The 6-0 Mountaineers travel to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State with intentions of ruining their second Homecoming game in 3 weeks. The Cowboys spoiled our own Homecoming festivities a year ago despite arguably being outplayed, so West Virginia will no doubt be eager to return the favor.
OKLAHOMA STATE PROFILE
Record: (5-2). The Pokes are having a solid, yet somewhat disappointing season. Their performances have been very up and down, but they’ve looked better recently after losing to Baylor on Sept 24th. Realistically they should be 6-1, and they’re most certainly a team that will require our full and undivided attention.
HC: Mike Gundy. A man, now aged 49, Mike Gundy is in his 12th year in charge of the Oklahoma State program, compiling a record of 99-49 over that period. Gundy has won a couple of conference titles over the past few years and is one of the longest active tenured coaches in the country.
OC: Mike Yurcich. Yurcich is in his 4th year as Oklahoma State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after spending the previous few seasons in the same role at Shippensburg. He runs a spread air raid system that’s seen his unit finish in the Top 15 nationally in scoring in 2 out of the last 3 years.
DC: Glenn Spencer. Spencer is also in his 4th year as the Cowboys defensive coordinator after spending the previous few years coaching the linebackers. He runs a base 4-3 defense, and his units are notorious for generating turnovers, ranking 4th nationally in takeaways from 2010-2015.
OUR OFFENSE VS THEIR DEFENSE
Players to watch: LB Devante Averette, LB Jordan Burton, FS Jordan Sterns
The Oklahoma State defense returns a bunch of starters and key contributors from a pretty good unit a year ago, but they lost a couple of huge difference makers along the front 4 and are arguably a bit down from where they were last year. In general though they still look like Oklahoma State: they’ve given up a ton of yards (449 per game, 104th nationally) but have done a decent job limiting points (27.4 per game, 64th) and a great job of generating turnovers (16, 13th).
They have solid athletes all over the place, but the standout names this year are Jordan Burton and Devante Averette at linebacker and Jordan Sterns at free safety. The Jordans Burton and Sterns have picked up where they left off last year and are building nicely on their 2015 All-Conference campaigns, while Averette is leading the team in tackles and having a very solid senior season. There’s still talent along the front 4, as well, where junior Vincent Taylor was a preseason All-Conference selection at defensive tackle. Overall, it’s a group with enough ability to make you scratch your head and wonder what the problem is, so here’s to hoping they don’t figure anything out this week.
The key will be our line against their front 7. I’m confident in our receivers’ abilities to win their 1 v 1 matchups on the outside, so if the line can open some lanes for the backs and protect Skyler then I expect us to pick up yards in bunches. They’re fairly susceptible to the big play and are allowing 6.0 20+ and 3.3 30+ yard plays per game, both of which are in the bottom 10 in the country. We don’t exactly shy away from attacking teams downfield, so I’m sure that’s something we’ll look to take advantage of. If we can hit a few big ones early and jump out to an early lead, it’ll allow us to fall right back into our bread and butter of running the ball and controlling tempo, which would put us in great position to get out of there with a W.
OUR DEFENSE VS THEIR OFFENSE
Players to watch: QB Mason Rudolph, RB Justice Hill, WR James Washington, WR Jalen McClesky, WR Jhajuan Seales
Offensively, the Pokes returned 9 starters from a unit that last year ranked 14th in scoring and 22nd in yards per game. They’ve carried that success over into this season, as well, ranking 13th in scoring and 31st in yards per game. However, there’s been some shuffling over the first half of the season, both along the line where they’re starting 2 true freshmen guards and in the backfield with a freshman tailback, that has actually seen some new faces emerge by way of both merit and necessity.
One spot where there’s not a new face is at QB, where the Pokes are again led by Mason Rudolph. Rudolph has looked very good in his first season as the full-time starter, finding himself in the Top 20 nationally in yards per game (10th), yards per attempt (13th), passer rating (16th), and explosive passes per game (4th, tied with Skyler). In fact, the only area where he hasn’t really excelled is with his accuracy, but his 62.5% completions percentage is still solid, and with just 2 interceptions thrown you can see that he’s mostly been able to avoid making huge mistakes.
