The 21st-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys come into Morgantown on Homecoming weekend looking to change their fortunes against the Mountaineers. West Virginia has won the last two meetings against the Cowboys, including the last trip to Morgantown in 2013 when Oklahoma State was ranked.
Oklahoma State will need this game to keep its undefeated season intact while the Mountaineers will be looking to get over their first loss of the season last week in Norman.
These teams are evenly matched and the game could easily come down to who makes the big play in the fourth quarter.
College Football Podcast: Week 6 Preview with Tom Dienhart
Oklahoma State at West Virginia
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: West Virginia -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Mountaineers' Defense
The 44 points scored last weekend by the Sooners was not indicative of how the Mountaineers' defense performed. The Sooners were only 2-for-11 on third down and were only able to muster 174 rushing yards after torching the Mountaineers just a year ago. Where West Virginia faltered was in giving up the big pass plays. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield only completed 14 passes but had 320 yards and three touchdowns.
Watch for the Mountaineers' defense to be cognizant of the pass against the Cowboys. Expect West Virginia to be strategic in its pass coverage and especially blitz packages. How often will the Mountaineers come after Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph? The Cowboys are allowing an average of 2.2 sacks per game while the Mountaineer defense is averaging 2 per game.
Expect the Mountaineers to pay close attention to Cowboys receivers David Glidden, who has become Rudolph’s main target this season with 23 receptions for 407 yards. However, he is not the only concern. Rudolph has been liberal with distributing the ball. The Cowboys have seven players with at least eight catches this season.
Lastly, the loss of All-Big 12 safety Karl Joseph to a torn ACL is significant to the Mountaineers. He was a team leader and a threat in both pass and run defense. While his absence should not change the Mountaineers' game plan defensively it definitely takes away that intimidation factor Joseph possessed as well as the nations' leader in interceptions.
2. Can Oklahoma State Establish a Run Game?
Rudolph has put up some impressive numbers so far this season. However, that is much in part to the fact that Oklahoma State is a pass-first offense.
The Cowboys were only able to gain 49 yards rushing on 27 carries last week against Kansas State. And despite impressive numbers by Rudolph, Oklahoma State was only barely able to pull out the victory over a Kansas State team that was decimated by injuries at the quarterback position.
Oklahoma State will have to establish a run game against the Mountaineers. Staying one dimensional against this West Virginia secondary is not a recipe for success.
3. Can Skyler Howard Rebound?
In this week’s press conference West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen took most of the blame for the loss at Oklahoma. He did elude to mechanical flaws in Howard's passes however. Howard is coming off his worst game of the season where he completed a little more than half of his passes and tossed three interceptions. The Cowboys' secondary is not as talented as the Sooners' and Howard may have the chance to redeem himself.
It will be interesting to see the Mountaineers' game plan early on. Will Holgorsen stick to the ground or will he test the Cowboys with speedsters Shelton Gibson and Juvon Durante on the outside? One concern for the Mountaineers will be the Cowboys' ability to get to in the backfield. Oklahoma State leads the nation with an average of 4.4 sacks per game. The Mountaineers struggled in this department last week, giving up seven sacks to Oklahoma.
Expect Holgorsen to take the Cowboys' ability to get to the quarterback into strong consideration. Shorter underneath passes and screens may be more prevalent this weekend than in prior weeks.
With both teams being so evenly matched the game could go either way. The Mountaineers have had the Cowboys' number the last two seasons, both of which as underdogs. This time the Mountaineers are favored at home over a ranked opponent.
While some may question why West Virginia is favored, it is actually quite simple. If you have been to a night game in Morgantown in front of a sellout crowd you will understand.
The fact that Oklahoma State has become a one-dimensional team will ultimately be its downfall this weekend in Morgantown. Giving the West Virginia secondary the opporunity to strictly focus on defending the pass is not a good strategy for any team.
Oklahoma State will cover the spread but won't be able to pull out the victory for the third year in a row.
Prediction: West Virginia 27, Oklahoma State 24
— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of BlueGoldSports.com, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow BlueGoldSports.com on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.