West Virginia Won't Keep Up with Oklahoma State in Big 12 Showdown

oklahoma state west virginia

Rainman M.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 2:26 PM GMT

Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017 2:26 PM GMT

No. 22 West Virginia (5-2) hosts No. 11 Oklahoma State (6-1) Saturday at noon ET in a very important Big 12 game. The Cowboys are favored by a touchdown. What's the right play?

Free NCAAF Pick: Oklahoma State -7Best Line Offered: BetOnline

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No. 11 Oklahoma State at No. 22 West Virginia

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph utilizes his pocket presence to make good decisions. He has 19 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions. He ably executes a variety of short and intermediate throws. Rudolph chose to stay for his senior year in order to improve his accuracy on longer throws. Since 2015, Rudolph is consistently improving in this area. Currently, the Cowboys rank 5th with 16.5 yards per pass completion.

Rudolph can rely on his receivers when he occasionally fails to optimally locate his pass. James Washington stayed for his senior year to work on his catch technique and drop issues, and it's working. Washington is second in the FBS with 914 receiving yards. He plays well above his size, and with his body control and physical intangibles can compete for balls thrown within a vast range of himself. His route-running skills also consistently help him to create early separation from defenders.

While Rudolph and Washington are fine-tuning their skills for the NFL, West Virginia's defense is essentially starting over. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson relies on a 3-3-5 max-coverage scheme. Gibson hopes to rely on the experience of his defensive backs to give the opposing offenses a variety of different looks and disguises. However, imparting this complex scheme to defenders is difficult.  West Virginia lost 7 defensive backs, a significant linebacker and all 3 starting defensive linemen in the offseason. Gibson's dense playbook creates a learning curve that forces him to limit and soften the complexity of his defense and thus become less threatening. 

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State's offense has evolved since a 2015 defeat at West Virginia. The Cowboys develop more multi-snap counts and multi-formations in order to confuse opposing defenses as to what play they are running. Their well-tuned run/pass option matches up well with a Gibson-led defense vulnerable to the intermediate pass plays at which Rudolph thrives and a max coverage that running back Justice Hill, who averages 5.4 yards per carry, can exploit.

In their last 3 games against Big 12 opponents, WVU has allowed an average passer rating of 154, which would place them outside the top 100. Teams pass on West Virginia with especially high frequency, 51% of the time in the last 3 games, because they have identified their defensive weakness. In games this season where Hill has 20+ carries, the Cowboys are 0-3 ATS. But likely they won't need to rely on Hill against West Virginia as WVU is 114th in allowing 14.2 pass yards per completion. Against Power 5 teams, when Rudolph averages less than 10 yards per completion in a game he is 0-2 this season ATS. When he averages more, he is 2-0 ATS.

 

The Verdict

West Virginia's devolved defense can't stop a significantly more experienced Oklahoma State offense that is prolific in its quarterback play, its depth at wide receiver, its protection and its offensive balance provided by Hill. Defensively, the Cowboys return a solid front 7.  They rank 21st in rush yards allowed per play. Their defensive backs are responding to offseason skeptics and rank 19th in opposing quarterback rating.

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