Certainly there is a big difference in what is at stake for the two combatants Saturday in Stillwater.
West Virginia, which is 8-1 overall and 6-1 in the Big 12 Conference, is battling for its first Big 12 championship since joining the league in 2012.
Meanwhile Oklahoma State, coming off a string of four 10-win seasons over the previous five years, has slumped some in 2018, as it is currently 5-5 overall and 2-5 in the league. The Cowboys need one win in their final two games (WVU Nov. 17 and then at TCU in their regular season finale on Nov. 24) to keep their 12-year bowl streak alive.
WVU and OSU have grown to know each other pretty well this decade.
Dana Holgorsen spent the 2010 season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State before becoming the Mountaineers’ head coach in 2011. He has posted a 61-38 record since.
His boss at OSU was Mike Gundy, who is still in charge in Stillwater and has amassed a record of 119-59 in his 14 seasons leading the Pokes.
Gundy’s Cowboys and Holgorsen’s Mountaineers have clashed six times as Big 12 rivals with Oklahoma State holding a 4-2 edge record against WVU, including a 2-1 mark at Boone Pickens Stadium. OSU has scored 30+ points in each of its four wins but was held to 21 or below in the two losses.
“I’m pretty familiar with West Virginia and their approach,” said Gundy, who has posted nothing but winning seasons at Oklahoma State outside of a 4-7 mark in year one, 2005. “A lot of similarities to the game we just played (a 48-47 loss at Oklahoma). (The Mountaineers are) very explosive offensively, terrific quarterback play, running the football and they’re good up front on offense. (WVU receivers Gary Jennings), (David Sills) and (Marcus Simms) make a lot of plays for them.
“Defensively, they’re a good team,” added Gundy, who was Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback when the Pokes defeated West Virginia 35-33 in the 1987 Sun Bowl. “A few schools have scored some points on them, some teams, but it’s been from big plays. It hasn’t been from consistent drives, so we’ll certainly have our hands full with these guys.”
Despite losing veteran quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington to the NFL from last year’s 10-3 squad, Oklahoma State’s retooled offense is still putting up big numbers. It is 11th in the FBS ranks in total offense (511.6 yards per game) and 13th in scoring offense (39.2 points per game).
“Offensively, at this point in the season, it looks just like it has looked for the last few years for them,” explained Holgorsen of the OSU attack. “Their quarterback, (Taylor) Cornelius, is getting better every week. He’s been there forever (a fifth-year senior), so he’s been in that quarterback room for the last five years and knows what they want, knows what to expect. He just needed playing experience, which now going into the 11th game of the year, he has plenty of playing experience. His production is extremely good, and their offense is extremely good. They’re getting better up front, playing a lot better up front.
“Their run game is coming along,” said Holgorsen of OSU’s ground game, which is averaging 159.0 yards per game. “Anytime you have Justice Hill (93.0 ypg) back there, it’s going to scare you to death, and then the (Chuba) Hubbard kid (41.9 ypg) is coming on and running the ball as well as anybody. We have to do a great job against the run; they will try to run it a good bit. In the pass game, they always have receivers that can make plays.
“You lose a Biletnikoff winner (Washington), and then you have another Biletnikoff finalist in the (Tylan) Wallace kid, who has been playing really well. (Tyron) Johnson, the other receiver, is a five-star kid out of Louisiana. And they do a good job with their fullbacks and tight ends and get multiple with what they do. It’ll be our biggest test yet.
“Obviously, ending the year with these guys and the opponent we have next week (WVU hosts Oklahoma on Nov. 23), we knew this was coming, and we’ll be ready to roll when it comes to that,” concluded Holgorsen. “But they’re as good offensively, averaging nearly 40 points per game and just a ton of yards and play with a lot of tempo. We have our biggest test defensively yet this year.”
Defensively, Oklahoma State has a first-year coordinator in Jim Knowles, who was the head coach at head coach at Cornell for six years (26-34 from 2004-09) and then most recently spent eight seasons as the defensive coordinator at Duke.
Knowles’ unit is in the lower end of the Big 12 in a number of statistical categories – tied for eighth in the conference in points allowed (31.7 per game), ninth in rushing yards allowed (171.4 per game) and seventh in passing yards allowed (255.5 yards per game) – but it is easily the league’s best when it comes pressuring the opposing quarterback. The Cowboys average 3.60 sacks per game, which is 0.93 better than anyone else in the conference.
“(Knowles) is aggressive,” said WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, who was a graduate assistant at Oklahoma State in 2010 before coming to WVU the next season with Holgorsen. “He plays a lot more man (coverage), uses a lot more exotic blitzes. That’s why it’s going to be a fun game, because he can catch you for a negative yard play really quick, or we can hit him with a big play. It turns into a chess match, a guessing game. He keeps you on your toes the entire game.”
West Virginia currently is listed as a five-point favorite for Saturday’s affair in Stillwater. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET, and the game will be televised by ABC.
For WVU, the road to the Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium in Dallas on Dec. 1 is cut and dried if the Mountaineers win their final two regular season games. If WVU sweeps Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, West Virginia will be 10-1 overall and 8-1 in the league and will be the Big 12 regular season champion. But if WVU loses along the way in either of its final two regular season games of 2018, its road to Dallas gets more complicated. If the Mountaineers beat the Cowboys but lose to the Sooners, they’ll need Iowa State to lose one of its final two regular season games (at Texas and home to K-State) to make it to Jerry World, as Oklahoma would clinch the No. 1 spot and the Cyclones would be No. 2 if they both win out. If West Virginia falls to Oklahoma State but beats Oklahoma, WVU would likely earn a berth in the Big 12 title game.