryland guys were shiftier," he said.
Because of the tempo of Baylor offense, West Virginia will be keeping a close eye on substitutions and when they need to get players into the game to match the Bears personnel groupings without being caught subbing. As they do every week, the Mountaineers will spend two periods a day in one-on-ones with the offense against the defense to prepare for the speed of the game.
Much like West Virginia, Baylor's defense has given up yards this season but plays very opportunistic thriving off turnovers. According to Holgorsen it's just the mentality throughout the league as teams put the focus on turnover ratio to combat against the high-powered offenses in the league.
West Virginia starting running back Shawne Alston remains day-to-day with a thigh bruise, and the head coach provided an update on his situation.
"He was an emergency guy, got in a few times, he will need to practice today and Thursday at a high level for us to count on him playing Saturday and do I expect that to happen? Yeah, I do," he said.
Without Alston the Mountaineers struggled to run the football, and it limited the called runs because only Andrew Buie was healthy in the backfield. But still Holgorsen credited Maryland for taking away the run and went back to the mantra of taking what the defense gives them and making plays with the passing game.
Both coaching staffs will be taking part in the annual coaches to cure muscular dystrophy and will be wearing patches. As well as a partnership with the FBI to pass out child ID kits at the game.