West Virginia offensive coordinator Joe Wickline and head coach Dana Holgorsen return to their former school (Oklahoma State) in their quest to remain undefeated in this cinderella season.
The Oklahoma State Cowboys have stayed mostly under the radar after a questionable loss to Central Michigan in Week 2. Take away that loss and the Cowboys only other hiccup this season has come at the hands of No. 8 Baylor as they enter homecoming weekend 5-2.
The Mountaineers remain the talk of the Big 12 with their surprising 6-0 start and top 10 ranking. Coming off two impressive victories in which the defense shut down two of the best offenses in the nation, West Virginia is quickly becoming the favorite to win the conference.
This will be the biggest road test for the Mountaineers this season. Oklahoma State beat the Mountaineers last season in their homecoming game. West Virginia would love nothing more than to return the favor. Here are three things to watch in Stillwater this weekend.
West Virginia at Oklahoma State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 29 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: West Virginia -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Mason Rudolph versus Skyler Howard
Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph and West Virginia signal-caller Skyler Howard are having very similar seasons. Howard leads Rudolph in total offensive yards per game 336 to 319. However, Rudolph leads Howard in passing yards per game 322 to 303.
The biggest difference between the two is their supporting staff. The Cowboys are a very balanced team going almost exactly 50% run to 50% pass. However, Oklahoma State is only averaging 3.7 yards per carry.
The Mountaineers are similarly balanced at 55% pass to 45% run. However, the Mountaineers are averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
Both quarterbacks are also completing their passes at an impressive rate. Howard though leads that category as well 66.5% to 62.3%, a very small margin.
You may be hard pressed to find a game this weekend with more similar quarterbacks.
2. Who is healthy in the Mountaineers backfield?
After the Mountaineers victory over Texas Tech on October 15th questions were raised to the status of both Justin Crawford and true freshman Kennedy McKoy. Holgorsen stated they would be fine moving forward and their lack of play in that game was strictly precautionary.
However, against TCU, Justin Crawford only saw one carry for minus-two yards. McKoy did see seven carries in his absence. While Holgorsen has remained mostly mute on the status of both players, the Mountaineers still have Rushel Shell to lean on at running back. Shell, currently ranked seventh in rushing in the Big 12, saw the load of the carries against TCU.
While the absence of Crawford did not have that large of a bearing against TCU, it may have a bigger impact moving forward. The Mountaineers rushing offense, which averages 206 yards per game, has been done by committee so far this season.
If Holgorsen remains cautious about Crawford, expect Shell to again see the majority of the carries, something he has not really been tasked with in his career until last week.
3. Can the Mountaineers handle the pressure on the road?
West Virginia has proven it can win on the road. The Mountaineers did so in convincing fashion against Texas Tech two weeks ago. However, Oklahoma State is a tougher opponent and it is homecoming this Saturday in Stillwater. The Cowboys are on their own three-game winning streak coming off victories over Kansas, Iowa State and Texas.
Will the Mountaineers be able to remain unscathed against a Cowboys team still squarely in the middle of the Big 12 championship hunt? A win over the Mountaineers would also put the Cowboys back into the top 25, a place they started the season.
It is not just the Cowboys the Mountaineers will be facing, it is the crowd and the atmosphere, something West Virginia has not had to deal with on the road yet this season.
The biggest different between these two teams is on the defensive side of the ball. The Mountaineers are allowing 10 points less per game than the Cowboys.
The Cowboys lack of success in the running game will hurt them against the Mountaineers this weekend. Furthermore, the Mountaineers 3-3-5 defense against the pass has confused most offenses this season.
Rudolph is familiar with the Mountaineers but a lack of support on the ground will be the determining factor in this game. West Virginia will remain undefeated in a close matchup.
Prediction: West Virginia 34, Oklahoma State 27
— 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.