After opening the 2020 season with a 56-10 victory over Eastern Kentucky, the Mountaineers got a little extra prep time before game No. 2.
West Virginia had this past Saturday off and got to sit back and watch its next opponent, Oklahoma State, struggle against Tulsa before the Cowboys finally pulled out a 16-7 victory.
Now the two Big 12 clubs are preparing for the first conference game of the season, as they face off this coming Saturday in Stillwater (3:30 p.m., ET, on ABC).
WVU has turned its attention to game planning for Oklahoma State this week, but it spent most of last week focused on itself.
“It was a productive bye week for us,” said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown. “We stayed in camp-mode and just concentrated on getting better.
“We attacked the bye week with some goals in mind,” noted WVU’s second-year head coach. “We continued to work on our rushing offense. We also have to be able to stop the run, so we did a lot of good-on-good work in practice.
“We also did a lot of work in the red zone. I think that’s important. If you look at Big 12 games, a lot of those are decided in the red zone. That’s where we lost a lot last year on both sides of the ball.
“We also put in a lot of work on special teams. We underperformed on special teams in week one in all phases, so we did drill work and good-versus-good work in that area.”
While West Virginia’s offensive line showed well against EKU in opening up rushing lanes that led to 329 yards, Brown wasn’t overly enthralled with the play of his defensive front.
“I thought our young guys played well, but I think our veterans can play better,” WVU’s head coach said of his d-line. “Darius (Stills) and Dante (Stills) and Jeff Pooler can play better, and I think they will play better.”
How the Mountaineer defensive line performs this week in Stillwater, especially against OSU running back Chuba Hubbard, who led all FBS rushers last year (161.1 yards per game), figures to be a huge measuring stick on which team emerges from Boone Pickens Stadium Saturday with the win.
“That will be as important a matchup as there is in the game – our d-line against their o-line,” stated Brown.
Though Hubbard and the Pokes offense had some issues in this past week’s win over Tulsa, Brown believes the Cowboys will get back to full speed in short order.
“Offensively, they are very talented at the skill positions,” said WVU’s head coach. “They are explosive, and that starts with Chuba Hubbard. He’s a Heisman candidate, and his ability to break explosive plays for touchdowns at any time is what sets him apart.
“He gets a lot of attention for his rushing attack, which he should, but he beat us last year with his receiving skills, which says a lot about him.”
In OSU’s hard-fought 20-13 victory over West Virginia in 2019 at Mountaineer Field, Hubbard not only had 106 rushing yards but he also caught seven passes for 88 yards.
Hubbard isn’t the Cowboys’ only dynamic offensive weapon.
Wide receiver Tylan Wallace and quarterback Spencer Sanders did not play in Morgantown last year due to injuries. Both are still battling some injuries now. Wallace was hampered by a reported groin problem against Tulsa, though he had 93 receiving yards on four receptions. Sanders missed much of the game after spraining an ankle in the early going – his absence undoubtedly limited the OSU offense – and his status for this Saturday against West Virginia is still uncertain.
“Tylan Wallace is special. He had a groin injury last week and still almost went for 100 yards,” said Brown of the OK State senior receiver. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a guy I think is as good as any wideout in the country.
“We’ll prepare for the guy who started the year, which was Spencer Sanders,” Brown said in terms of the OSU quarterback position. “It’s my assumption that if he’s well he’ll play. Now if another guy plays, we’ll adjust.”
It’s the first Big 12 game of the 2020 season for the Mountaineers, and Brown isn’t masking the fact that it’s a big one.
Oklahoma State was picked to finish second in the Big 12 in the league’s preseason media poll. The Cowboys have also controlled the series vs. WVU as of late, winning the last five meetings dating back to 2014, which is also the only time in four previous trips to Stillwater since joining the Big 12 in 2012 that West Virginia has emerged with a victory.
“I think this game is important to see if we’re ready to play against the top teams in our conference,” Brown stated. “I would argue that Oklahoma State is right up there with anybody. They probably have the most experience returning of anyone in our league.”
OSU does have 19 starters back from last year’s 8-5 club. Despite their offensive struggles in their opener, Brown expects a prime effort from the Cowboys this Saturday.
“They have been one of the best in the Big 12 in the last 10 or 12 years, and Stillwater is a very difficult place to play,” concluded Brown. “Still, it’s a great opportunity for our program.”