Can WVU Football Wrangle the Cowboys?
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The WVU Mountaineers have played Mike Gundy-lead Oklahoma State teams for the past nine years, and it shows. The now-No. 11 Cowboys lead the series 8-4 in a rivalry that extends back to the early 20th century.
In 1928, under the direction of head coach Ira Rodgers, the WVU football team compiled an 8-2 record which featured steamrolling then-Oklahoma A&M 32-6 at Mountaineer Field. As an independent, this score was the highest amount of points the team has scored all season. West Virginia played the likes of Davis & Elkins, West Virginia Wesleyan, Pitt, Washington and Lee, and Georgetown, outscoring opponents 152-38.
It was much the same story when fifth-season coach Rodgers and the 1929 Mountaineers flew to Stillwater to take on the Oklahoma A&M Cowboys at Lewis Field. The series produced its lowest scoring game that season, when WVU moved to 2-0 in the series off a 9-6 victory.
The Mountaineers and Cowboys would only meet once more prior to WVU’s initiation into the Big 12 Conference: the 1987 Sun Bowl.
In El Paso, Texas, the No. 11 Cowboys faced the Mountaineers on a snowy Christmas day. West Virginia, still an independent, but now lead by head coach Don Nehlen, was concluding a 6-5 regular season, while a freshly-minted Oklahoma State University team lead by head coach Pat Jones was riding high. Jones’ team finished the season 9-2, and Cowboy quarterback Mike Gundy was just a sophomore. WVU quarterback Major Harris, who will come full circle in 2021 when his number gets retired during the Oklahoma State game, lead his team to nary a scoreless quarter. A touchdown in the first quarter, two touchdowns and a field goal in the second, a single field goal in the third, and a failed two-point conversion in the final period were still not enough points to win the bowl game. Even though the WVU defense held the Pokes to a scoreless second quarter, Jones’ team put up five touchdowns on the Mountaineers and won the game 35-33.
When West Virginia joined the Big 12 Conference in 2012, it was a rude awakening. Back in Oklahoma, the Cowboys, now with Gundy in the coaching seat, put a hurting on head coach Dana Holgorsen’s team, 55-34. WVU quarterback Geno Smith threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns on 36 completions, while Stedman Bailey lead the team in receiving yards; he tallied 225 yards on 14 receptions and logged a single touchdown in the loss. A scoreless Mountaineer fourth quarter became the difference, as WVU accrued its fourth straight season loss, and its second of the series.
In 2013, when the series came to Milan Puskar Stadium for the first time, it was a different Mountaineer team that met the Cowboys. WVU quarterback Clint Trickett notched 309 yards on 24 completions, good for a touchdown and two interceptions. WVU lead nearly the entirety of the game, but when the third quarter ended, the score was only 24-21 WVU. Two fourth quarter field goals from Josh Lambert put the game away, and the Cowboys were unable to put a single point on the board in the final 15 minutes. WVU held off Oklahoma State 30-21 and earned the program’s third series win.
In 2014, Boone Pickens Stadium hosted the rivalry’s sixth matchup, but the Cowboys were dealt a difficult game. No. 22 West Virginia entered Stillwater 6-2, and dominated the Cowboys 34-10. Quarterbacked by Trickett, the team didn’t spend a single second of the game tied or losing. They tacked on two first quarter touchdowns, a field goal in the third, and two additional touchdowns and a field goal to put the game away in the final quarter. Meanwhile, the WVU defense held Gundy’s offense to three scoreless quarters, only allowing a field goal and an eight-yard touchdown pass from OSU quarterback Daxx Garman to Teddy Johnson. Even though the Mountaineers seemed to have a great thing going against the Cowboys, the team’s good fortune was all about to change.
In 2015, the momentum shifted. In an overtime matchup, the then-No. 21 Pokes pulled out the victory 33-26 on a two-yard touchdown run by J.W. Walsh. The Cowboys entered Morgantown undefeated on the season, and WVU fell prey to the process. The halftime score was 17-2, and although Holgorsen’s team battled back in the second half, the score was tied at 26 at the end of regulation. West Virginia exhibited the kind of play that made Holgorsen shake his head and allude to not fitting into the Big 12’s rough, tough MO. WVU’s Skyler Howard was sacked twice and his team had three turnovers that made the difference. In overtime, it only took six Cowboy plays to find the WVU end zone and solidify Oklahoma State’s third series victory: a win when they needed it.
When 2016 rolled around, the Mountaineers were on a tear through the season. Holgorsen’s squad was 6-0 when they flew to Oklahoma. The Cowboys put a swift stop to the roll though, tacking on leads in every quarter. Howard threw for 212 yards and a touchdown on 24 completions, but three turnovers that the Cowboys returned for 17 points, in addition to six penalties that cost the Mountaineers 46 yards, were the glaring issues in the conference matchup. Quarterback Mason Rudolph and the Cowboys took the victory right out from under West Virginia 37-20.
