West Virginia vs. Oklahoma State: Keys for Both Teams in Big 12 Showdown

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West Virginia vs. Oklahoma State: Keys for Both Teams in Big 12 Showdown
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It's sure to be a shootout for the ages, as the West Virginia Mountaineers travel west to Stillwater to face the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

Head coach Dana Holgorson and the Mountaineers are reeling—they're finding out just how difficult life can be in the Big 12. They've lost three straight games after climbing up the ranks to start the season. They're now left trying to stop the bleeding.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State may not possess the elite firepower that they did in 2011, but it still boasts a formidable matchup to any team with the eighth-best scoring attack and third-best passing game in the nation. They haven't been stifled offensively this season, which could spell doom for West Virginia's struggling defense.

Let's break down the biggest keys for each team heading into this one.

 

Can West Virginia Play Defense?

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Playing suspect defense isn't exactly an unknown commodity in the Big 12, but West Virginia has taken that to a new low so far in 2012.

The Mountaineers are currently 119th in the nation in points against, giving up 39.8 points per contest. 

It's been especially porous in their last five games, as they've given up 50.2 points per contest in those five games, three of which have been losses.

This historically-bad defense doesn't have much more to lose at this point, besides another pitiful loss. They don't need to hold their opponents scoreless by any means, they just need to give Geno Smith's offense enough to overcome. 

A defense that gives up 482 yards per game shouldn't really be hoping to keep their opponent under 20 points, especially one as potent as the Cowboys. But forcing a few punts here and there and turning touchdown drives into field goals could really make a difference.

 

Will OK State's Balanced Passing Attack Do More of the Same?

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Even though Oklahoma State lost much of their offensive studs after 2011—like Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon—it seems as if they haven't lost a step.

Two Cowboys quarterbacks have notched over 1,000 yards passing on the season, as J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt have each had solid seasons statistically.

That's not the only position that has seen widespread success across the board. Five Cowboys wide receivers have notched more than 200 receiving yards on the season, and there hasn't seemed to be one elite receiver that has taken the conference by storm like we saw in the past two seasons from Blackmon.

No matter who starts at quarterback for the Cowboys, expect them to have success against this suspect West Virginia defense. 

 

Can West Virginia QB Geno Smith Get it Together?

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

After scorching through everyone in his path to start the season, Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith has dropped the ball and can't seem to find his old groove.

Smith started the season's first five games with zero interceptions, but has since been picked off three times in the Mountaineers' last two games—both losses.

Once expected to be a massive favorite for the Heisman Trophy, Smith suffered a huge fall from grace in the past month and his efforts now focus on getting his Mountaineers a decent bowl game.

Not exactly the same type of motivation, but with his back against the wall, it's time to deliver.

Smith can still save an impressive season statistically with some solid wins, but it'll need to start Saturday against Oklahoma State. Another loss would be just another disappointment in a pitiful second-half stretch for the Mountaineers.

 

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