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Baylor reeling after ugly road loss against West Virginia

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty stared at the podium while he spoke in hushed tones Saturday afternoon. He glanced up every once in a while, but he barely made eye contact. He was beside himself.

This wasn’t the game the Heisman hopeful envisioned. The Bears were on pace for a spot in the College Football Playoff. They were averaging 52.7 points a game. The week before, they had just completed an incredible comeback against the No. 9 team in the nation, one that got the college football world talking.

They never expected to fall 41-27 against an unranked West Virginia team.

"Any game’s hard to lose," Petty said, at one point picking at the wooden podium. "Losing sucks."

There were surprises everywhere Saturday. The senior Baylor quarterback completed fewer than half his passes -- despite WVU’s starting cornerbacks both succumbing to injuries before halftime. West Virginia led at halftime 24-20 -- despite the Bears forcing three turnovers. And, maybe the biggest surprise of all, Baylor committed 18 penalties for a school-record 215 yards.

"I’ve never been involved with anything like that," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "I don’t know; I guess that was just the way it was seen today. Certainly, it affected the flow of the game."

Baylor committed a total of nine pass interferences, one of which was declined and two of which came on offense. Linebacker Taylor Young said it got to the point where, on just about every pass play, he expected the flags to fly.

But those penalties still didn’t tell the full story of this offense. The flags are not responsible for an offensive line that gave up 10 tackles in the backfield. Or for not capitalizing on turnovers, or on West Virginia’s weakened secondary.

West Virginia defensive back Daryl Worley injured his ribs on the first play in the second quarter when he lunged for a punt and fumbled. (Baylor started 29 yards from the end zone and finished with a four-and-out.) Then, about seven minutes later, Mountaineers defensive back Terrell Chestnut fell to the turf after a monstrous block by Baylor wideout Corey Coleman. Chestnut didn’t return, either.

Even with West Virginia’s starting cornerbacks injured, Baylor struggled to start anything offensively. Petty went the entire second half without throwing a touchdown, and the Bears scored just seven points while West Virginia was missing two key defensive players.

"Having guys go in and play at that level when guys go down is what you need to do if you want to win," West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said.

Said Petty: "I was off today and got to get back to work. It just wasn't our day today."

A crowd of 60,758 lingered after the game and sang John Denver’s "Take Me Home, Country Roads," while Baylor’s players quickly shuffled to the locker room. Baylor right guard Jarell Broxton bit his lower lip and limped off the field as the tune played.

The Bears’ playoff chances limped off with him. The Bears were one of just a handful of remaining undefeated teams. If they won out, they were expected to be in the playoff. They controlled their own destiny.

Now? Even winning out isn't a guarantee for a playoff spot -- not in the Big 12, especially not after another Oklahoma loss that won’t do many favors for Baylor’s strength of schedule. Players understood that; that’s why pain was painted on every player’s face.

"I hope so," Young said when asked about the Bears’ chance at a playoff spot. "If God’s willing, I hope so."

It was the fewest points Baylor scored since losing to Oklahoma State 49-17 last November. And players struggled to explain exactly what happened. Offensive lineman Spencer Drango said it was the "little things," defensive tackle Andrew Billings referred to the penalties, and Petty noted all the pressure.

But, whatever the Bears said, this game sure didn’t look like a fluke. West Virginia looked like the better team and played like it. West Virginia's Clint Trickett was the better quarterback, and the Mountaineers boasted the better all-around defense.

Petty refused to say this meant the end of the Bears’ playoff hopes. ("No, no, no, no," he reiterated.) And he’s technically right; Baylor still has a chance at one of the playoff’s four spots.

But, right now, it sure doesn’t look like one of the top four teams in the nation.