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Keys to Victory: WVU Needs to Return to Fundamentally Sound Play to Beat OSU



WVU Football Defense Jared Bartlett and Tyrin Bradley against Pitt

Some are calling this game a must-win for WVU. If West Virginia wants to keep any hopes of 2023 being a special season alive they can’t afford another conference loss at this point in the season.

The Mountaineers will have to be at their best to take down a Cowboys team that has completely turned their season around after a bad loss earlier in the year.

West Virginia and Oklahoma State are entering this matchup with identical records, but the Cowboys are the ones riding momentum with back-to-back wins over ranked opponents. Conversely, WVU is trying to get back on track and move on after enduring a tough loss in the final seconds in Houston.

What does West Virginia need to accomplish to ensure victory on Saturday?

Get Back to Basics Defensively

One of the best days for a WVU offense in years ended up being ruined, mostly thanks to the defense having their worst effort of the season. For as good as the defense was during West Virginia’s first five games, in particular the four-game win streak, it was that bad against Houston.

The secondary lost most matchups and there were too many missed tackles to count. Playing fundamental football was something defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley put an emphasis on all throughout the offseason, and it appeared to be paying off until that Thursday night.

WVU can not afford another performance like that one again. And if a repeat showing rears its ugly head, any hope of 2023 being a quality season will be washed away. It’s possible the short week after the bye coupled with injuries was a perfect storm that led the defense to have a tough day, but that still can’t be an excuse. Fortunately, Aubrey Burks will be back in action on Saturday.

WVU’s Aubrey Burks, Wyatt Milum to Play Against Oklahoma State

Try to Contain Run Game

When Oklahoma State suffered a surprising upset at the hands of FCS program South Alabama earlier in the season, the Cowboys’ run game was non existent. That has since become the biggest difference in why Mike Gundy has been able to turn his team’s season around.

The OSU ground game has been the biggest driving force in beating consecutive ranked opponents. Ollie Gordon has gashed defenses to a total of 304 yards just on his own in those two big wins. Gundy has seemingly figured out that the best strategy for his team to win is to have the offense go through Gordon.

WVU’s defense, a unit that is coming off its worst outing of the season last week, has to get to Gordon as quickly as possible and can’t allow him to extend runs. It’s unlikely anyone will be able to completely shut Gordon down right now, but minimizing the damage he can do will be key.


This almost goes without saying after the way West Virginia just lost a game. While the coaches will all say WVU didn’t lose because of what happened at the end, and they are right, it’s also probably true that the Mountaineers were going to steal the win if they were smarter in the final minutes.

WVU Coaches Discuss Last Play of Houston Game, Look to Move On

All of that, of course, refers to quarterback Garrett Greene letting the emotions of thinking he thew the game winning touchdown pass get to him and taking his helmet off. That move led to a penalty, that if not committed, may have made the Hail Mary impossible field position wise. The other aspect of being smart stems from failing to bat the ball down and defend the Hail Mary properly. Lesley pointed to that being the issue, not the belief the 6-foot-7 Kole Taylor should have been on the field.

Greene’s best game of his WVU career (to this point) will forever be stained by the devastating fashion of the loss. And being smart may have allowed West Virginia to win a game despite all of the mistakes and poor play. That’s why being smart can also be necessary for at team to have a great season.

Garrett Greene Takes Blame for Houston Loss: ‘That’s 100% On Me’

West Virginia is currently listed as a 3.5-point home favorite. Kickoff for WVU and Oklahoma State is set for 3:30 pm ET and the game will be televised on ESPN.

Both teams enter the game with identical 4-2 record and are 2-1 in conference play.

For a related story, continuing to build on the emergence of Devin Carter as a true threat is essential for the offensive to stay explosive.

Asti: Devin Carter Reaching Potential Allows WVU Offense to be Explosive

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