Date: October 28th, 2017
Time: 12:00pm EST
Venue: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, West Virginia
Streaming: WatchESPN or the WatchESPN 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: Oklahoma State -7.5 (Oddshark)
The Mountaineers are rocking their "True Blues" this weekend. It’s a solid look that should contrast nicely with orange and grey.
Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State hasn’t released their jersey combo at the time of writing, but wore grey-white-orange on their last trip to Morgantown.
Know the Enemy
Series History: This weekend’s contest will act as a tiebreaker for the all-time series, which is currently deadlocked at 4-4. Oklahoma State has unfortunately won two on the trot, including a 37-20 loss in Stillwater last year.
Record: (6-1). It's clear that Oklahoma State is a good football team, but exactly how good they are is tough to figure. On the surface they're 6-1 and have looked very impressive on both sides of the ball for much of the year, but a closer look reveals that they've beaten 6 teams (2-6 Tulsa, 3-4 South Alabama, 3-5 Pitt, 4-3 Texas Tech, 0-7 Baylor, and 3-4 Texas) that they would've expected to beat and lost to the only really good team on their schedule. Not terribly unlike ourselves if we're being honest. Saturday should give us a better idea of where both teams stand.
Head Coach: Mike Gundy. A man, now 50, Mike Gundy has been one of the most successful coaches in the country over the last decade. His teams have averaged nearly 10 wins per season since 2010 and his mullet is something of a national treasure.
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Yurcich. Yurcich joined Mike Gundy's staff as Offensive Coordinator in 2013 after previously serving in the same role at Shippensburg College. The Pokes have finished Top 10 nationally in total offense in three of his four years in charge.
Defensive Coordinator: Glenn Spencer. Spencer was promoted to his current role in 2013 after joining the staff in 2008 as a defensive line and linebackers coach. His defenses are noted for their ability to generate turnovers, ranking 3rd nationally in takeaways since 2010.
By the Numbers
As a reminder, I define explosive plays as runs of 10+ yards and passes of 20+ yards based on data found on cfbstats.com.
- Explosive Play % is calculated by dividing the number of explosive plays generated (or allowed) by the total number of plays run (or faced).
- Big Play Differential is the number of explosive plays generated minus the number of explosive plays allowed.
- Toxic Differential is simply Big Play Differential plus Turnover Margin.
As you can see, we have our work cut out for us this weekend. Oklahoma State has been at least as good as us offensively and shares few of our defensive shortcomings. Of particular note are their explosive play numbers - the Pokes are excellent at both generating and preventing big plays. It'll be interesting to watch how that plays out Saturday.
When we have the ball
Players to watch: LB Chad Whitener, LB Justin Phillips, S Tre Flowers, S Ramon Richards, DT DeQuinton Osborne, DE Jordan Brailford
Oklahoma State returns several starters and key contributors from a unit that was relatively average a year ago. Predictably, they’ve performed much better this year, and are well above average both in terms of yards per game (69th percentile nationally) and yards per play allowed (84th percentile). They’re also very good at preventing explosive plays, allowing them less than once in every ten snaps (9.5%, 83rd percentile). They’ve been slightly worse than we’ve come to expect with regards to forcing turnovers (though they’re still middle of the road), but overall it’s a strong unit.
Individually they have talent at every level of the field. Up front Jordan Brailford and DeQuinton Osborne anchor a deep group that ranks 2nd in the conference in tackles for loss, while Chad Whitener and Justin Phillips fly around the second level from their linebacker spots. On the back end, Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards are both four-year contributors and form probably the best safety tandem we’ve faced.
Key to the game: Protect Will
Considering the weather that we’re likely facing tomorrow, it’s obviously important that we’re able to establish the run. We’ve had a rough go of that for the last three weeks now, but we have to be able to depend on it tomorrow in the event that the rain affects our ability to throw. Spavital this week mentioned that he’s looking to get more creative with our rushing attack, so it’ll be interesting to see what those changes look like.
However, for a couple of reasons I think our ability to give Will time to throw will be possibly even more important.
First, over the past two years their pass rush has arguably been the difference in this game. In 2015, Emmanuel Ogbah single-handedly ruined our weekend by forcing two fumbles and falling on one of them for a touchdown. Last year wasn’t quite as bad, but they still got to Skyler enough to force a fumble and rattle him. And you know that both teams know this - to quote Seth from Superbad, “People don’t forget.” It would be demoralizing to player and fan alike if they’re constantly in our backfield wreaking havoc again.
