There’s plenty of impressive tape on Oklahoma State’s offense but, this being the Big 12, the less you say about this Cowboys defense the better, right? Perhaps. OSU currently sits at the no. 94 spot nationally in team defense which means, in summary, they aren’t great. The saying goes, however, that a wounded animal is the most dangerous animal and with Oklahoma State just one win away from bowl eligibility, it’s best to consider this team hungry and willing to pull out all the stops. Let’s run through who West Virginia’s offense will need to keep an eye on come Saturday:
- Jordan Brailford, DE: If the Big 12 has a better pass rushing end than Jordan Brailford, he has yet to be seen. In what could be his final year in Stillwater before turning pro, the oft-injured Brailford has had a breakout year while accounting for a league-leading 10 sacks, good for third nationally. Brailford brings formidable speed off the edge and at 6’3″, 250 pounds, he bears some resemblance to former Texas standout Brian Orakpo. While Brailford (along with the rest of Oklahoma State’s defensive front) isn’t prone to being a huge threat in stopping the run game, his explosiveness and natural instincts to get into the back field should be at the top of WVU’s offensive line punch list. If West Virginia can neutralize Oklahoma State’s pass rush, the combined onslaught of Kennedy McKoy, Martell Pettaway and Leddie Brown should ultimately pile onto the 597 yards the Cowboys have given up on the ground in the last two weeks.
- Justin Phillips, LB: Another grizzled veteran backing Brailford in the middle of the defense, the Pearland, TX native has been on OSU’s roster since 2014 and is currently leading the team with 74 total tackles. For all intents and purposes, Phillips is the black and orange version of David Long and plays with the same kind of heat-seeking mentality. It’s not secret that the Cowboys’ defense has been scorched on multiple occasions this year and for Phillips, who was helped engineer Will Grier’s four turnover performance last year on a rainy day in Morgantown, a win over West Virginia would make for a very sweet swan song as the senior readies to bid farewell to Stillwater. An unquestioned leader of the defense, Phillips will be key to any chance the Cowboys have in stopping West Virginia and, just as importantly, will need to be accounted for on every down if the Mountaineers hope to keep the chains moving.
- A.J. Green, CB: Oklahoma State’s secondary hasn’t had a stellar 2018 campaign, to put it bluntly. When you give up an average of 255 yards and two TD’s per game, especially in the Air Raid conference, the living is tough. If Oklahoma State has anyone in their secondary with playmaking potential, though, it’s junior corner A.J. Green. For perspective, Green ended 2017 with four INT’s, two of which came at the expense of Will Grier in Oklahoma State’s 50-39 victory in Morgantown. So far in 2018, Green has managed to record only one INT along with 40 total tackles. Oklahoma State does most of their damage up front via disrupting things in the backfield and getting the linebackers involved as much as possible. While the Cowboys currently rank 102 out 130 in pass defense nationally, last year’s showing against Grier provides a blueprint for how to stop the likely Heisman finalist. Can Green and the rest of the Cowboys in the deep third force Grier to turn in another turnover-laden performance? Based on how they’ve shown up against the likes of Alan Bowman and Kyler Murray this year and the fact that West Virginia boasts arguably the nation’s best receiving corps, it doesn’t look good. Regardless, Oklahoma State will be ready to give West Virginia their best shot on Saturday in Stillwater.