West Virginia is learning just how hard life in the Big 12 can be. In Week 11, they'll travel to Stillwater to take on the Oklahoma State Cowboys, a team as dangerous as any the Mountaineers were playing in the Big East up until 2011.
It's been a tale of two halves for the Mountaineers. After an explosive start in which QB Geno Smith and the offense was putting up huge numbers, Smith was considered the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and the team had talk of national title.
Now, after losing a third straight conference game, West Virginia has to rebound against an Oklahoma State school that can put up points with the same regularity that the Mountaineers can.
A win for either team means bowl eligibility. Former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, now head coach of the Mountaineers, also makes his return to Stillwater for the first time since becoming the head coach in 2011.
Plenty of storylines in this one, so keep scrolling for all the information you can handle about a potential shootout in the Big 12.
When: Saturday, November 10 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Boone Pickens Stadium; Stillwater, Okla.
Watch: ESPN/ABC (Check regional listings)
Betting Line: Cowboys - 7.5 (according to Sportsbook.com)
Injury Report (courtesy of USA Today)
|Travis Bell||S||Shoulder||out for season - 10/31/12|
|Jewone Snow||DL||Shoulder||out for season - 10/31/12|
|Avery Williams||CB||Neck||out for season - 10/31/12|
|Wes Lunt||QB||Concussion||day-to-day - 11/4/12|
|Calvin Barnett||DT||Personal||Ques Nov 10 - 11/4/12|
|Justin Horton||TE||Undisclosed||out for season - 10/25/12|
|Tracy Moore||WR||Ankle||Out indefinitely - 10/30/12|
|J.W. Walsh||QB||Knee||out for season - 10/25/12|
|C.J. Curry||WR||Shoulder||out for season - 10/25/12|
|Jonovan Griffin||CB||Knee||out for season - 9/7/12|
|Jeremiah Tshimanga||LB||Knee||out for season - 9/7/12|
Lunt went down with a concussion against Kansas State, and Clint Chelf came in for the Cowboys. According to beat reporter Gina Mizell, it appears there is no news on who will be the starter.
As expected, the pesky "OR" is back on the QB depth chart. Wes Lunt or Clint Chelf. #OKState— Gina Mizell (@ginamizell) November 4, 2012
Key Storyline: Stopping the Bleeding
After hot starts for both of these teams, each faces a potentially disastrous drop with another loss. The Moutaineers and Cowboys are both likely going to receive bowl bids, but each could use a recruiting boost with a series of big wins over the final few weeks.
In Holgorsen's return to the team that spring-boarded him to a new job, will he cave under the pressure to put up big points, or use the emotion to finally get this offense back on track?
Both teams were in the BCS in Week 10, but losses have left both on the outside looking in. Depending on the outcome of this weekend's games, the winner could get back into the Top 25. Both teams are nothing more than BCS busters going forward, but could muddy up the Big 12 picture with late wins.
What They're Saying
Holgorsen is completely dissatisfied with his team's effort on all fronts right now, as reported by WVU Sports' John Antonik:
“We had plenty of opportunities to win the game, and we failed to do so on all three sides of the ball."
“What we’ve done the last three weeks offensively is totally unacceptable."
Gundy is also left with a bitter taste in his mouth after a game his team had a chance to win against the Big 12's best team. Oklahoma State's official athletic site had the scoop:
"I'm really disappointed in myself, in our coaches, in the way we played...You travel on the road, and you play a good football team, and you turn the ball over, you're poor on special teams and you don't tackle well, you essentially don't give yourself a chance to win."
Oklahoma State's press release for the upcoming game had an interesting look at the last time these two teams played each other. The year was 1987 at the John Hancock Sun Bowl, and the names in the starting backfield might surprise you.
"The OSU offense featured quarterback Mike Gundy and a two-headed monster at running back (Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders). Thomas, who would be the game's MVP, helped rally the Cowboys. He rushed for four touchdowns and 157 yards. Gundy passed for 161 yards with a score. Barry Sanders had six carries for 19 yards."
West Virginia Player To Watch: QB Geno Smith
The Heisman candidate will be the player to watch for the rest of the season. Can he rebound from his struggles in both sustaining drives and ceasing turnovers in the team's three-game losing skid?
Andrew Buie is another to watch, but Smith knows he has to score an obscene amount of points to win. With that kind of pressure and the Heisman a distant memory, can he finally respond?
Oklahoma State Player To Watch: RB Joseph Randle
With the QB position in flux, Randle can further cement his status as the Big 12's best running back while also taking pressure off whoever lines up beside him in the backfield.
Tackling has been the worst spot in the West Virginia defense, and Randle is an expert at making people miss. He should have a big day.
Key Matchup: WVU Defense vs. OK State Offense
West Virginia's defense is allowing 482 yards per game. Oklahoma State is averaging 575 per game on offense. Something has to give here for the Mountaineers to have a chance at winning. All three Okie State QBs have played well in certain spots, so this isn't a game where Clint Chelf as the starter gives West Virginia an advantage.
On the Hotseat: Co-Defensive Coordinators Joe DeForest and Keith Patterson
The defense has been porous at best for West Virginia. Texas, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas Tech all had field days against the Mountaineers.
Whether or not the offensive production ran out because of a fundamental need to score on every possession is there is beyond me. But it's definitely a sense of urgency, and after keeping TCU to 39 points in the overtime, this defense can take a major step by stopping an offense that ranks No. 2 in the nation in yards per game.
Oklahoma State's offense is too much, and the trend continues for the Mountaineers. Not the homecoming Holgorsen wanted or expected in Stillwater.
Oklahoma State 55, West Virginia 43