BAYLOR VS. WEST VIRGINIA PREVIEW: Bears have steep mountain to climb

Bears QB Charlie Brewer hands off to JaMycal Hasty on a zone read during Baylor's victory over Kansas State earlier this month. Lauryn Amy photo

Charlie Brewer and Co. face off with Mountaineers star QB Will Grier.

Baylor steps onto the stage under the national spotlight when the Bears kick off at West Virginia on Thursday night on FS1.

The Mountaineers (5-1, 3-1 Big 12) are a two-touchdown favorite and ESPN's Matchup Predictor only gives Baylor (4-3, 2-2) and 16.9-percent chance to win.

Here are some more particulars:

PLAYERS TO WATCH

QB Charlie Brewer ranks fourth in the Big 12 with 289.3 passing yards in four conference games. He passed for 240 with a TD and an INT in the loss to Texas. Brewer is in his second circuit around the Big 12 and his ability to master the conference’s defenses will play a big role in the Bears’ chance to get bowl eligible.

WR Jalen Hurd has become Brewer and Baylor’s go-to target both as a receiver and a rusher. But opponents know that and will be more focused on him the rest of the way. Hurd caught 5 passes for 72 yards against Texas and also rushed 6 times for 13 yards. He’ll need to be more productive against West Virginia for the Bears to have a chance.

LB Clay Johnston posted 10 solo and 13 total tackles in the loss at Texas. He also had a sack for 12 yards and another half a TFL. Those are good signs that Johnston is 100-percent healthy.

LB Blake Lynch has been a Swiss Army football player in his time at Baylor, playing WR then switching to defense and playing safety and now linebacker. He’s taking to the LB spot as he had 10 total tackles, including a TFL against Texas.

SERIES HISTORY: West Virginia leads the all-time series, 4-2. The Bears and Mountaineers first met when West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012. Baylor split the first four meetings during the Art Briles era, but the Mountaineers have won two straight since then.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "(I) grew up a Penn State person, so I remember the days of watching all those games. As a football fan, I loved watching the backyard brawl between Pitt and West Virginia. Then, I married my lovely wife Julie, whose parents are both Mountaineers. Jeff Nixon, our offensive coordinator, he went there and played for two years. A lot of respect for their program and a lot of respect for Dana Holgorsen and Coach Gibson on defense. They have really good football coaches." – Baylor coach Matt Rhule on his East Coast connections to West Virginia.

KEY MATCHUP: West Virginia QB Will Grier vs. Baylor secondary. Grier has the ability to torch defenses as he is averaging 319.8 yards per game with 22 touchdown on the season. But when he gets off rhythm, sometimes he goes cold for a while. Baylor’s secondary is tasked with knocking Grier off his game before he gets rolling. The Bears currently rank fourth in the Big 12 by allowing just 239.5 passing yards per contest in their Big 12 contests. However, Baylor has played only one dynamic passing QB — Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.

ROSTER REPORT:

--CB Harrison Hand missed the Texas game with an undisclosed injury. Rhule said Hand is practicing this week and should be ready to play against West Virginia.

--RB John Lovett left the Oklahoma game with a head injury and was in the concussion protocol, but he returned to action against Texas.

--WR Denzel Mims came out of the Texas game with leg cramps in the second half. He’s expected to be back in action on Thursday against West Virginia.

--CB Grayland Arnold missed the Kansas State and Texas games with an ankle injury. He’s doubtful this week against West Virgnina.

--S Verkedric Vaughns missed the Kansas State game with an ankle injury but he returned to action on a limited basis versus Texas. He had one tackle agains the Longhorns.

--LG Xavier Newman suffered a high ankle sprain in the win over Kansas and has missed the last three games. He’s questionable this week versus West Virginia.

--LT Josh Malin was helped off the field versus Abilene Christian with a knee injury and was diagnosed with a sprained MCL. He missed four games, then returned to action as he started the Texas game.

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