MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Whereas WVU stalled in a loss to Houston following its off week, Oklahoma State is the hottest its been all season after its idle week came at a perfect time.
The Mountaineers (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) and Cowboys (4-2, 2-1 Big 12) will meet at Milan Puskar Stadium Saturday afternoon for a Big 12 matchup in Morgantown.
With a win, the Mountaineers would be tied for second place in the Big 12 standings.
Back to the basics
WVU entered the Houston game with four-straight wins, largely thanks to above-average play on defense and special teams. Against the Cougars, the Mountaineers allowed Houston to take back a punt return for a touchdown, lost the field-position battle for the first time since the Penn State game, and rushed for almost two fewer yards per carry than Houston did.
The Mountaineers were also penalized eight times for 84 yards, which were both well above their previous averages of 3.6 penalties for 33.4 yards per game.
“[During] the four-game winning streak, we played really discipline football,” WVU head coach Brown said. “We didn’t beat ourselves. We didn’t have a whole lot of penalties. We didn’t turn it over. [We] played extremely hard. and we were tough on both sides of the line of scrimmage, and those were a lot of the same reasons why we didn’t win [the Houston] game.”
Two key players from the winning streak who missed the Houston game will also be returning Saturday: safety Aubrey Burks and left tackle Wyatt Milum.
Sustaining momentum in the passing game
There were surely mishaps on offense for WVU last week, but the passing game was not one of them. Junior quarterback Garrett Greene exploded for a career-high 391 yards while six different pass catchers corralled over 30 yards receiving.
“It’s really what I thought we could be when we’ve got all of our pieces together,” Brown said. “I thought Garrett was special.”
For the coaches, the progress in the passing attack stems from success on the ground. One of the reasons offensive coordinator Chad Scott believes they threw the ball so well against Houston is because there was less attention on the receivers, and more on the running back.
“[We] got to be able to establish the run game, continue to play in open sets [and] give GG the opportunity sometimes to create scramble opportunities for himself if it doesn’t work downfield,” Scott said. “Hopefully, with the success we had in the passing game last week, we can kind of keep those safeties out of the box. We’d love to get to a point where we [are] throwing for 400-something yards and running for yards. I mean, we have that capability. We showed that the other night. We just got to make the plays when our number’s called across the board.”
Oklahoma State scouting report
The Cowboys faced multiple bumps in the road earlier in the season than they previously thought with losses in Weeks 4-5 to South Alabama (33-7) at home and to Iowa State (34-27) in Ames.
Since then, Oklahoma State has taken down the reigning Big 12 champs (Kansas State) and one of the conference’s top teams this preseason (Kansas).
“I think Oklahoma State’s one of the hottest teams in the country,” Brown said.
Head coach Mike Gundy and OSU were able to reevaluate their team during a bye week after the loss at Iowa State, and their offense has improved drastically since. In their last two wins, Oklahoma State generated 966 total yards of offense with five touchdowns and no turnovers.
“The difference for them has been Ollie Gordon at running back,” Brown said. “He was special last week, and he’s a tough tackle. [He] runs as hard as anybody in our league [and] they’re getting him the ball in the pass game.”
Gordon is the No. 6 rusher in the Big 12 with 534 yards (four scores) and 6.1 yards per carry.
On defense, the Cowboys are allowing the eighth-most points per game (24.7) and the fourth-most yards per game (392.5) in the conference.