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OSU Football: West Virginia Preview

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STILLWATER -

One year ago, the Oklahoma State football team gathered for prayer inside Boone Pickens Stadium.

Outide, just blocks away, emergency crews were still cleaning up the intersection of Main Street and Hall of Fame, where earlier that day a motorist plowed into a crowd at the end of the Homecoming Parade. Four had been killed and several more were injured. Tragedy had struck the OSU community again.

“It’s something you will never forget,” junior defensive tackle Vincent Taylor said. “One of the first things I did was text my dad then started praying for the families that were affected by it.”

This Saturday, the Cowboys (5-2, 3-1) will host No. 10 West Virginia (6-0, 3-0) in their most critical game to date at 11 a.m. CT and OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer knows some of the emotion from last year’s events will return to the locker room.

“This is a game, as much as people like to make it more than that,” Spencer said. “It'll be like last year. Playing that game after that happened, it was surreal because of the circumstances. It wasn't the same, but you have to put it into context and realize that this is a game."

It’s a big game, though.

The Pokes are riding a three-game winning streak but West Virginia presents the toughest challenge since a road loss to Baylor on Sept. 24th.

The Mountaineers boast one of the best defenses in the conference. They’re third in total defense, second in pass defense efficiency and have only allowed five rushing touchdowns all season. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson is as wild and innovative on defense as head coach Dana Holgorsen is offensively. The Mountaineers often use five defensive backs and are known for unusual and unpredictable looks that are meant to confuse opposing quarterbacks.

Cornerback Rasul Douglas has three interceptions and four pass breakups and defensive end Noble Nwachukwu has three sacks and five tackles for loss on the season.

Offensively, West Virginia is well-balanced averaging 303.5 passing yards per game and 206.5 rushing yards per game. Quarterback Skyler Howard spreads the ball around; four receivers have 20+ catches this season. Howard has thrown for 1,821 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also rushed for 200 yards and three scores.

Running backs Rushel Shell and Justin Crawford have combined for 836 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, though Shell has been the featured back the past two games. Since opening Big 12 play with a 17-16 nailbiter victory against Kansas State, WVU has rolled Texas Tech (48-17) in Lubbock and TCU (34-10) at home.

Oklahoma State comes off a 44-20 win at Kansas last week. The defense picked off two passes, including one that was lateraled twice and returned into Jayhawk territory, and recovered a fumble. While it’s just seventh in the Big 12 in total defense allowing 448.7 yards per game, OSU is tops in interceptions, 4th-down defense and red zone defense.

The Cowboys haven’t allowed a point in the fourth quarter for three-straight games.

Quarterback Mason Rudolph has thrown for 2,259 yards with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Freshman running back Justice Hill averages 119 yards per game on the ground in conference play but senior Chris Carson is back from injury and giving the offense another option in the backfield.

Standout receiver James Washington was nearly shut out by Kansas’ double coverage, but Jalen McCleskey has emerged as a reliable second option. The sophomore has five games with 70+ receiving yards and both he and Washington are among the top-10 in the Big 12 in receiving yards.

Oklahoma State Player to Watch – Mason Rudolph is due a big game and he’s better at home than on the road. He led the team in rushing with 48 yards in last year’s 33-26 win in Morgantown.

West Virginia Player to Watch – Skyler Howard is a dual-threat quarterback and is getting much better protection this year. The Cowboys have been vulnerable to the QB run.

Prediction – West Virginia finds a way to win on the road, 34-28

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