Let's start here - that was the most fun I've had at a football game since watching Will Grier and the boys beat Texas in Austin in 2018. The crowd was locked in, the team responded to everything Iowa State threw at them, and most importantly, the good guys won. The Climb is full speed ahead again, gang. Next stop - Cowpoke Pass.
Date: November 6th, 2021
Kickoff: 3:30PM EST
Where: Mountaineer Field at Mylan Puskar Stadium - Morgantown, WV
Tickets: General Public
Online Streaming: ESPN app with a valid ESPN+ subscription
Cord Cutters: Mountaineer fans can catch all the action on fuboTV. fuboTV is an over-the-top streaming service that carries all the major networks, including CBS, NBC, FOX, and now....the ESPN Disney networks! It also carries ABC, CBS Sports Network, FS1, SEC Network, and more. fuboTV comes with a cloud DVR feature, so you can record the game and watch it later. Sign up for a free seven day trial of fuboTV, and get 15% off the base family plan, by following THIS LINK.
Radio Announcers: Tony Caridi (PBP), Dwight Wallace (analyst), and Jed Drenning (sideline)
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Spread: WVU +3.5
The line has moved a half-point in our favor after opening at +3.5, which means a lot of money is buying what Neal Brown and Co are selling. If we maintain the level we've shown over the past two weeks I think those folks will have made a smart decision.
Partly cloudy - high 51/33 low - Wind 6 mph
It's finally starting to feel a bit like fall out there, gang. The forecast is calling for a crispy morning with the temperature rising to about 50 degrees around kickoff. Absolutely ideal day for football.
Where are they from? Oklahoma State University is in Stillwater, Oklahoma, just outside of Oklahoma City.
All-time series record: 8-4. State has won 6 against us on the trot and has taken 7 of 9 since we joined the Big 12. As a fan I'd like to think that revenge factor should be enough to stave off any post-Iowa State letdown.
Last game: The Cowboys beat us 27-13 in last year's conference opener in Stillwater. We outgained and outpossessed them but were ultimately undone by a nasty concoction of big plays and sloppiness, with muffed field goals, fumbles, and penalties all playing a prominent role.
Head coach: Mike Gundy (14th season, 151-69). A man, now aged 54, Gundy is as synonymous with his program as just about any coach in America. The past three seasons have seen the Pokes fall maybe just a half-step off the pace they set in the mid-2010s, but the 9.2 wins they've averaged since 2010 still ranks 12th nationally.
2021 record: 7-1. Oklahoma State have flown under the radar a bit this year en route to a 7-1 start, with the lone blemish coming a few weeks back against Iowa State. These aren't your older sibling's Cowboys - these guys just run the ball, take reasonably good care of it, and play great defense.
NUMBERS THAT MAY INTEREST YOU
8 - Missed tackles forced by Leddie Brown against Iowa State, tying the career high he set last year against K-State. He's now forced 13 missed tackles in the two games since the bye after breaking 15 total in the first 6 games. Dude is running with a sense of urgency right now.
32.5 - Combined rushing attempts per game between running back Jaylen Warren (21.9 attempts per game, 4.9 ypc) and quarterback Spencer Sanders (10.6, 5.4). The foundational play here is a zone read with Warren attacking the middle of their offensive line and Sanders either handing off or keeping around the right edge.
35% - Completion percentage for Spencer Sanders when pressured this year. That number's firmly in the bottom third of the country and is barely half of the 69% that he completes when kept clean. Point of emphasis this weekend?
7.1 - Tackles for loss per game for Oklahoma State, tied with us for best in the conference and 18th nationally.
39 - Combined pressures from Okie State linebackers Devin Harper (21) and Malcolm Rodriguez (18) through 8 games, ranking 4th and 5th in P5, respectively. These two are grading out as two of the top 10 off-ball linebackers in the country and they're going to come after us this weekend - a much different challenge than the one posed by Iowa State last weekend.
8.2% - The rate at which Oklahoma State's defense is allowing explosive plays against FBS opponents this year. That's just 16 10+ yard runs and 19 20+ yard passes in 426 snaps. Stingier'n heck.
KEYS TO THE GAME
WIN AGAINST THE RUN ON EARLY DOWNS, FORCE 3RD AND LONGS
For the fourth game in a row we're facing a team that very clearly wants to establish the run to set up the rest of the things they do offensively, with the Pokes handing the ball off 65 % of the time on first and second down and utilizing either play action or RPO on 42% of their dropbacks. Their committment to the run means that they find themselves in a lot of 3rd and manageable situations (6 yards or less to go) and they convert those opportunities at a 53% clip, but that conversion rate drops to just 23% when facing 3rd and 7 or more. This makes stopping the run and getting them into third and longs a priority this weekend. State isn't overly explosive (13.4% explosive play rate) and doesn't have many proven weapons in the downfield passing game, so expect us to stack the box and take our chances on the back end in an effort to make it happen.