Now back in Morgantown the following year, 2017 dealt the then-No. 22 Mountaineers yet another loss to the Cowboys. At Milan Puskar Stadium, then-No. 11 OSU tacked on a third straight win, 50-39. A scoreless opening quarter put the Mountaineers at a severe disadvantage. The Cowboys found the end zone twice to up the first quarter lead to 13-0. Even with only a 30-24 setback approaching the fourth quarter, Holgorsen’s Mountaineers couldn’t get the job done. In a span of two minutes at the beginning of the fourth, Rudolph put together two quick scoring drives to put the Cowboys far out of the Mountaineers’ clutches. Even with a 68-yard Grier pass to Marcus Simms and a nine-yard pass to Ka’Raun White to up the WVU score to 39, the Cowboys tacked on one more touchdown to secure the fifth series victory, and the third straight for Gundy’s staff. The Oklahoma State defense had an incredible game, limiting WVU’s offensive rushing presence to a mere 62 yards and forcing Grier to throw four interceptions.
Boone Pickens Stadium played host to a great matchup in 2018. The then-No. 8 Mountaineer football team seemed to finally be able to break the series losing spell. A combination of Kennedy McCoy, Gary Jennings, David Sills V, Evan Staley, and a Will Grier QB keep notched 41 points and spent all but 42 seconds of the game dominating the Cowboys’ defense. With 42 seconds remaining, the Mountaineers only lead 41-38, but it seemed to be enough of a lead to put the game away. Oklahoma State quarterback Taylor Cornelius put a stop to that excitement quickly, though, when he converted an 11-yard pass into a Tylan Wallace touchdown on the final play of the game. Cornelius, Gundy, and the Cowboys once again won when it counted, picking up a 45-41 win, and a fourth straight in the West Virginia series.
Back in Morgantown in 2019, the game favored a then-No. 22 OK State team. Four lead changes manifested, giving hope to a 4-7 Mountaineer roster that entered Milan Puskar Stadium expecting the worst from this annual brawl. WVU bookended scoreless quarters, and the game-winning points were decided in the first period of play. OSU quarterback Dru Brown, in for an injured Spencer Sanders, went 22-for-29 for 196 yards and two touchdowns; the first of which was a one-yard connection with Jelani Woods to put the first points on the board, 7-0. The Mountaineers, armed with junior Jarret Doege who was fresh off a transfer from Bowling Green, couldn’t get the job done. Ten points in the second quarter and a Staley field goal in the third added 13 points to the Mountaineer presence, and going into the fourth quarter, the team was actually leading 13-10. Even with a two-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Dillon Stoner that ratcheted the score up in favor of the Cowboys 17-13, the Mountaineers continued to stay within reach. Then, with six minutes left in the game, Oklahoma State put the final nail in the coffin of this season’s game: a 22-yard field goal success off the foot of Matt Ammendola, effectively securing a 20-13 final. With this loss, the Mountaineers dropped to 7-4 against the Cowboys and allowed a fifth straight win to be added to the series history.
In an abbreviated 2020 schedule, WVU opened the season with a quick 56-10 pounding of Eastern Kentucky before conference play began. The first Big 12 opponent on the docket: then-No. 15 Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Sanders, out with a different injury, forced Gundy to sub in true freshman Shane Illingworth.
“They didn’t ask their true freshman to do a whole lot and if you look at his throws, he attempted 21 passes and a lot of those were screens, but they ran for 200 yards and when you run for 200 yards you are going to win most of them,” Brown said.
Illingworth, along with L.D. Brown (a 66-yard rushing touchdown) and Chuba Hubbard (23-yard rushing touchdown) hit West Virginia where it hurt. Oklahoma State tacked on 203 rushing yards to WVU’s 68. WVU hurt itself in penalties, accruing 12 for a loss of 106 yards. Working with the penalties, Doege and the Mountaineer offense put up 13 desperate points off an incredible 70-yard pass to Winston Wright Jr. and a pair of Staley field goals. The damage had already been done, though, and the Mountaineers fell to 8-4 in the series with the 27-13 loss.
Tomorrow, the test begins again. Brown vs. Gundy. Doege vs. a healthy Sanders. WVU enters Milan Puskar Stadium on a two-game rebound tear through conference play, while the No. 11 Pokes are second in the Big 12, at 4-1 and 7-1 on the season. A silver lining on comparative wins is that the same Iowa State team which WVU just beat 38-31 last week beat Oklahoma State 24-21 on Oct. 23. Whether that will play into the game plans of these two teams when they meet tomorrow remains to be seen, but if it’s any indication of what’s to come, WVU actually averages more points per game that the Cowboys, 29.6 to 29.4.
Those points per game will be tested at 3:30 p.m. EST tomorrow on ESPN. The spread is currently at 3.5 in the Cowboys’ favor and the over/under is 49.5; judging on the momentum that WVU has built in the past four weeks, it should be a great matchup of these conference foes for the 13th time.