He’s throwing to a very good group of receivers, as well, though they’re unfortunately not quite as good as he might’ve hoped. The Pokes have missed the graduated David Glidden, but the bigger loss has definitely been Marcel Ateman, who sadly hasn’t played a game in a season where he figured to form one of the more explosive duos in the country with James Washington. Washington has still been excellent (37 catches, 740 yards, 6 TD), and Jalen McClesky (38, 536, 4), Jhajuan Seales (21, 335, 3), and Chris Lacy (15, 196) have stepped up and complimented him nicely, but the group is still not quite what it might have been. Regardless, all 3 of those guys have more than enough talent to cause us problems and we need to be aware of where they are at all times.
Their running game is again a relative weakness, but the emergence of true freshman Justice Hill actually has them a bit better off than they may have expected. He’s usurped the lion’s share of the carries from senior incumbents Childs and Carson, and has actually done a pretty nice job out there, averaging just over 80 yards per game on 5.2 per carry. The Cowboys have committed to the run a bit more this year than last year as well (almost a 50/50 split so far this year, 53/47 pass last year), so even though it’s not something they’re overly good at (3.7 ypc as a team), it’s definitely something that we need to be cognizant of and able to contain.
Overall, the key will again be how well we’re able to bother Mason Rudolph. Rudolph had by far his worst game of the season against us last year, and that was against a unit still reeling from losing Karl Joseph just a few days before. Methinks he’s not too keen on facing our 3-3-5, so you’d have to think that State looks ripe for the same strategy we’ve seen the last 2 weeks: win first down and then attack once they’re behind the sticks. They do have several athletes on the outside who can hurt us if we get sloppy, but with Rudolph presenting less of a scrambling threat than we’ve seen recently I think we should be able to allocate some additonal attention to making sure that doesn’t happen.
Players to watch: KR/PR Barry Sanders
Yes, you read that right. Barry Sanders is back in Stillwater, and he’s actually doing a decent job fielding punts and kicks for the pokes. Their kick return unit lacks a bit of luster, ranking just 115th in the country at 17.8 yards per return, but the punt return unit has been very solid, averaging 13 .6 yards per return without hitting a big play as of yet. Sanders ain’t quite the same animal as his daddy, but he moves similarly enough that we can’t afford to give him too much space.
On the other side, the kickers and punter have all looked solid. Their field goal guy has only missed 2 out of 13, the kickoff guy is over 63 yards per kick, and the punter is just over 42. They’re also very good at covering both punts and kicks, ranking in the top 10 nationally in both. All in all they’re a sound team on special teams, making this one of those weeks where you’re not really expecting us to hit a big play, but rather praying for us to avoid turning it over.
In general, this is a game that West Virginia should be confident that they can win. We outplayed them last year on our own Homecoming despite coming up short on the scoreboard, and the nice thing about them returning so many familiar faces is that we know that we can go do it again. Not only are we heads and shoulders a better team than we were a year ago, but the argument can be made that Oklahoma State is actually a bit worse, as well. Gone is Emmanuel Ogbah, who had 8 tackles, forced 2 fumbles, picked up one of two said fumbles for a TD, and basically single-handedly swung the game for them last year. Also missing is Marcel Ateman, who figured to be the Robin to James Washington’s Batman this season prior to injury.
This isn’t to say they aren’t good enough to beat us. Their offense is extremely talented and they have a variety of skill guys who can give us problems. However, I don’t think they really do anything considerably better than TCU or Texas Tech, or atleast not enough better than either of them for it to make a huge difference. The same recipe that worked on those two should in theory work again this week: run the ball, control the clock, pick our spots to attack vertically, win first down defensively, get after the QB to disrupt the passing game’s timing, and limit big plays. It feels repetitive to keep writing it, and certainly doesn’t make for exciting reading, but you know what is exciting? Winning. And that formula is really working well for us right now.
West Virginia 41 Oklahoma State 30