The story of the usually high-flying Big 12 Conference has been dominated by strong defensive play — and West Virginia’s strength in the box demonstrated exactly why in their double-OT win against Baylor on Saturday.
Typically, matchups between West Virginia and Baylor have been offensive shootouts. Before Saturday’s contest, meetings between the Bears combined to average 79.75 points per game — but that trend has taken a turn in recent seasons. Last year, the Bears pulled off a narrow 17-14 win in Waco, with the low score facilitated by tough play from defenders like Darius Stills, who racked up a trio of sacks in the loss.
This year, West Virginia again attacked Baylor quarterback Charlie Brewer, who finished with 229 yards, 3 touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. The Mountaineers got to him, though, sacking him six times in the contest.
“I thought that [co-defensive coordinators] Coach [Jordan] Lesley and Coach [Jahmile] Addae did a tremendous job with the gameplan coming in. It felt like they had a good plan,” said head coach Neal Brown. “Brewer is hard to play against because he ad-libs and makes plays with his feet, and those two running backs, they use them in a bunch of different ways.”
Stills was again the clear-cut leader on the West Virginia defensive line against the Bears. The preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the year led everyone in the game with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He, along with his brother Dante, who added a sack and a blocked field goal, highlighted the major push from the Mountaineer front seven.
“I thought Darius Stills played like the preseason hype he’s been given, and he earned those accolades,” Brown said. “I thought he played extremely well.”
The Mountaineers have boasted depth up front so far this year, especially from their young players. Freshmen Jared Bartlett and Akheem Mesidor each earned a sack in the contest, and Quay Mays added a tackle and gave enough of a push to impress his head coach.
“Quay Mays gave us some really good snaps,” Brown said. “I really thought our front seven played well.”
Ultimately, this contest was indicative of a big trend in this season of West Virginia football: defense wins games, and they are not afraid to rely on it. At the same time, the players on the field are just as confident in themselves if they need to put their team on their shoulders.
“Sometimes the game comes down on us, and we like that because defense, we thrive off pressure, and we know that if the ball is in our hands or if the game is in our hands, then we’ll get the job done,” Darius Stills said. “And, like I said, I’m just proud of my boys today. We got the job done, that’s for sure.”