For as much as the Oklahoma State football team’s offense with Spencer Sanders, Tylan Wallace and Chuba Hubbard has been talked about this offseason, the Cowboy’s defense is the main reason the team is 1-0 to start the season.
When Sanders, Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback, went down with an injury on the first play of OSU’s second drive last week against Tulsa, the Cowboy offense nearly ground to a halt. OSU managed just 284 total yards and 16 points and had to comeback late to win when Tulsa held the lead at the start of the fourth quarter.
Were it not for OSU’s defense holding Tulsa to just one touchdown on the day, there easily could have been another upset in the Big 12 to start the season. Oklahoma State was able to mitigate Tulsa’s scoring, in part, by forcing Tulsa to go 0-12 on third down attempts and 1-4 on fourth down.
Heading into their matchup with weekend, West Virginia head coach Neal Brown knows success on third down is going to be a key for his offense. Talking with the media Tuesday afternoon, Brown explained why the Cowboys had so much success on third down Saturday.
“They’ve got a bunch of guys that can play man coverage and when you can do that on third down and you can generate a pass rush, sometimes with four guys…then you can be good on third down,” Brown. “I was not surprised that they were good at defense in that game and even more so on third downs.”
Mountaineer offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said the ability of WVU’s receivers to create separation will be one of the keys to winning the game.
“[Oklahoma State defensive backs] are going to be tough and grab and hold and get after you and make it a physical game in the back end and make it hard for you to separate on third down especially when they play a lot of man coverages,” Parker said. “It falls on us in order to get some separation and win so of those battles in order for us to get a better percentage on third down.”
The Cowboys defeated the Mountaineers 20-13 in last season’s game, holding the Mountaineers to 5 of 14 on third down conversions in the process.
“When they go man, or they try to [use zero coverage] you’ve got to make them pay for it,” WVU starting quarterback Jarret Doege said. “Last year they did that to us a couple times and I think we made them pay once to George [Campbell] and a lot of the time they got us. You’ve got to get them more than they get you.”
Doege passed for 307 yards against Oklahoma State in last year’s game, but outside of Campbell’s 92 yards on five receptions, no one receiver had more than 50 yards. Without Campbell’s numbers, WVU receivers made 15 receptions for 169 yards, an 11.3-yard average.
“On third down, they’ll man you up and they think they’re better than you,” Doege said. “We’ve got to depend on our guys to win one-on-one battles and that’ll help us be better on third down.”
“The ability to win at the junction point and win against man coverage is one of the biggest things we’re judged on,” Parker said. “We feel like our guys have come a long way and we have really grown in our ability to do those things and it’s a huge test for our guys in week two of a season.”
WVU and Oklahoma State open Big 12 play at noon Saturday in Stillwater, Oklahoma. The game will be broadcast on ABC.