OSU’s Gundy Touts Mountaineers, Downplays OSU Performance Thus Far
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Mike Gundy hit the respect button early this week, calling West Virginia as good as anybody in the Big 12 this season.
While that might be a stretch, the No. 22 Mountaineers (5-2, 3-1) present a significant challenge to a once red-hot Cowboys’ team that, like WVU, dropped a game to TCU while also being challenged by Texas Tech. Add in the 13-10 overtime victory at Texas last week, when Longhorn true freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger tossed a gimmie game-ending interception to OSU’s Ramon Richards, and No. 11 Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1) is showing kinks in what was expected to be a nearly rock-solid armor.
“We are not good enough to look past practice,” Gundy said. “Our guys have done a good job this year of working day-by-day. The parity in this league is more than it has ever been. You can just about throw any team out there on any given day and it will be a good game. We haven’t had an issue with our players losing sight of the quality of opponents that we play.”
A look at the schedules for both teams reveals the importance of Saturday’s contest. With both having lost to TCU, and used what was essentially the lone mulligan of the year, both must still face No. 10 Oklahoma, No. 22 Iowa State and a Kansas State program that plays every game tightly. Such is life in the Big 12 this season, which has half of its teams ranked in the Top 25, including three in the top 11.
“If you’re a team in the top 20 in the country you are in a playoff every week if you have aspirations of playing in the Final Four,” Gundy said. “Once league play starts every week is a playoff because they’re going to take two. That’s the beauty of college football. In basketball, you can go through a streak of not playing well and still get in the tournament and play well. In baseball there have been teams that have lost 10, 12, 15 games in a row and got on a roll. The good thing about football – and this is why people love to watch every week – is because it’s a playoff every week.”
With both programs surviving last weekend, the attention turns to a match-up of the two best offenses in the league in terms of scoring. OSU leads the nation at 43.7 points per game while WVU is third – and second in the Big 12 – at 43.3. There has been much already written about the quarterback match-up, one Mason Rudolph versus Will Grier, though neither will face each other directly. The pair are atop the conference in total offense, passing yards per game and just behind OU’s Baker Mayfield in pass efficiency.
While Rudolph has gotten most of the acclaim, Grier has already pieced together seven straight 300-plus yard games to star the season – more than any other FBS QB – while coming off a career-best 375 yards at Baylor. He’s also thrown for 10 scores over the last two games, becoming the first Mountaineer to hit for five touchdowns in consecutive games, and has 26 TDs against just five picks.
“I think this will be the best passing quarterback we have faced this year,” said Gundy, who is 3-2 against WVU as a coach and 1-0 as a player. “His touchdown to interception ratio is very good. He has fit well into the system and is playing with a lot of confidence.”
Gundy’s praise was a touch lesser for the Mountaineer defense, and it’s on this side of the ball where the game expects to be won or lost. OSU has a clear statistical edge there, ranking third in the league in scoring (22.3 ppg) to West Virginia’s seventh (29 ppg), as well as second in pass defense and third in total defense. The Mountaineers are allowing 100 yards more per game than Oklahoma State, at 359.7 to 460, respectively, though Tony Gibson never worries about yardage and has in the past pieced his unit’s best performances together against staunch offenses like Baylor in 2014 and Texas Tech a season ago.
“I think they are one of the best defensive staffs in the country,” Gundy said. “They have had a lot of success over the years. They are challenged every week with really good offenses. Their kids run well, tackle well. Multiple coverages. They are sound in what they do and he has been very good at it for a number of years. Defensively they are capable of playing very well on any given day.
“It will be a dogfight. They are a good football team and from here out that’s how it’s going to be. We will have to practice well and be on our game in order to find a way to win.”
Note: Gundy did express concern about OSU’s running game against Texas, specifically its inability to get into second and manageable even against a light box when UT played the pass. The Cowboys, who average 192 yards per game, ran for 146, but just 2.9 yards per carry despite 51 rushes.
“We didn’t run the ball every effectively; We have to be better running the ball on first down,” Gundy said. “We shouldn’t be in second and nine and eight. We got whipped up front at times. That will allow us to throw it better. We were behind the chains against a pass defense.
“Mason was fine. It didn’t have anything to do with Mason and our wideouts. It became a numbers game. If they are going to line up and play pass and we can’t run the ball (it’s a problem). We like to think we can take advantage of what the other teams give us. We don’t change. We run our plays.”