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Put Up or Shut Up Time for West Virginia

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The next two weeks will help determine if the Mountaineers are contenders or pretenders

NCAA Football: Delaware State at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Fast starts are nothing new for West Virginia. Blessed with an offense than can put up points, we’ve seen the team jump out to large leads multiple times this year. The same has held true for seasons. In 2012, 2014 and 2016 the ‘eers jumped out of the gates early only to falter late. For the Mountaineers to take the next step, they must win the next two games.

2012 - With the Mountaineers the darlings of the Big 12 and the country, riding high on Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense, Geno Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin lit up defenses and scoreboards as West Virginia quickly started 5-0. There was talk of darkhorse national title contention, there was talk of conference championships and BCS bowls. Before everyone knew it, that 5-0 start evaporated like a snowcone in July and the Mountaineers found themselves 5-5 needing to win against Kansas and Iowa State to salvage their season.

2014 - Following a growth year for the team, Clint Trickett and Kevin White teamed up to become a formidable duo, putting fear in defensive coordinators as Kevin White used his senior year to make himself a first-round draft pick. Trickett, who played through multiple concussions, lead the team to a 6-2 start and brought ESPN’s College Gameday to Morgantown for the second time in school history. An uncalled unsportsmanlike penalty on TCU likely resulted in another concussion for Trickett and dashed the hopes of the Mountaineers again challenging for a conference championship.

2016 - This was the best chance for the team since joining the conference. The overall depth of the conference was down and West Virginia rode a senior quarterback in Skyler Howard, along with a senior offensive line and defensive unit to a top-10 national ranking. The one bugaboo with Howard showed its head against both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma: turnovers. Three turnovers against OSU and four more against the Sooners doomed the ‘Eers chances at a Big 12 crown.

West Virginia so far this year has been who we thought they would be on offense. Will Grier is throwing the ball all around the yard and leads the nation in passing touchdowns with 26 passes crossing the endzone. His favorite receiving target, David Sills V, leads the nation with 15 touchdown receptions. Justin Crawford had five straight games of 100 yards rushing. The offense has been potent with a talented quarterback throwing the ball to big receiving targets and one of the deepest running back groups in the conference.

Saturday will feature possibly the best passing offense the Mountaineers will face this season. Mason Rudolph, who has been challenging Will Grier for the national lead in many passing categories, brings with him a prolific offense. The numbers speak for themselves with Rudolph under center.

Oklahoma State Offense - 2017

Points Per Game Yards/Game 3rd Dn % Completion % Yards/Pass Pass Yards/Game Touchdowns/Game
Points Per Game Yards/Game 3rd Dn % Completion % Yards/Pass Pass Yards/Game Touchdowns/Game
43.7 (#3) 590.1 (#1) 49.45 (#7) 65.49 (#17) 10.8 (#4) 392.7 (#1) 5.1 (#7)
Oklahoma State Offense Ranks (2017) WVUNite (Jake Lantz)

Next week does not get any easier for the Mountaineers as they take on a resurgent Cyclone squad led by second year head coach Matt Campbell. Campbell has taken the Cyclones, who were stagnant and faltering under former head coach Paul Rhoads, to the thick of the Big 12 conference race and a shiny new national ranking.

Iowa State isn’t particularly explosive on offense, ranking outside the top 25 in all the categories except points per play, where they come in at #24 with 0.489 points per play. Where the Cyclones are really shining is defense. Campbell’s unit is holding teams to under 20 points per game and 4.6 yards per play. Iowa State has now done something that West Virginia has been unable to do since joining the Big 12: defeat Oklahoma.

Mountaineer fans have gotten their hopes up before. At least three times, the team has looked like it was ready to take the next step and compete for a Big 12 title. This year the stakes are a little different. In past years, the conference winner was determined solely by conference record but this year the top two teams will get a chance to play each other for the conference crown. WVU has already put themselves down one slot with a close loss to TCU. For Dana Holgorsen, Tony Gibson and the rest of the coaches, the next two weeks will prove if the Mountaineers are ready to compete for a conference crown.