MATCH-UPS, MUSINGS AND MORE
They don't face off directly against each other, but a match-up in return productivity of West Virginia's Mario Alford and Oklahoma State's Tyreek Hill could be a big indicator in the outcome of this contest.
Hill has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Cowboys, averaging 27.3 yards per kickoff return and another 8.4 yards per punt return. He has two scores on the former, and has contributed 642 yards to the Oklahoma State cause through his return efforts this year. Alford has exceeded Hill on kickoff runbacks, averaging 34.8 yards per try while equalling his two scores, but has suffered 11 yards in reversals on his only two punt return tries. He's not comfortable catching punts (the same as his teammates) so it's unlikely we'll see him in that role.
Still, that sets up a great battle on kickoff returns, which have the potential to swing momentum like no other play. There's nothing like the punch of a "take that" response when an opponent has scored, only to see the ensuing boot returned for an answering tally. Each team has gotten such a boost this year, and it could be a deciding factor in this contest.
* * * * *
West Virginia, through a combination of excellent blocking schemes and quick decisions from quarterback Clint Trickett, has been good at sack avoidance. There have been a couple of leaks, though, especially at the edges, and that's where the Cowboys are strong on the pass rush.
First, the Mountaineers will utilize a blocker in the backfield, often Cody Clay, to provide additional protection help if necessary. He's been outstanding in that regard this year, so watch for him on Ogbah's side of the formation. WVU will also try to take advantage of wide rushers by running the ball underneath them. If Ogbah gets too wide, or can be kicked out or induced to rush upfield, watch for a couple of delays that attempt to exploit that gap. Dreamius Smith did just that against Baylor last week, rumbling through a huge gap between the end and interior defenders for a big gain.
WHERE'D THAT MASCOT COME FROM?
Founded as Oklahoma A&M, the school was referred to as the Aggies and the Farmers in the early 1900s, but the first "official" nickname applied to the school's sports teams was the "Tigers". That came from A&M's promotion of itself as the "Princeton of the Plains" going to the extent of using that schools colors and mascot.
Oklahoma State has long been rankled by "copies" of Pistol Pete employed by other schools, and just this week filed a lawsuit against New Mexico State in federal court for using a mascot that is "confusingly similar" to Pete.
"Oklahoma State University owns incontestable federal trademark registrations for its Pistol Pete marks," the school said in a prepared statement. "Based on Stillwater-area, real-life lawman Frank Eaton, the Pistol Pete mascot originated from Oklahoma State University in the 1920s and is well-known nationally. For more than 80 years, Oklahoma State has continuously used marks depicting Pistol Pete. The university is strongly opposed to any effort to infringe upon its trademarks and will take the necessary steps to protect its rights to the Pistol Pete marks."
Shots fired. Maybe the two school mascots could have a duel?
THINGS TO WATCH
Perception is often erroneous. Check that -- it's often dead wrong. This week's entrant in that category is the thought that Oklahoma State will be little more than a speed bump in the way of the Mountaineers. Yes, the Pokes got flattened by TCU a week ago. And yes, they are young, and still making youthful mistakes. But they also have talent, and every snap gives them a bit more experience to call upon. If West Virginia's players approach this game with a cavalier attitude, they are going to leave Stillwater with a loss. OSU might not be as good as Baylor or Oklahoma, but it isn't Kansas either.
The thing to watch here? WVU's enthusiasm and play out of the gate. If the Mountaineers fall behind early, it could be tough to rally in the bandbox confines of T. Boone Pickens Stadium, even with the composure the Mountaineers have displayed this season.
* * * * *
A week ago, West Virginia's defense came up with some big stops in the red zone against Baylor, turning potential touchdowns into field goals. Those plays were huge in WVU's win, and it's a factor to keep an eye on for both teams this week. The Mountaineers, obviously, want to continue that play, but Oklahoma State has been the standard setter in that regard. On 25 opponent trips into its red zone, OSU has yielded just ten touchdowns. That's outstanding.
Some factors offset that stat -- TCU scored five of its six touchdowns from outside the red zone -- but it's worth noting that the Cowboy defense can defend the range from in close. West Virginia has been good, but not great, in scoring touchdowns from inside the 20, so this is definitely another item to track as the game unfolds on the prairie.
SOMETHING YOU NEED TO KNOW
Somehow, West Virginia has not recovered an opponent's fumble this year, although foes have put the ball on the ground five times. Those totals are exactly matched by Oklahoma State, which lived off turnovers over the previous couple of seasons. As noted here on more than one occasion, turnover recovery and margin are cyclical things, and often depend on luck and game situations as much as they do in any particular talent in "forcing" them. Certainly, that is a factor, but the bounce of the ball and statistical regression to the mean is just as, if not more important.
With that in mind, WVU is overcoming the odds in the negative turnover margin stat. Despite being -11 this year, the Mountaineers have five wins in seven games. The team with the next worst turnover margin to equal that won/loss record is Rutgers, which stands at a far more manageable -4. West Virginia has, somehow, shrugged that huge negative off this year. If the trend reverses, the Mountaineers will be even that much more difficult to beat.
By the way, Oklahoma State, which has feasted on turnovers recently, is -2 in turnover margin this season, putting the Cowboys in a tie for 84th out of 125 Division I teams. West Virginia is 123rd, worsted only by Michigan and SMU.