Second, if you had to pinpoint one weakness in State’s defense it would be at corner where they play two youngsters that are first-year starters. Those guys have performed as well as could be expected this year, but we’ve watched our receivers consistently handle their business against better. If we can protect Will and give him time to throw, then I’m confident that our guys can win their matchups on the outside. That means big plays and touchdowns for the good guys.
When they have the ball
Players to watch: QB Mason Rudolph, RB Justice Hill, WR James Washington, WR Marcel Ateman, WR Jalen McClesky
The Cowboys enter Saturday’s game with their offense looking very much like what we’ve come to expect from them. They’re at or near the top of the country in most major offensive categories, ranking 3rd in scoring offense, 1st in total offense, and 5th in total explosive plays. Strategically they’re still a throw first group, but they also have a highly effective ground attack that compliments their passing game nicely. It’ll be a familiar cast of characters, as well, starting with quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Rudolph is having an excellent senior season, averaging a nation-leading 378 yards passing per game on 66% completions with 19 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions. Most impressively though, he’s averaging a ridiculous 11 yards per attempt, which is good for 3rd nationally and is nearly 2 full yards per attempt better than Will in 10th. That tells us that Oklahoma State pushes the ball downfield with the absolute best of them, and the completion percentage tells us they’re pretty good at doing so.
His targets on the outside are outstanding, as well. James Washington returns and is having a fantastic senior year, leading the nation in receiving yards on a staggering 24 yards per catch. His partners in crime are Marcell Ateman and Jalen McClesky, who many will remember having a big game against us in Stillwater last year. Ateman actually missed last season due to injury but has been back to his old self this year, ranking 19th nationally in yards per game and averaging nearly 20 yards per reception himself. All three of these guys are on the Biletnikoff Watch List and all three are home run hitters, meaning our secondary has to be absolutely on top of their game. Busted coverage tomorrow means touchdowns.
On the ground, Justice Hill has built on the promise of a strong freshman campaign to become one of the premier backs in the conference. They’ve been giving him 15-20 carries per game and he’s used those touches to lead the conference in both rushing yards per game and 10+ yard runs (Crawford is 2nd). Behind him, freshman J.D. King looks like he’s going to be another good one, giving them a nice 1-2 combo on the ground. As I said earlier, this is a throw first team, but the running game is nothing to sneeze at.
Key to the game: Make them drive it, force 3s
This is without a doubt the best offense we've seen this year. They have playmakers all over the field and a talented, experienced quarterback to run the show. However, you'll notice on their radar that their one relative weaknesses (read: RELATIVE, as in they're not elite at it) is converting red zone trips into touchdowns. Now part of that is due to the fact that they score so many long touchdowns (15 of their 39 TDs have come from outside the red zone, 13 from 40+ yards), but I think another part of it is that they just struggle a bit once the field shrinks. Sometimes explosive teams do.
With that in mind, I think the key tomorrow will be forcing them to drive on us and kick field goals. With all of that firepower we have to expect Oklahoma State to move the ball - again, too much talent for them not to - but we can't let them just run up and down the field on us. I’m sure we’ll pick our spots to go after Rudolph, who’s a relatively stationary target in the pocket, but we absolutely have to keep those playmakers in front of us and then swarm them when they get the ball. If we can limit their big plays and then stand up and get stops when the field shrinks, I like our chances. I’m not saying that it’ll be easy, but I do think it’s necessary if we’re going to win.
Players to watch: K Matt Ammendola
The Pokes appear to be a bit of a mixed bag on special teams. Their kicker will put it in the end zone about half of the time and has missed 5 out of 16 field goals, and they’re middle of the road in the conference in the return game. One area where they’re excellent though is in coverage. They’re 16th in the country against kickoffs, allowing just over 17 yards per return, and are actually even better at covering punts (1st nationally), having allowed just two returns all year. Another week where the field position battle promises to be hard-fought.
Key to the game: Spring Simms
You need big plays to win big games. Simms is the best returner we've had in a few years, and he's been close a couple of times now to taking one to the house. It'd be great if we could hit one of those in this game, but if he can continue to consistently give us good field position that'll be helpful, as well.
Oklahoma State’s had our number for a couple of years now, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit bitter about it. They’re another one of those teams that we tend to beat in the box score but lose to on the field, and those are always tough pills to swallow. This year I think we return the favor. I think they might have a better team than us, but I think we make more plays tomorrow.
West Virginia 31 Oklahoma State 28