The sound of the school fight song. The thousands of screaming fans supporting their team. The traditions, the pageantry and the pride of two teams battling it out on the gridiron on a Saturday. This is what college football is all about. After months of hibernation it is back and bigger than ever. So fans fire up those grills for your tailgates and put on your school colors because college football season is here! Every week I will breakdown and preview the best matchup the Big 12 has to offer and for this week’s pick, I will be previewing the (10) West Virginia Mountaineers taking on the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Coverage will begin at 11 A.M. CT on Fox from Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
What’s at Stake
After yet another wild weekend of college football, the Big 12 has found itself in a crossroads type week. This is a week where we will find out who the contenders and pretenders are in the conference. The last two undefeated teams (Baylor and West Virginia) in the Big 12 will be hitting the road this week, but I am here to focus on one particular matchup going down in Stillwater, Oklahoma. West Virginia has shocked the country yet again with another beat down victory, this time over TCU. Head Coach Dana Holgorsen has flipped the script on some of the higher ups in West Virginia by getting off to a hot 6-0 start. For a coach that was on the hot seat before the season, he now has the attention of the entire nation on his football team by remaining perfect on the year. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State Head Coach Mike Gundy and his team look knock of his former offensive coordinator and hand the Mountaineers their first loss on the season.
For West Virginia, a win here would keep their perfect record intact and continue their climb in the rankings. Most importantly a win would keep the Mountaineers on track for a Big 12 title.
For Oklahoma State, a win here would get them back into the conversation of winning a conference championship after an early in conference loss to Baylor. This is a make or break point for this Cowboys team.
West Virginia Offense
While many people are quick to criticize Skyler Howard, I continue to appreciate his game all around. Howard is averaging 303.5 passing yards per game while tossing 12 touchdowns on 4 picks. Skyler is completing 66.5% of his passes on the season as well. While these may not be eye popping numbers, it is the things that don’t show up in the stat sheets that make Skyler a good quarterback. His toughness and grit are like no other quarterback in this conference. He fights for every yard and there is no doubt he leaves it all on the line for his team. It is very rare to see this from a quarterback and I absolutely love it.
West Virginia has a two headed backfield that has been doing some serious work on the gridiron. The powerful Rushel Shell is averaging 77.5 yards per game on the ground while hitting pay dirt 5 times this season. Shell is a load to bring down as he runs hard every time he touches the football averaging 4.8 yards per carry. His partner in crime is the quick and nimble Justin Crawford who is averaging 61.8 yards per game and scoring 3 times on the year. Crawford is averaging 5.5 yards per carry and has been superb so far this season.
In a group that was once dominated by Shelton Gibson, there have been two other wide receivers who have really took a step forward this year. Shelton Gibson still leads the way being the playmaker he is on Saturdays. Gibson has scored 3 times and is averaging 83.5 receiving yards per game. He is still the home run threat through the air for this offense. Behind him the two guys that are stepping up to the plate are Daikiel Shorts and Ka’Raun White. Shorts is averaging 82 yards per game while White is averaging 50.5 per game. Both combine for 5 scores and have really been impressive as of late.
On the offensive line the Mountaineers starting five will be LT Adam Pankey, LG Tony Matteo, C Tyler Orlosky, RG Kyle Bosch and RT Colton Mckivitz. This is still the best offensive line in the Big 12 and they have been excellent in run blocking all year long.
Oklahoma State Defense
DE Jarrell Owens is the best pass rusher for this Cowboy defense. Owens has 4.5 TFLs with 2.5 sacks so far. In the middle will be DT Vincent Taylor and DT Motekiai Maile. Taylor has played great this season with 3 TFLs with 2 sacks and a forced fumble. Maile has 4 TFL on his own as well. Opposite Jarrell Owens is DE Cole Walterscheid, who has been very solid against the run game with 5.5 TFLs.
At SLB is the second leading tackler on the team, Jordan Burton who has 4.5 TFLs so far. He has been very aggressive for this defense. In the middle will be MLB Chad Whitener who has 4 TFLs of his own and has done his best trying to disrupt the rushing attack of the offense. I saved the best for last in WLB Devante Averette. He not only leads the team in tackles, but has done a great job forcing turnovers as well as making plays in the backfield. Averette has been a pleasant surprise for this defense.
The back end of the defense will feature Ashton Lampkin and Ramon Richards at corner. Lampkin has 2 PBUs and a forced fumble while Richards has 2 picks of his own. Both of these guys have had their fair share of struggles, but they both play aggressive. Also look for Lenzy Pipkins to play the NB position when needed. The two guys holding it down in the center of the field will be SS Tre Flowers and FS Jordan Sterns. Both have been playing well for the Cowboys as Flowers has 5 PBUs and a forced fumble, while Jordan Sterns has 2 picks as well as being the third leading tackler for this team.
