Can the Virginia Tech defense stop the Oklahoma State offense?
Can the Hokie defense even slow down the Cowboy’s offense?
Those answers will come on December 28 when the No. 19 Cowboys face No. 22 Virginia Tech in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
This season, even though OSU lost three games, no one but Texas was able to slow down the Pokes. In that game, OSU scored only 13 points but the Cowboy defense rose to the occasion and held Texas to 10 points.
“This is going to be a really good matchup,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy. “As I watch more, I’m not so sure that this isn’t the best defense that we’ve played. They’re only giving up 13 points a game, so obviously they’ve fared very well. They’re really big inside and it’s probably safe to say it’s the best secondary we’ve faced this year.”
It is a classic case of a great offense versus a great defense.
“The thing that stands out the most is the pace with which they operate offensively and their skill position players,” said Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente, who played at Union High School and at Oklahoma. “That (James) Washington kid is fantastic, if I’m not mistaken he won the Biletnikoff Award, but those other two guys can play, as well. They can run the football, that’s the catalyst of their team and they have played well defensively. They continue to mix up looks and they’re a high-powered high-scoring football team, which has become synonymous with the Big 12 over the last several years.”
Virginia Tech contained West Virginia’s hurry-up offense in the first half of that game but not for the whole game.
“I thought in the first half of the West Virginia game the defense was playing really well and getting off the field and the offense wasn’t staying on the field and then it was literally reversed in the second half,” Fuente said. “I think it’s going to take a complete effort to handle all of that. The offense is going to have to do a good job of staying on the field because the accumulative effect is where it gets you. It gets you in the fourth quarter if you haven’t held the ball long enough or made significant gains on the other side of the ball.”
OSU will face a Hokie offense that operates at a slower pace than most Big 12 teams.
“Offensively, they’re going to run their quarterback some,” Gundy said. “Maybe they won’t be as up-tempo as some of the other teams we play in our league. They’re averaging 28 yards on kickoff returns, so they’re a very good football team. There’s a reason they won nine games and all of their losses were to quality football teams.”
The Virginia Tech coaches are impressed with OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph.
Rudolph finished the regular season as the leading passer in the FBS, both in terms of passing yards (4,553) and passing yards per game (379.4) and he also leads the FBS in points responsible for per game (22.5). He ranks second in the FBS in both total offense (4,582) and total offense per game (381.8).
“He’s big, has a live arm, accurate, strong, he will stay in the pocket against the rush,” said Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster. “I think the NFL guys will like him a lot because he is in that 6-4 to 6-5 range and is a drop-back guy. He doesn’t run a lot – not that he can’t but he doesn’t do that – but he delivers the ball extremely well on time. You can see a lot of experience in the offense and a lot of game experience and it shows by his completion percentage, where he throws the ball, how quickly he gets rid of it, all of those things.
“I don’t know if we have played a guy that big and accurate recently off the top of my head. We’ve played a lot of guys like him over the years but he’s just a talented guy. Good people around him. He knows where to go with the football, he doesn’t panic, and he has a lot of poise back there.”
This will be the last game for Rudolph and Biletnikoff winner James Washington to play for the Cowboys. Both will be drafted next year and they easily could have skipped the bowl game to avoid injury.
“They’re special,” Gundy said. “This is a really unique group, and I don’t think there’s any question the relationship they have and the time that they’ve spent together and the success that they’ve had both on and off the field. That’s been very fun for all of us to watch. It kind of hit Coach (Kasey) Dunn and I coming home on the plane that for three-and-a-half years we’ve been able to rely on those guys making big plays. It’ll be a challenge for us moving forward when we don’t have those guys in our back pocket during game planning.”
Washington finished the regular season with 69 catches for 1,423 yards and 12 touchdowns. Washington’s 1,423 receiving yards and 118.6 receiving yards per game both led the FBS and his 12 touchdown receptions ranked fourth nationally.
“It has started to get a little more emotional,” said Washington. “On top of all the bowl preparation, it’s busy as well because people have finals… It’s just a busy time for us right now so we have to be locked in.”
Washington gave no thought to skipping the bowl game.
“I’m fully committed,” Washington said. “Me and Marcell (Ateman) were talking about that the other day. It’s just like a loyalty thing for us to finish the year off with our team. It just shows your character as well, so I’m going to finish the year off with my team.”
Before the season, some thought the Cowboys could win the Big 12 and make a trip to the College Football Playoff but that didn’t materialize. But OSU has a chance to win 10 games with a bowl victory.
“I think it’d be a great legacy to leave here,” said linebacker Chad Whtener. ‘Three 10-win seasons in a row is just commendable to how our program is run and the way we come to work every day.”
Fuente’s parents and his sister’s family still live in Oklahoma.
“I’ve never really been an adult and lived in Oklahoma but there’s certainly some familiarity between the coaching staffs and obviously the university on my account or coach (Vance) Vice’s account or coach (Brad) Cornelsen’s account because we all grew up there. We all have a deep amount of respect for Oklahoma State and coach (Mike) Gundy has done. I’ve talked a little bit about coach Gundy in terms of when I was growing up and my perception of him. Getting the chance to know him a little bit and hang around him a little bit as an adult, which I have not done much of so It’s kind of an interesting dynamic and something we’re proud of. I’m proud to have been from Tulsa and have deep ties there. I think I learned a lot, lived there for 18 years I think I learned a lot that I think helped to mold me and some of the values that I hold today.”