Don’t take the ranking of No. 21 Oklahoma State against a West Virginia team that fell out of the rankings for granted. The Cowboys are miraculously rising in the polls after narrowly beating Texas and Kansas State in part to officiating gaffes while the Mountaineers are still a sound team after losing to Oklahoma. With the game being played on West Virginia soil, the playing field is a little more equal (if not shifted in the home team’s favor).
But with the season still young, both teams have yet to show fans what each are truly capable of doing. We have seen that both seem to have stellar defenses along with offenses that can kick the doors down on occasion. Breaking the stalemate will require pressure — that is, pressure from the pass rush to crack the Pokes’ Mason Rudolph and the Mountaineers’ Skyler Howard.
Solid quarterback play is almost a requirement in the Big 12. Rudolph has flashed reasons why he was regarded as a preseason Heisman dark horse while Howard has surprised the critics for the most part but struggled last week while he was engulfed by maroon helmets.
Howard was sacked seven times for a loss of 57 yards last week — influencing him to throw three interceptions. On the season, the Mountaineers rank 127th of 128 FBS teams, giving up four sacks per game. That doesn’t bode well this week, as the Cowboys ride into town with a defense that is forcing five sacks per game — led by defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean with 10 combined sacks.
Conversely, Mason Rudolph is taken down 2.5 times per game while the Mountaineers have forced 2.7 sacks per game.
It’s important to note, both defenses had substantial personnel losses this week, though.
West Virginia lost safety Karl Joseph, while Oklahoma State lost linebacker Ryan Simmons. Filling each of those players’ shoes should have a dramatic impact on the defense’s impact on the game.
Simmons in a big loss but was having a surprisingly quiet campaign this year. Joseph, on the other hand, was leading the nation in interceptions. His absence should have a great domino effect, as Rudolph will have more options downfield and subsequently have a quicker release — readily finding his secondary reads.
But don’t discredit Dana Holgorsen as a completely offensive-minded coach. His Mountaineers lead the conference with just 16.7 allowed per game (Oklahoma State allows the second-least at 22 points per game). He’ll find a creative way to make up for the loss of his All-Conference safety, likely looking to defensive backs turned linebackers Nick Kwiatkoski and Shaq Petteway to help out in coverage more often and allow his front four to create the pressure
Like Howard, Rudolph hasn’t played exceptionally when being pressured. He was sacked a season-high three times against Texas and threw two interceptions compared to just one touchdown. Rudolph has also shown he can be shaken by this pressure, as the past two games have been decided by a field goal or less, and aided by officiating snafus. West Virginia doesn’t necessarily have to bring Rudolph to the ground — he’s still showing a need for development as a sophomore quarterback.
That being said, the Cowboys still hold an advantage over the Mountaineers where it counts most in the trenches. No one has found a way to stop the one-two punch of Ogbah and Bean. But the atmosphere in Morgantown may be enough to help muffle the impact of the stingy front four that the Pokes are riding on five games into the season.