Date: November 23rd, 2019
Time: 12:00pm EST
Venue: Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar Stadium – Morgantown, WV
HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN
Streaming: ESPN app
Radio: Click HERE for a complete list of radio affiliates in West Virginia. If you live outside of the state, or don’t live close enough to a radio affiliate, you can listen to the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG on TuneIn Radio.
Spread: West Virginia +7
This is honestly lower than I expected. Seems Vegas is trusting the climb.
Gold hats, blue shirts, gold britches.
KNOW THE ENEMY
Series History: (4-6). The Pokes have replaced Kansas State as that maddening team that somehow always seems to find a way to beat us. I feel like last year’s season-ruining loss left a really bad taste in just about everybody’s mouth, so I expect team and crowd alike to be salivating at the opportunity to end our 4-game losing streak against them.
2019 Record: (7-3). The Big 12’s Jekyll and Hyde team are again the toughest for me to get a read on. Their running game has been overwhelming at times this year, but they haven’t beaten anybody all that convincingly in the conference and lost to a pair of absolutely bang-average teams in Texas and Texas Tech.
Head Coach: Mike Gundy. Both Gundy and his program are sitting firmly at the second-tier table of college royalty – there aren’t more than a handful of programs nationally who can say they’ve matched or bettered State’s six 10-win seasons (9.4 wins per) this decade.
Offensive Coordinator: Sean Gleeson. Gleeson was regarded as one of the sneaky-good coordinator hires in the country this past offseason when Gundy plucked him from Princeton. The Tigers were the most explosive offense in FCS during his two years at the helm and went undefeated in 2018 averaging 47 points and 537 yards per game.
Defensive Coordinator: Jim Knowles. Knowles is in just his second year in-role in Stillwater but has over a decade of coordinator experience and over 30 years of college coaching experience overall.
WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL…
The Cowboys have traditionally been a bit of a mixed bag defensively. They’re always talented, but they’re also generally flawed enough that they’re rarely better than above average. This year’s edition is strong in the secondary (especially at corner) and relatively inexperienced just about everywhere else, and the results are just about what you’d expect – 1st in the conference in passes defended, 2nd in interceptions, and somewhere between 3rd and 7th in just about everything else.
They’re aesthetically similar to most of the teams in the Big 12 in that their base package includes five defensive backs, two linebackers, and a mix of three and four-man fronts. That group up front is relatively inexperienced, but as RDN noted on Tuesday they’re playing their best football of the year right now, with 13 of their 21 sacks and 27 of their 56 TFL coming in the last four games. Key names to know up there are tackles Cameron Murray and Israel Antwine and freshman Trace Ford at defensive end.
Those guys do their best to funnel everything to linebackers Rodriguez and Ogbongbemiga, who’ve responded by going 1-2 on the team in tackles. Rodriguez has been a safety for most of his career there and has enough athleticism to make plays sideline-to-sideline. After those two, their next five leading tacklers are the five defensive backs, which speaks to just how active that group is. Corners Green and Williams are known entities who’ve been among the league’s best for going on three years now, while Kolby Harvell-Peel has built on a breakout freshman campaign with an outstanding sophomore season (5 interceptions, 11 PBUs). Classmates Tre Sterling and Jarrick Bernard have also stepped in and done a pretty nice job as first-year starters.
Defining success: Give Doege enough time to take shots downfield
It’s not going to be easy to throw the ball against Oklahoma State. Led by Green and Williams at corner, their secondary is a physical, experienced group that ranks in the top 15 nationally in both interceptions and passes defended. However, that aggressiveness has also made them vulnerable to big plays (115th nationally in 10+ yard passing plays allowed, 99th in 20+), which is the first reason why I think we try to attack them downfield tomorrow.
