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West Virginia vs Oklahoma State - Season 128, Episode 2 - Are We Good?

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The Mountaineers head to Stillwater for an early season litmus test against the Oklahoma State Cowboys

NCAA Football: Eastern Kentucky at West Virginia Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

WHEN/WHERE

Time: 3:30pm EST

Date: September 26th, 2020

Venue: Boone Pickens Stadium, Stillwater, OK

HOW TO WATCH/LISTEN

TV: ABC

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. We will also include the stream in our game thread, which will go live at 11:00 AM ET.

SiriusXM Satellite Radio will also be broadcasting the game on channel 81 on both Sirius and XM branded radios.

Streaming: ESPN.com, or the ESPN app

DEGENERATES UNITE

Spread: WVU +7.5

Over/Under: 53

THREAD WATCH

Good guys: A much stronger kit than we wore in the opener and should look absolutely fantastic alongside Oklahoma State’s all white throwbacks.

Bad guys: I generally support all things throwback, but even I have to admit that this look is especially good.

KNOW THE ENEMY

2020 Record: (1-0). Oklahoma State definitely didn't open the season with as many style points as they would've hoped, but last weekend's 16-7 grind against Tulsa counts as a win all the same. Regardless, I'm expecting them to look much better this week.

Series History: (4-7). The Cowboys hold a three game advantage in the all-time series on the back of winning five straight against us. Objectively you'd have to concede that they've generally been better than us over that stretch, but the fan in me can't help but feel like we let at least two of those get away.

Head Coach: Mike Gundy. Gundy is one of the most recognizable names and brands in major college football. The results have tailed off a bit over the last year or two, but there are few head coaches who've had more success than him over the last fifteen years.

Offensive Coordinator: Kasey Dunn. Dunn is in his ninth year in Stillwater, but was just promoted to his current role this past January. He previously served as the Cowboys' wide receivers coach, working directly with future NFL guys like Justin Blackmon, Tyreek Hill, James Washington, and most recently Tylan Wallace.

Defensive Coordinator: Jim Knowles. Knowles is now in his third year in Stillwater after an eight year stint at Duke. The Cowboys were much better defensively in his second year in charge, and will again look to improve with 10 starters and several key contributors back from that 2019 group.

BY THE NUMBERS

+10, the Mountaineers' explosive play differential (16 created, 6 allowed) in the Eastern Kentucky game. We likely won’t be +10 again this weekend, but I think that we need to at least break even if we want to come out of there with a win. The defensive side of that equation is of particular importance; Hubbard and Wallace were held in relative check against Tulsa but were among the nation’s best at creating explosive plays a year ago. We absolutely cannot let them gash us.

WHEN WE HAVE THE BALL

Key players: S Kolby Harvell-Peel, S Tre Sterling, LB Amen Ogbongbemiga, LB Malcolm Rodriguez

As I mentioned above, the Pokes defense showed significant improvement in Jim Knowles' second year, allowing just 27 points and 412 yards per game after surrendering 33 and 453 respectively the year before. They were especially good down the stretch last year, conceding more than 20 points just once in their final four games. With nearly everybody of significance returning, they figure to be even better in 2020.

Up front they'll give us a 4-down look and should have plenty of depth with most of the two-deep back from 2019. Redshirt senior Cameron Murray is the elder statesman and anchors them up the middle alongside junior Israel Antwine, while sophomores Tyler Lacy and Trace Ford will look to build on promising freshmen seasons on either edge. They aren't an outrageously productive bunch on their own (just 11 sacks and 23.5 TFL for the entire rotation in 2019), but they do a good job at keeping blockers away from the extremely active second and third levels behind them.

The back seven is where the Cowboys cause people problems. The two corners are big and talented, allowing them to play man on the outside and take risks with the other five. However, it’s that spine in the second and third levels that’s the real strength of their defense. Linebackers Amen Ogbongbemiga and Malcolm Rodriguez are both back after leading the team in tackles a year ago, while Kolby Harvell-Peel and Tre Sterling ranked 3rd and 4th from their respective safety positions.

