Halfway through an unforgiving four-game stretch that will determine the Mountaineers’ claim at a Big 12 title berth, West Virginia now requires only one more win to book its flight to Dallas.
This season, despite the infuriating loss to Iowa State in Ames, has been nothing short of special for the Mountaineers. And the dream of playing for a conference (and maybe national) title is still alive and well.
The Mountaineers next challenge will be heading to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State, who are coming off of an emotional one-point loss to Oklahoma. Despite its 5-5 record, the Cowboys are salivating at an opportunity to knock off a top-ten opponent in front of its home fans.
West Virginia has dropped four of the last six contests against Oklahoma State, including three straight.
Here’s how the Mountaineers can buck that trend and continue down its path towards immortality:
Eliminate the Explosive Plays
This is actually an area where the West Virginia defense has excelled. The defense as a whole has drastically improved from last year and has not given up a play of over 50 yards thus far.
The Cowboys are notorious for gashing its opponents with “big plays” regardless of who is in at quarterback. It is a “plug-and-play” system, which usually means whoever they throw in there will have success. Fifth-year senior quarterback Taylor Cornelius has done a stellar job this year replacing the void left by Mason Rudolph and turned in his best performance of the season last week versus Oklahoma, finishing the game with 501 yards, three TDs, and zero interceptions.
Star running back Justice Hill is banged up and will be a questionable for this week’s game, but even if he is not able to go, they have the players capable of toting the rock and opening up the passing game.
This goes both ways. Defense getting off the field on third and fourth downs and the offense converting on third and fourth downs. Last week, Oklahoma State converted 10-of-16 third down opportunities and also converted their only fourth down attempt. The Mountaineers went 3-of-12 on third down attempts vs TCU.
WVU Offense- 3rd down conversions: 45/102, 44.1% (6th in Big 12)
OSU Offense- 3rd down conversions: 67/151, 44.4% (5th in Big 12)
WVU Defense- opp. 3rd down conversions: 42/121, 34.7% (2nd in Big 12)
OSU Defense- opp. 3rd down conversions: 53/139, 38.1% (4th in Big 12)
Run the Ball Effectively
Over the past three games, West Virginia has seen an emergence of its running game, especially from junior backs Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway. It sounds cliche, but for this offense to see success, it must have a solid run game. Oklahoma State does a fine job of getting to the quarterback and is tops in the Big 12 in team sacks. They are, however, ninth in rush defense, allowing 171.4 yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry.
West Virginia’s defense currently ranks second in the league against the run, but will face its toughest challenge yet with Justice Hill this week if he is able to play. David Montgomery may be the best NFL-ready running back in the league, but Hill is the the most explosive and experienced rusher in the Big 12.
If the Mountaineers can execute their game plan and check off these three boxes, I would imagine they will come out on top in Stillwater.