Mountaineers will look for win as Holgorsen returns to Oklahoma State

After a very disappointing loss in double overtime to TCU last week, the Mountaineers are looking to get a win on the road as they head to Stillwater, OK to take on the Cowboys.  This will be no easy task though, since the Cowboys have not lost a home game this year and they have a very explosive offense.  This will be Dana Holgorsen’s first return to Oklahoma State since leaving to become head coach at West Virginia.  It should be interesting to see the kind of reception he receives when he walks out onto the field.

Last week, the WVU offense looked like they might have gotten their act back together.  Geno Smith threw for 260 yards and three touchdowns, though he also threw an interception.  The only problem was most of the passes he threw were short three or four yarders, not long passes that most fans are used to.  If the offense wants to stretch the field more and start winning games again they have got to go back to the long ball.  It worked well for them early on in the season and it helped them beat Texas, so why stop using it?  That’s a question most West Virginia fans have on their minds right now. 

However, the offensive line has not been holding up well against their opponent's defensive line, and this has caused Smith to be hurried and unable to get his passes off with accuracy.  The offensive line must do a better job of making Smith feel more comfortable in the pocket, and if they can, then he can once again start picking apart opposing defenses.

Against TCU, Tavon Austin was the top receiver with 11 receptions for 101 yards and one touchdown.  This was a major improvement from what he did against Kansas State.  Austin has proved time and again that he is a very reliable receiver and that if the ball comes his way he can haul it in and take off.  However, more and more defenses have taken notice of him and are applying very tough pressure.  The best thing he can do is try to juke the corner or safety out and then go for the ball or have Smith throw it to him, but maybe to the opposite side of the defender.  Another standout was J.D. Woods, who racked up 56 yards on five catches, with one for a touchdown.  While this may not seem impressive, Woods has struggled lately with dropped passing or misreading routes and this has caused him to drop off the map.  However, he played very well last week and he should do the same this week. 

Geno Smith and the wide receivers might have a pretty easy day on offense since the Cowboys' defense is averaging 242 yards a game through the air.  While that number may worry some people, if the offensive line can give Smith good protection then he should easily be able to put up well over 242 passing yards.

One thing the Mountaineer offense still needs to do a better job of is running the ball.  Last week they ran the ball 35 times for a meager 75 yards.  Andrew Buie was the top rusher with 40 yards on ten carriers.  Some good news for the running game though is that Shawne Alston is back and using him and Buie together could help the Mountaineers get first downs as well as scoring some points.  Alston didn’t get the ball much, just seven touches for 16 yards, but he did have a touchdown.  So if he can get a little better each game, then the Mountaineers might actually have a decent running game.  Currently, the Cowboys’ defense has struggled against the run giving up about 136 yards a game.  They have also given up 12 rushing touchdowns this season.

The Mountaineer defense, which had some very serious problems before heading into the TCU game, didn't play all that bad last week.  The defense did a decent job stopping the run, and they were able to force a few fumbles, although they only recovered one.  So maybe the West Virginia defense has finally found their groove and can start helping out the offense.  The defense had three sacks against TCU, with two of them awarded to Shaq Petteway.  If they can start penetrating the opposing offensive line, then they can definitely start causing havoc in the backfield.  Linebacker Isaiah Bruce was also able to come away with an interception.  Bruce has been a standout this year and he has racked up 75 tackles with one interception and half a sack. Probably the most surprising fact about him is that he is just a freshman.  If he can stay healthy, then he will be a top defender for years to come.

However, the secondary was once again the weakest area in the Mountaineer defense.  They gave up a total of 279 yards through the air with three touchdowns, including two to top receiver Josh Boyce.  Boyce also caught the game winning pass in the second overtime.  The secondary plays well in the first half, but when it comes to the second half (and more importantly the fourth quarter), it just seems like they begin to slack off.  They cannot afford to do this against Oklahoma State, since the Cowboys have been using two quarterbacks in the last couple of games.  Together Wes Lunt and Clint Chelf have thrown 1,380 yards, eight touchdowns and nine interceptions.  While it looks like the WVU defense might have the upper hand here, the secondary is so bad that it can make any quarterback look good.

The one player the Mountaineers have to shut down is running back Joseph Randle.  So far this year, Randle has racked up 934 yards and nine touchdowns.  West Virginia has got to stop him in his tracks, especially if they don’t want him to hit the 1,000 yard mark on their watch.  But… the Mountaineers have given up about 133 rushing yards per game, so Randle should be able to hit the 1,000 yard milestone.  Not only is Randle a formidable threat on the ground, he is also a threat when it comes to receiving.  This year he has 21 catches for 168 yards, and the way the WVU secondary plays, expect those numbers to go up.  The defense has to limit the damage he can do both on the ground and through the air if they want to come away with the win.

The special teams looked like last year, i.e. they played terrible.  Kicker Tyler Bitancurt was horrible when it came time to kick field goals, making only one out of five.  Contributing to his bad performance is the fact that three of his tries were more than 50 yards out.  If West Virginia wants him to be a bigger contributor they have to get him closer more often.  While he struggled at making field goals he did a better job of punting the ball.  He punted eight times for a total of 316 yards.  The only standout on special teams was Tavon Austin, who had a huge 76 yard punt return for a touchdown.  Austin is probably one of the most deadly players when it comes to returning kicks and punts since at times he can turn nothing into something.  One problem he does have is that he likes to run from side to side instead of running straight ahead.  He has to fix this problem if he wants to give the offense better field position.    

The Mountaineers need to get a win here in order to salvage what's left of their season, since they have now lost three straight.  Losing four in a row would put them way out of contention for getting into a good bowl game.  Kickoff will be at 3:30 and can be seen on ABC or ESPN 2.

Prediction:  WVU-42  Oklahoma State-35

Player of the Game: Geno Smith 35/50  310 yards  3TDs 

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