What I'm keeping an eye on: Are we getting blockers to the second level?

It's an objective truth that running the ball well makes everything else easier for an offense. If we want to pick up where we left off running the ball against Eastern Kentucky, it's absolutely imperative that we get blockers downfield to engage the aforementioned Ogbongbemiga, Rodriguez, Harvell-Peel, and Sterling before they're able to attack us at the line of scrimmage. Those guys shoot gaps as well as anybody in the league, but if we can get bodies to them 5-6 yards downfield instead of 2-3, we should be able to have some success running the ball. And if we can have some success running the ball then it opens up everything we do offensively.

WHEN THEY HAVE IT

Key players: QB Spencer Sanders, RB Chuba Hubbard, WR Tylan Wallace, WR Dillon Stoner, T Teven Jenkins

The Oklahoma State offense has run through a number of iterations under Mike Gundy, but most all of them have been effective at both moving the ball and putting up points. Last year's run-heavy variation (61% run in 2019) was actually a bit modest by their standards, but still managed to finish 35th nationally in scoring and 21st in total offense despite losing All-American Tylan Wallace in late October. The Pokes return 8 starters from that unit, and I expect them to be a handful for opposing defenses again in 2020.

The skill position talent is as good as we’ll see. Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace are arguably the nation’s premier players at their respective positions, and the supporting cast of Dillon Stoner, Braydon Johnson, and Landon Wolf proved themselves productive down the stretch last year in Wallace’s absence. The only question mark is the health of quarterback Spencer Sanders. Sanders quickly established himself as an elite scrambler last year and inconsistently flashed some big-time arm talent, but unfortunately he injured his ankle on their opening drive a week ago and was in a walking boot as recently as Tuesday. We probably won’t know if he’s healthy until kickoff, but if he plays he gives them a dual-threat dimension that makes them extremely difficult to defend.

Up front they return two starters from a group that graded out in the top 30 nationally last year per ProFootballFocus, and they’re bolstering their ranks this year with former Mountaineer Josh Sills, who transferred to Stillwater after a 2nd team All-Conference performance in 2018. Some opening week injuries figure to confuse the rotation a bit, but overall I expect them to play better than they did against Tulsa.

What I’ll be keeping an eye on: Are we gang tackling?

You won’t find a more explosive skill group in the country than Oklahoma State. Hubbard led the nation with 15 30+ yard carries last year and gained 1,300 of his 2,090 yards after contact, while Wallace averaged nearly 10 YAC and had 15 20+ yard receptions of his own despite missing the last month of the season. Throw Sanders into the mix (if he’s healthy) and as a trio they avoided 131 tackles last year. The point here is that we can’t expect our guys to consistently bring them down in 1v1 situations. Hubbard and Wallace especially are absolute thoroughbreds who will gallop out of and away from tackles and into the end zone if we don’t swarm them. We need our defensive line to eat blockers so that guys like Tony Fields, Josh Chandler-Semedo, Tykee Smith, and Sean Mahone are free to flow to the ball. If we can do that and limit their big plays, I think we’ll be in the game with a chance to win it late.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Their kicker and punter seem serviceable, but Dillon Stoner and Braydon Johnson are somewhat more than that in the return game. We can’t be as sloppy as we were against EKU because both of those guys are capable of flipping a game on its head.

FINAL THOUGHTS/PREDICTION

Oklahoma State came into 2020 with a ton of hype, and a quick glance across their depth chart makes it easy to understand why. They have their quarterback back, the offense features two of the most explosive weapons in the country and a great supporting cast, and every name called on the defensive side of the ball will be a familiar one. The margin for error is really small this weekend, but the path to victory is clearly defined - prevent Hubbard and Wallace from hitting home runs and give ourselves a shot to steal a win late. LET’S GO!

West Virginia 31 - 23 Oklahoma State