Offenses In Spotlight, Defenses Hold Key in WVU – Oklahoma State Game

Offenses In Spotlight, Defenses Hold Key in WVU – Oklahoma State Game


MORGANTOWN, W.Va — This is one of those “which came first, the chicken or the egg” riddles, this mid-November football game being played between West Virginia and Oklahoma State.

See, what you have here are two great offenses facing each other, each filled with dynamic talent like the Mountaineers’ Heisman Trophy candidate Will Grier and Biletnikoff Award candidate David Sills V and the Cowboy offense built around the running of Justice Hill and the passing combination of quarterback Taylor Cornelius and wide receiver Tylan Wallace.

Certainly, the offense that plays the best will win the 3:30 p.m. game televised on ABC Saturday out of Stillwater.

But is that the chicken or the egg, for what may scramble the whole equation is the West Virginia defense, for the outcome of this game, and very probably the season, may well rest on that unit’s ability to rise to the occasion on the road.

West Virginia linebacker David Long (right) pressures TCU’s Darius Anderson while Kenny Bigelow (40) carves a path through the line

The Mountaineers rank No. 12 in total offense in college football and Oklahoma State No. 11, but it is the WVU defense and its ranking of No. 37 in the  total defensive rankings as compared to the Cowboys’ No. 93 that seems to be the edge that could carry WVU to victory.

The Cowboys inability to play consistently on defense has earned it no more than a .500 record at 5-5 while WVU comes into the game at 8-1.

“I can’t figure it out,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said of Oklahoma State’s up and down year. “They beat Texas. Boise State is a good football team, and they beat them by over three touchdowns. They were a completion away from beating Oklahoma.

“Those are all really good teams. Then they struggle against some other teams. The only thing I can pinpoint is continuity. They’ve had a couple of staff changes or lost some key seniors.

“I don’t know, I’m not in the walls. It’s college football. There’s parity in college football. All of these teams are good.”

Parity in college football?

Don’t say that in Alabama. And when was the last time Clemson was out of the Top 5?

When a bad team beats a good, highly ranked team it usually isn’t from parity, it is from either an emotional deficiency going into the game on the part of the favorite or a fatal flaw in the favorite’s game that matches a strength of the underdog and is seized upon by that underdog to pull of the upset.

In this case the home field edge is a strong one against a WVU defense that has not played well on the road. Perhaps even more so, Oklahoma’s State’s defensive strength is probably the one thing that could throw off the WVU passing game … its pass rush.

Oklahoma State is tied for second in college football in sacks, recording 3.6 per game.

With whom are they tied?

No less a team than Alabama, so you can assume they are pretty good.

The Cowboy rush has certainly caught WVU’s attention.

“There’s a lot to do with it in terms of the question on protections,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said. “You get into that guessing game where he’s bluffing over here, or he’s blitzing over here, and we’re getting into the wrong points from a protection standpoint.

“It’s about playing with a good tempo, keeping them off guard with keeping the same personnel groupings out there and keeping your different formations and making sure that they can’t get that in as clearly as they want to.”

That means you are likely to see WVU go uptempo a lot to keep substitutions off the field as best they can.

West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen (left) and Jake Spavital

“A lot has to be dictated by the pace of play, but it’s also about keeping it simple for those kids if you’re going to play fast, so they can make their points and execute what they think is clean.”

But it isn’t just a pass rushing force. Oklahoma State is disruptive to the running game, too, which puts the offensive behind the chains quite a bit.

“They lead the nation in tackles for loss [actually 13th] and sacks and all that stuff, and they cause a lot of chaos with their front,” Holgorsen said. “They have great defensive linemen, I think their linebackers are outstanding, the (Justin) Phillips kid was their MVP last year, and then (Calvin) Bundage has been a little banged up with an ankle, but he’s as good of an athlete as you’re going to see.

“They put him at (defensive) end, and they rush him, along with the (Jordan) Brailford guy, who is another long, lean guy that can run and come off the edge. They evidently feel good enough about him to move him and play him in a bunch of different positions. They line him up at mike (linebacker) a lot, change their fronts. We don’t know where he’ll line up, so it’s going to be a big game for Will  to identify fronts and Matt Jones to identify fronts to figure out where these guys are and where they are coming from.”

What this does, too, is make tight end Trevon Wesco an even more valuable part of the offense than he has become recently, for he not only adds an extra offensive lineman to block, but can slow an end or linebacker down and then leak out in a pass route and make a play.

If WVU wins this game, it will send the Mountaineers into next Friday’s regular-season ending showdown against Oklahoma in Morgantown with a berth in the Big 12 Championship game, and perhaps more, on the line.

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