West Virginia is the most balanced team in the Big 12 offensively. I expect West Virginia to try to establish a run game with their backfield duo in Shell and Crawford. Also look for some read option with Skyler Howard to try and spread out a Cowboy defense who has struggled at times stopping the run. The Mountaineers will also try and hit their go to target Shelton Gibson, but I will say OSU did a nice job stopping Baylor’s #1 WR KD Cannon, but failed to really cover anyone else. These could mean more passes targeted toward Shorts and White in the passing game if Gibson is blanketed by OSU CB Ramon Richards with safety help. For the Pokes, you will probably see an all-out effort into stopping the run game from a crowded box. They key in this matchup is the run game for West Virginia. If the Mountaineers get that ground game going, this offense is difficult to stop.
Oklahoma State Offense
Running the show at quarterback for the Cowboys is Mason Rudolph. Rudolph is averaging 322.7 passing yards per game while throwing for 14 touchdowns and only 2 picks. While these may be outstanding numbers, Rudolph has seen a dip in his completion percentage as it has dropped to 62.3 %. This offense is revolved around Rudolph’s arm and so far he has done a good job numbers wise, but he still is showing some ball placement issues on some of his easier throws. However, I will say he has done a better job of taking care of the football this season than he did in 2015.
In a backfield that was once lost, now has been found. True Freshman Justice Hill has been improving each game this year and is currently averaging 80.7 yards per game on the ground with a 5.2 yards per carry average. I have been extremely impressed with his play over the past few games and he will certainly have a tough test ahead of him this week, against this West Virginia defense. His backfield partner Ronnie Childs has averaged 4.7 yards per carry along with seeing the end zone 7 times this year.
Averaging 105.7 receiving yards per game is the big play threat, James Washington. Washington has caught 6 touchdown passes this season and is a big play waiting to happen. He has been kept in check in recent weeks and will continue to get the best coverage that every team has to offer. One guy who has really stepped up his game is Jalen McCleskey. He is averaging 76.5 yards per game while scoring 4 touchdowns. McCleskey has played a key role this year being Rudolph’s second go to option. Rounding out the group is Jhajuan Seales, who has seen a decline in his production in recent weeks. If Marcell Ateman is not able to play this week, Seales will need to rise to the challenge.
Up front Oklahoma State will use starters LT Victor Salako, LG Marcus Keyes, C Brad Lundblade, RG Michael Wilson and RT Zachary Crabtree. This group struggled opening holes in the running game early on, but they are starting to gain a little more confidence week by week. They need to do a better job in keeping Mason Rudolph upright.
West Virginia Defense
On the defensive front, DE Noble Nwachukwu is looking to disrupt offense as he is the best pass rusher the Mountaineers have. He has 3 sacks on the season on 5 TFL this year. Beside him will be NT Darrien Howard and DE Christian Brown. Howard has been a headache for offenses this year having 2 sacks and a forced fumble playing in the middle while DE Christian Brown has done a good job holding his own.
Paving the way for the linebacker group is SLB Justin Arndt. Arndt is currently leading his team in tackles and has been awesome stopping the run with 4 TFLs. In the middle will be MLB Al Rasheed Benton who is third on the team in tackles along with snagging an interception. Both of these guys have been excellent finding the football and making plays. David Long will be the WLB when needed.
In a secondary that has seen some new faces, they are playing outstanding football as a group. Rasul Douglas and Elijah Battle will try to hold it down at the corner spots. Battle is filling in for an injured Antonio Crawford while Douglas is a lengthy corner who has 3 interceptions this year. At the famous SPUR position is Kyzir White who can bring the wood on every play. He is second on the team in tackles with two of those coming for losses. Jeremy Tyler will get the nod at BS while Jeremy Tyler will hold down the fort at FS. Both Harper and Tyler have been playing great together. I have been very impressed with this entire secondary and most importantly their communication skills.
This Oklahoma State offense goes as far as Mason Rudolph’s arm can go. Mike Gundy loves to air it out and try to get the football in the hands of the likes of James Washington and Jalen McCleskey. I will say however, that they are starting to find a bit of a run game as of late with RB Justice Hill. A key thing to keep track of before the game is the status of OSU WR Marcell Ateman. If Ateman is able to play on Saturday, it would be a huge plus for the offense. Not only would it give the Mountaineers one more thing to worry about, it would take some off the pressure off of Washington and McCleskey in coverage. West Virginia has big physical corners who will jam smaller wide receivers like they did against Texas Tech to disrupt the timing of offenses. I expect the Cowboy offense to spread the field as much as they can to try and put their wide receivers in space. Oklahoma State will have to try and counter by taking some shots deep as well as trying to establish a run game with Hill to keep this defense on their toes. A thing to keep in mind here is that the Cowboys have given up 23 sacks this year, so if the Mountaineer defense tries to bring the heat, the OSU wide receivers will need to win those matchups on the outside with their speed.
West Virginia wins if, they are able to run the football against a struggling run defense for Oklahoma State. The last thing this Mountaineer football team wants to do is to get into a shootout on the road in Stillwater. Dana Holgorsen needs to do exactly what he has done the past two games, run the pigskin.
Oklahoma State wins if, they are able to get the ball into space to their playmakers like Washington, McCleskey and Seales. If they do this, their speed can be dangerous against a bigger West Virginia secondary. Defensively they have to stop the run at all cost. Make Skyler Howard beat you with his arm and put the game on his shoulders.
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