There's a degree to which pressure impacts every quarterback's performance, but Sanders' takes one of the bigger hits in the country. He's been extremely efficient when kept clean this year, completing nearly 70% of his passes at 8.4 yards per attempt with an elite PFF passing grade of 90.5, but those numbers drop to 35%, 6.4, and 49.1 when he's been pressured. That disparity makes it imperative in my mind that we get after him this weekend, and all things considered I feel pretty confident about our ability to do so. Not only has their line has struggled a bit to protect him this year, allowing 59 pressures and ranking 9th in the conference in pass blocking efficiency, but Stills and Mesidor lead the conference and are top 10 nationally in pressures generated by interior lineman. I think they're going to get to Sanders on Saturday, but I also wouldn't be surprised if we dial up a few more blitzes than usual in passing situations in an attempt to force him into a mistake.
However, after what we witnessed with Brock Purdy last weekend we'd be naive to think that simply pressuring the quarterback is the end of the story. We pressured Purdy 23 times but sacked him just twice and were lucky not to be undone by the 73 yards he mostly gained scrambling in the 4th quarter. Sanders isn't quite the wizard that Purdy is and certainly isn't as difficult to tackle, but he's a capable scrambler in his own right and is averaging about 10 yards on 13 such attempts this year. We need to get him on the ground when we get the chance, and if he does break the pocket then we need to be much more disciplined when breaking down in space than we were a week ago.
Let me say this up front - allowing just 10 pressures and 1 sack in two games is commendable regardless of who you're playing. However, this weekend's opponent is not a down-real-bad TCU squad or content-to-drop-8 Iowa State. Oklahoma State's defense plays on its front foot, riding 7.1 TFL per game (18th nationally) and a 7.5% sack rate (39th) to an impressive overall havoc rate of 17.1%. They're going to come after Doege this weekend, and considering his own well-documented issues with pressure our ability to protect him (or not) is likely going to make-or-break our ability to move the ball and score points. There are a couple reasons for optimism here though.
First, the alluded to growth up front. Simply put, the five guys we've settled on are currently playing their best football of the season. Zach Frazier has put in two consecutive All-Conference level shifts, leading all Big 12 centers in run blocking grade and ranking 3rd in pass blocking per PFF. Doug Nester has followed up two of the worst games of his career with two of his best, leading all Big 12 lineman with a pass blocking grade of 90.9. James Gmiter has been rock solid next to Frazier, grading out at a 73.7 and allowing just 3 pressures since the bye. And finally, Wyatt Milum has emerged as a star-in-the-making at right tackle, allowing only one pressure and grading out at 82.7 as a pass blocker since taking over the starting job full-time against TCU. The one real concern is Brandon Yates being isolated against Tyler Lacy, Collin Oliver, or Brock Martin off the edge, but we've mitigated that recently by mixing in some max protect stuff to make sure he has help. TJ Banks was really good in that regard against Iowa State, and I imagine we'll continue to be willing to sacrifice route runners if it ensures that Doege has the time he needs to find one of our other receivers down the field.
Second and perhaps more importantly, Doege has one of the best blitz picker-uppers in America riding shotgun with him. Leddie Brown hasn’t allowed a pressure all season and his 86.1 pass blocking grade ranks 5th nationally among running backs with at least 15 pass blocking snaps. The Cowboys do a good job of bringing pressure from the second level, but if (when) they bring the aforementioned Harper and Rodriguez from their linebacker spots I completely trust Leddie to stick his nose in there and pick it up.
This sentence would've seemed inconceivable less than a month ago, but I fully expect our 5 (or 6 or 7) to handle their 4 (or 5 or 6) and give Doege time to do his thing.
HOW AFRAID SHOULD WE BE?
7 out of 10. I don't hate the matchup, but these guys are 7-1 for a reason and have beaten us six times in a row - anything less would've been disrespectful.
I expect both defenses to mostly cancel out each other's running games, which likely means this game to comes down to a single question - basically, can our wardaddies up front can protect Doege better than theirs protect Sanders? If they can then I think we'll win, because clean Doege is objectively good, and I expect our receivers to get open against the 1-on-1 matchups they're likely to see on the outside. If they can't then we'll probably lose, because pressured Doege is objectively bad, and the handful of mistakes he's likely to make will almost certainly submarine our offense.
Refer to the keys above and mark me down for the former. LFG.
West Virginia 27-20 Oklahoma State