MORGANTOWN - The busiest person in the pressbox at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday afternoon will be the scoreboard keeper. That is to be expected, however, when you bring in a No. 25 ranked Baylor squad, averaging 51.3 points per game, to face No. 9 West Virginia, which is putting points up to the tune of 47.3 ppg.
"Now, the Big 12 is upon us, and the biggest questions are what your going to do different," said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen. "Well, we are really not going to do a whole lot different. I think over the course of time, West Virginia, our football team, and everyone else will get more familiar with the Big 12 and the Big 12 will get familiar with West Virginia.
"We are not playing the Big 12, we are playing Baylor. We need to do a good job because they are a quality football team. They have won nine games in a row."
West Virginia has put a pretty impressive winning streak together itself after dropping a 38-35 decision to Louisville last November. The Mountaineers closed out the regular season with victories over Cincinnati (24-21), Pitt (21-20) and South Florida (30-27) to earn a tie for the Big East title and the conference's automatic BCS bowl berth. Then the old gold and blue traveled to Miami, Fla., and dismantled a talented Clemson team by a score of 70-33.
Add those games to the team's 3-0 start in 2012 and WVU heads into its initial Big 12 contest on a seven-game winning streak.
Getting the lion's share of the headlines during the week is the two high-powered offenses led by a pair of signal-callers-Geno Smith for WVU and Nick Florence for Baylor-that find their names listed on the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, given annually to the top quarterback in the country.
Smith enters his first Big 12 contest having completed 96-of-118 attempts for 1,072 yards and 12 touchdowns while Florence is close behind with 1,004 yards and 11 touchdowns on 71-of-110 passing. Both seniors, Florence has tossed four interceptions on the season while Smith has yet to have one of his aerials picked off by an opponent.
All that being said, however, the game's outcome may very well depend on which team's defense can come up with an important stop or, better yet, a turnover to slow down the other team's attack.
"That is one reason Joe DeForest is our defensive coordinator because they (Oklahoma State) led the country in forcing turnovers last year," said Holgorsen. "They gave up yards and forced turnovers. We are going to give up yards, but we are going to force turnovers.
"Baylor has given up a bunch of yards, but they are forcing turnovers. It is ultimately what the score is at the end of the day."
A feeling echoed by senior defensive lineman Will Clarke.
"That's all coach 'H'(Holgorsen) and coach DeForest talk about," said Clarke. "They talk to us about it every day. They stress it every day in practice. We are expected to force three turnovers every day in practice. If we don't then we hear about it and we go out the next day and try to force three in that practice.
"It is a mental thing that the coaches want us to understand and work hard at doing."
So far the message has come across loud and clear as the prevent unit has forced six fumbles, coming away with three-two going for touchdowns by Isaiah Bruce against Marshall and Doug Rigg in the win over Maryland-and three interceptions.
Conversely, West Virginia's offense has turned the ball over only once-a Paul Millard interception-giving the Mountaineers a plus-5 in the turnover ratio category. Baylor's defense, which has surrendered 492.7 yards and 29.7 points per game, has had its share of turnovers, picking off six passes and coming away with four fumbles.
"We want to go out and show that we can make plays, too," said senior defensive back Terence Garvin. "Of course as a defense you never want to go out and expect to give up points. You want to come out and say that we are going to make plays."
In a game where both teams are expected to put points on the scoreboard in bunches, a recovered fumble here or an interception there might very well be the deciding factor.