Led by Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Week Mason Rudolph, the No. 19 Oklahoma State Cowboys get another stiff conference challenge Saturday as they travel to West Virginia.
The Cowboys escaped with a 36-34 win over Kansas State Saturday while the previously unbeaten Mountaineers fell to Oklahoma, 44-24, in Norman.
Rudolph was 34-for-55 for 437 yards passing with three touchdowns, Rudolph completed 10-of-14 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter. For the game, he made 10-of-14 passes on third and fourth-down attempts in the game, with all 10 completions resulting in first downs.
Rudolph’s 437 passing yards against the Wildcats were the most ever for an Oklahoma State sophomore and marked the fourth-highest single-game total in school history.
“We’re a confident football team right now,” Walsh said. “We haven’t won exactly how you would want to win, but coming away with two close victories early on in the season is going to help our football team in the long run. We have a lot of experience with those games and having it under our belt is going to help on the road in a tough place like West Virginia. Having the experienced guys on our team is a big part of that.
“There is a lot of familiarity between the coaching staffs I would assume. The past years, they’ve had our number. Two years ago, we went up there and didn’t play very well and then last year it went the same at home. This year, I think it’s going to be different. We have a good football team, playing well and just need to make sure we stay poised and composed on the road.”
Last year, WVU blasted the Cowboys 34-10 in Stillwater and in 2013, OSU lost 21-30 in Morgantown, West Virginia.
“I like playing against an offense that shows us two sides of themselves,” said OSU defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah. “Two years ago, they beat us while we were undefeated, so it’s going to be a challenge for us having to go to their field and beat them. It was just like when we played Texas with a 95,000-plus crowd. We just have to go out there and do what we can do to win.”
The strength of the WVU defense is the line.
“As a center, it’s definitely something we have to account for,” said OSU’s Brad Lundblade. “They try to give their opponents a lot of different looks and try to confuse you, but that’s just something we will have to do extra film and studying for. We will be prepared for it, but it’s going to provide some challenges for us.”
West Virginia holds a 4-2 series edge over Oklahoma State, including a 2-0 mark over the Cowboys in Morgantown.
OSU safety Jordan Sterns said playing Kansas State was good preparation for West Virginia.
“Kansas State is a great team,” Sterns said. “They play by the book and they’re well-coached. That automatically helps playing a team like that. Also having to play the run, that’s going to become an advantage as well when it comes time to play West Virginia on Saturday. It’s about playing fast, making tackles, getting on the field and getting them down.”
Since the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 in 2012, they have won two of their three meetings against the Cowboys.
“You know, it’s interesting,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “If your team is playing well and you’ve got good players, then you can play just about anywhere. If you’re kind of in the middle of the road, playing on the road can be difficult.
“I think we’re in-between right now. We’re gaining some experience in some key positions, but we’re certainly not at the point we were at years ago when we had a really experienced group. Each game is different. It’s certainly a little more challenging to play on the road, but I think we’re developing some confidence with this team. We’ve played fairly well on the road over the last eight or 10 games, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
Despite the setback at OU, West Virginia joins OSU as the top two statistical defenses in the Big 12.
“They’ve really improved,” Gundy said. “We thought they got better last year. They gave up some numbers, but they were a good defense. We all can be exposed at certain times. That’s one thing that’s interesting about college football, and not just in this league. I don’t watch a lot of games, but sometimes I track scores. If you take a look across the country, you can have a good year, but you can get exposed a couple of times each year by one team’s game plan being much better than yours, playing on the road and so forth. Other than a few points in one of their earlier games before playing Oklahoma, they didn’t give up a lot of points at all. They’ve been very sound. Their safeties are playing really well. They pressure some successfully, and they’ve been good against the run up front.
“Here, we’ve pushed hard the last four years to try and build enough depth, speed and strength to perform at a high level on defense. I think that it’s working. Statistically, it is for us now. From this point on, we’re going to play some really good offenses. We’ll see where we’re at, but I’m fairly confident that our defense is better than what it has been.”
The WVU defense will be a challenge. “What an experienced defense,” said OSU offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. “They have seven starting seniors and all three of their linebackers are seniors. They are also very athletic in the secondary. Their safety, Karl Joseph, is one heck of a player who plays free safety at times for them and covers the entire field. We have to be aware of where he is at. He has five interceptions to date. They also have a unique ability to play an eight-man front to take away the run, but also drop eight in coverage.”
A loss for West Virginia would virtually knock them out of the conference title race. A win by OSU would make the Cowboys 6-0 and bowl eligible and help improve their rise in the rankings.
“It will be a loud practice facility with a lot of music and a lot of distractions to keep us up-tempo and make sure that we can stay focused with all the crowd interactions and noises,” said OSU running back Raymond Taylor. “We’ll be prepared in that sense. We just have to stay focused.”