We are in the home stretch, folks. On Saturday, West Virginia will line up across from the Oklahoma State Cowboys which is primed to be another offensive tour de force in line with what we’ve seen in recent weeks. The 2018 Cowboys are headlined by a de facto “Big 3” and if West Virginia wants to pick up a crucial road win before facing off against Oklahoma, it’ll have to stymie OSU’ core big play guys first. Let’s do a headcount:
- Taylor Cornelius, QB- Most people expected a fairly substantial drop-off in quarterback play for the ‘Pokes in 2018 with the departure of current NFL’er Mason Rudolph. However, senior QB Taylor Cornelius been a more than competent replacement for Rudolph this season en route to throwing for 3,118 yards and 23 touchdowns. Much like life across the rest of the Big 12, Oklahoma State has more or less gone as its quarterback has gone in 2018 in big games where Cornelius has surged (501 yards/3 TD’s/0 INT’s against Oklahoma) and games where both Cornelius and the rest of the orange & black have wilted (184 yards passing/0 TD’s/2 INT’s against Kansas State). Cornelius has weapons, namely RB Justice Hill and star WR Tylan Wallace, but a defense ranked 94th nationally is bound to put way too much undue pressure on a quarterback to over-deliver. That said, Oklahoma State is a game shy of that all-important 6th and bowl-qualifying win, which indicates that Cornelius and the big-play Cowboys offense will be a constant threat to Tony Gibson’s defense. If David Long, Kenny Bigelow and the rest of the standouts up front in WVU’s odd-stack can rattle Cornelius early, West Virginia can dominate this game. Give no. 14 too much time in the pocket and this might turn into the kind of back-and-forth affair West Virginia would rather avoid just a week away from tangling with Oklahoma.
- Justice Hill, RB- Coming off of a dominating year where Hill led the Big 12 in rushing with 1,467 yards and 15 touchdowns, most talking heads predicted an even bigger year in 2018 for the Tulsa, OK native. While Hill has still been incredibly productive this year (930 yards and 9 TD’s on 158 carries), the odds of him even matching last year’s totals are looking more and more slim. Blame that on nagging injuries down the stretch if you so choose, whatever the case, Hill is still a quick-hit homerun threat any time he’s on the field. Fortunately, If there’s one thing the West Virginia defense has done on multiple occasions this year, it’s bottle up the run. The Mountaineers held Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and TCU all under 100 yards this season, the latter of which was limited to just -7 rush yards in last week’s blow out home win. This bodes well for West Virginia given that Hill was only just cleared to play this week following an apparent rib injury and while Chuba Hubbard and J.D. King (572 yards/5 TD’s combined) are more than capable of spelling Hill, no.5 will still be the go-to option out of the backfield. Eliminate the homerun play with Hill and West Virginia’s DAWGS will set themselves up for a good day.
- Tylan Wallace, WR- Without question, Wallace is one of the best receivers in the nation this year. A speedster with circus-catch tendencies, his numbers are indisputable: 1,272 yards and 10 TD’s on 68 receptions, good for an 18.7 YPC average. Last year’s Biletnikoff winner James Washington left some rather large shoes to fill and Wallace has done more than his share to pick up the mantle. A product of powerhouse South Hills, TX, Wallace is living up to his billing as the former 74th overall prospect in the nation and has tallied a bombastic seven games this season of 100+ receiving yards, two of which were 220 yard outings against Texas and Oklahoma, respectively. Coupled with additional receiving threats Tyron Johnson and Dillon Stoner, Josh Norwood and company will have their hands full on Saturday. Still, if West Virginia’s secondary can corral Wallace and force Cornelius into his second and third reads, then a huge part of the battle will have effectively been won. It’s no small task limiting an Oklahoma States offense that’s averaging better than 500 yards per game, even with the nation’s 25th ranked defense behind you. But if Tony Gibson can engineer a way to strip Oklahoma State of its biggest guns early on, the Mountaineers may well find themselves on the better end of a rout in Stillwater.