Another Ranked Foe For Holgs, WVU As It Tries To Remain In Big 12 Contention
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia’s schedule now resembles that of the NFL.
Not in terms of difficulty, certainly, but in terms of parity. The Mountaineers, ranked 22nd in the latest Associated Press Poll, have already played No. 4 TCU and No. 13 Virginia Tech. They get No. 11 Oklahoma State this weekend, followed by No. 25 Iowa State, then the likes of Kansas State and Texas before finishing with No. 10 Oklahoma.
That’s five ranked teams – and the potential for more – with four of those currently residing in the top 15. It becomes a game fixated more on simply winning than how one wins, and that’s the mantra the remainder of the way. Look crisp, sluggish or a mix of the two. Play poorly in a phase – just not all three – and find a way to win. How is irrelevant and style points no longer exist. This is week-in, week-out survival.
“This is the third top 10 team we have played,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen insisted. And he’s correct, in the talent and execution level, if not the number attached to the name.
“I consider (OSU) top 10 team. I consider TCU a top 10 team. I consider Virginia Tech a top 10 team,” he said. “I don’t care what their rankings are, they are all pretty good. This is the first one we have had at home. Should be fun. The atmosphere I know will be wild. The guys are looking forward to playing this game. Our job is to put our guys in the best situation possible to win.”
That’s a tough task against perhaps the best all-around team in the Big 12. Where TCU can be methodical, and lacks elite level quarterback play, and Oklahoma is a conundrum from week-to-week, Oklahoma State has shredded foes for a national-best 584.6 yards per game, to go with 43.7 points. The offense rates in the top five in four categories and is among the top 10 in third down conversions and first downs per game.
The names are known: Quarterback Mason Rudolph, wideout James Washington, running back Justice Hill. All lead the Big 12 in passing, receiving and rushing yardage. And that’s not counting a pair of senior tackles and a former first-team center in Brad Lundblade who was injured versus Texas Tech and is nearing being cleared by the training staff.
As defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said, this is a different animal.
“As good as you are going to see,” Holgorsen claims. “Been a part of some good offenses and this one is as good as I have seen. A good seasoned quarterback. Been there forever. Glad he’s graduating. As good of a receiving corps as exists. Guys on the outside who can scare you, get behind you and score quick. Just throw it as far as you can. Gotta defend that. Back is probably the best we have faced this year.
“They can big play you, but then they can just to the intermediate passing game as well. They take care of the ball, efficient on critical downs. Got our work cut out for us on defense.”
Oklahoma State’s defense, meanwhile, is quietly piecing together and excellent season. The Cowboys allow just 22 points per game, a stellar number in the Big 12. They rank in the top three in the conference in scoring defense, total defense and passing defense. Rush end Jordan Brailford (6-3, 250) is third in the league in sacks at 3.5 and the remainder of the front consists of two seniors and a junior.
The safeties are also seniors, and could be the best tandem the Mountaineers play this season in All-Big 12 pick Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards. A 23-game starter at corner before being moved this offseason, Richards is an agile, athletic hitter who played as a true freshman four years ago. Flowers, at 6-3, is a rangy talent with a penchant for big plays. The linebackers are also sizable, and are typically able to operate unimpeded in the 4-3 set.
“Their front has a bunch of big, thick guys who can stop the run, rush the passer,” Holgorsen said. “If they get tired they just roll four more in. The numbers support that. They have improved in every category since last year, and I thought they were good then. I thought they were really good two years ago. Got our work cut out on offense as well.”
West Virginia has its work cut out everywhere. The Mountaineers and Cowboys are two of four teams in a tie for second place in the league at 3-1. This game starts a series of mini-playoffs to see who emerges to challenge TCU at the top.
“It should be fun. Bottom line: We got a really good, top 10 team coming to Morgantown,” Holgorsen said. “We will be ready. We will continue to improve and I’m looking forward to a good week of work to prepare.”