The second and larger reason is that it’s abundantly clear at this point that we aren’t going to be able to run the ball at all without first softening the defense up with those types of big plays in the passing game. The most noticeable difference in our offense last week was that Doege was actually able to connect on a few of those deep balls, and the result was our best rushing output since Texas. A big part of Doege’s success was due to the fact that he generally had a pretty decent pocket to throw from, so it’s crucial that we protect him well enough again this week that he has time to find guys downfield.
WHEN THEY HAVE THE BALL…
Oklahoma State players to watch: QB Dru Brown, RB Chuba Hubbard, WR Dillon Stoner
The Pokes have consistently fielded one of the best offenses in the country since Gundy took over. They have some new faces and are much more run-heavy this year than we’re used to (63% run in 2019 vs 51% from 2014-2018), but that certainly hasn’t slowed them down or made them any less explosive – they’re still in the Top 20 nationally in both scoring and total offense and are generating a 20+ yard nearly once every 10 snaps.
Most of that production is tied to running back Chuba Hubbard, who is somehow only now showing up on the national radar despite putting together one of the best individual seasons of any running back this century. He’s already gone for 1,726 yards (6.7 ypc) and 20 touchdowns this year and is arguably the most dangerous skill player that the conference has seen since Tavon Austin. For context, Chuba himself has more 60+ yard runs this year (6) than our team has 20+ yard runs (5). That probably says as much about us as it does about him, but it does the job of illustrating how small the margin of error is for our defense this weekend – a misstep here or bad angle there and the dude will house.
The complimentary pieces have been led to this point by quarterback Spencer Sanders, who’d been enjoying a breakout campaign next to Hubbard. However, it was just reported that Sanders is going to miss a few weeks with thumb surgery, so starting duties this week will fall on Hawaii transfer Dru Brown. Brown put up decent passing numbers in Hawaii in 2017, and though he doesn’t appear to be as slippery a runner as Sanders, he looks athletic enough that they should be able to run their normal offense.
The injury bug has hit them out wide, as well, with Sanders’ untimely surgery coming just a few weeks after Tylan Wallace (who has a strong case as the second best skill player in the Big 12 this year behind Hubbard) went down for the year. Dillon Stoner has stepped up bigly in his absence and guys like Landon Wolf and Jordan McCray have done about as well as could be hoped for, but there’s simply no replacing a talent like Wallace. One last guy to keep an eye on is Braydon Johnson, who doesn’t catch many balls but is averaging 28 yards per reception.
They’re experienced up front and have three guys who got some preseason All-Conference recognition in Marcus Keyes, Teven Jenkins, and Johnny Wilson. One thing that stuck out to me when watching them this week is how well those guys get downhill and onto blocks in the second and third levels of the defense – that kind of downfield presence is crucial to springing Chuba.
Defining success: Slow down Chuba
It’s hard to overstate just how good Chuba Hubbard has been this year – the guy has topped 200 yards four times and is nearly 30 yards per game clear of Jonathan Taylor atop the national rushing leaderboards. However, the evidence of what can happen when you’re as reliant on one player as State is on Hubbard is plain to see in his splits – 156 carries for 1278 yards (8.2 ypc) and 13 touchdowns in their 7 wins; 103 carries for 448 yards (4.4 ypc) and 7 touchdowns in their 3 losses. It’s pretty obvious that even slowing Chuba down will greatly increase our chances of winning the game, especially now with Sanders out, which makes it pretty obvious that that’s what we’ll set out to do. It’s going to take another big effort from our group up front – they have plenty of guys capable of hurting us if we dedicate too many resources to Chuba – but if we can prevent him from running wild then I like our chances to be in the game in the 4th quarter.
Their punt game has been a bit suspect, but they have veterans in every other specialist role. Matt Amendola has been a solid kicker for several years now, while the sure-handed Dillon Stoner is a stable-if-unspectacular punt returner.
Everything’s lining up here. Wallace out, Sanders out, and potentially shite weather. Let’s go get us another scalp.
West Virginia 27-21 Oklahoma State
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