The loss of Karl Joseph bites West Virginia in a dozen different ways, but it might hurt the Mountaineers against Oklahoma State even more than against some other teams. WVU built its base defense around the skills of Joseph and K.J. Dillon, but the Cowboys were prepared to stress that duo as much as possible with a varied passing game featuring multiple weapons. Seven Pokes have at least eight receptions this year, which forces defenses to cover the field with more players than normal. Defenses can't key on just one or two pass catchers, and must cover wideouts, slots, cowboy receivers and running backs all over the field.
Joseph's versatility in doing this, while also jamming the run, is irreplaceable. West Virginia coaches are invariably going to use the “next man up” phrase a lot, but there's simply no denying that WVU doesn't have anyone that comes close to Joseph's abilities across the board. It figures that at least a couple of OSU passs routes might be changed or modified to try to key on places where the bandit has to cover against the pass. Watch for four and five receivers in the pattern – that's when OSU will really be trying to isolate and stress Joseph's replacement.
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Third down conversions, a key for most teams, but especially for these two, could be a crucial factor in the game. Both squads rely on building rhythm on offense, which results in sustained drives, high play counts and lengthened possessions. One of the foundations of those goals is third down coversions, and both teams have impressive numbers in that category so far.
Oklahoma State is turning almost 48% of those situations into first downs (#13 nationally) while WVU isn't far behind in 26th position, with a figure just shy of 46%. If the game is close, shaving just a few percentage points off those totals could be a key to victory.
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The Cowboys are the only team in the nation that ranks in the Top 25 in both total offense and total defense. OSU ranks 22nd nationally with 483.2 offensive yards per game and 24th nationally with 310 yards allowed per game. That would appear to make them more balanced, and with fewer noticeable holes, than many other teams. Why then are the Mountaineers 6-7 point favorites?
Home field for WVU is in that equation, but so too is the list of OSU victims this year. K-State is its usual fundamentally strong squad, but with a host of injuries and few dynamic playmakers, the Wildcats don't appear to be as stout as in previous seasons. Also, there's the caveat of Joseph's injury, which occurred after that initial line was set. Joseph is so important to West Virginia's defense that his absence might cause a three- or four-point per game swing in the odds the rest of the way.
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Back to help OSU in its attempts to balance up the offense are running backs Rennie Childs and Chris Carson, both of whom were said to be "fine" by head coach Mike Gundy for the WVU game. Of course, Gundy is always vague, if not outright deceptive, in terms of injury discussion, so it could be that he's putting up a smokescreen in order to make WVU take the Cowboy rushing attack a little more seriously.
The entire rushing attack, as well as Gundy's philosphy this year, has been the subject of a good bit of debate in Stillwater and its environsin 2015, so this isn't a factor to toss aside. Gundy has noted a goal of rushing the ball for 150 yards each week, but that has frustrated some observers, who think he giving short shrift to the capabilities of the passing game. If West Virginia can slow the Pokes' rushing game (as it did against OU), will Gundy continue to try to pound the ball on the ground? Or will he note the Sooners' ability to hit the big play and take more shots downfield?
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OSU quarterback Mason Rudolph has thrown for at least 260 yards in each of his eight career starts. That's the longest such streak to begin a career among current FBS QBs. Skyler Howard was in fifth place with five such games before last week's contest at Oklahoma, in which he accounted for just 173 yards through the air.
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Oklahoma has long been known for dipping into Texas to raid the Lone Star State for talent, but Oklahoma State has stolen the crown this year. The Cowboys have 66 players from Texas on their roster this year – 21 more than the Sooners, who have 45. No other non-FBS school outside of Texas has more. OSU has 29 players from Oklahoma on its current roster.