The Oklahoma State Cowboy defense kicked off the season just like you would hope your team would as they held the Tulsa Golden Hurricane to just 7 points. In the past, the Cowboys have relied heavily on their offense, but after quarterback Spencer Sanders went down with an ankle injury early in the game last Saturday, it was evident that the defense will be key to success this season.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Oklahoma State’s defense last Saturday was holding Tulsa on third down. The Golden Hurricane did not convert a single third-down conversion, finishing the game 0-of-11. They did manage to convert 1 of their 4 fourth-down conversions, but all in all, the Cowboys look like a well-oiled machine on the defensive side of the ball.
Next up for the Cowboys is a matchup against the West Virginia Mountaineers, who put up an impressive showing in a 56-10 victory over Eastern Kentucky on September 12th. The Mountaineers had this last weekend off, which gave them an extra week to prepare, but Oklahoma State has played more recently, so that could be to the Cowboys’ benefit.
Whether or not Spencer Sanders will be able to play on Saturday against West Virginia is still unknown, and if the offense struggles again this weekend, they will once again need the defense to hold strong. In order to do that, the Cowboys need to focus on a few key areas.
Put Pressure On Doege and the Mountaineer Backfield
West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Doege spent his freshman and sophomore seasons at Bowling Green before transferring to Morgantown last year. He played in 4 games, starting in 3 of them, before redshirting, but he has earned the starting spot for now. You may recognize his last name because he’s the younger brother of former Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege.
Doege completed 19-of-25 passes for 228 yards and 3 touchdowns against Eastern Kentucky on September 12th. He also was not sacked a single time. The Cowboys need to change that.
As for the success of the Mountaineer backfield, Ledie Brown and Alec Sinkfield rushed for 123 yards each and 2 touchdowns apiece. Combining for 226 yards on the ground is impressive, but considering they did it with only 25 combined carries is unreal.
Oklahoma State’s defensive line is solid, and with Malcolm Rodriguez, Amen Ogbongbemiga, and Calvin Bundage at linebacker, the Cowboys have plenty of options for getting pressure into West Virginia’s backfield.
Win the Turnover Battle
It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: if you win the turnover battle, you will probably win the game. Oklahoma State tied with Tulsa a week ago, each team finishing with one interception, but Kolby Harvell-Peel didn’t pick off Zach Smith until the game was pretty much over.
The Mountaineers did not turn the ball over at all against Eastern Kentucky, but with the way they like to play on offense, I think Oklahoma State is going to have some opportunities to force some mistakes.
Last year’s matchup between the Cowboys and the Mountaineers, a 20-13 victory by Oklahoma State on the road, featured 0 total turnovers. I would be willing to bet that whichever team can force the other into a mistake or two will end up being the victor in Stillwater on Saturday.
No Busted Plays
This was one of my keys for the Cowboys last weekend, and they did a pretty good job at it. Tulsa managed just 9 plays of 10 yards or more, and only one of those was a true “big play”: a 40-yard pass to begin the only scoring drive of the day by Tulsa.
West Virginia has much more firepower on the offensive side of the ball, so the Cowboys need to be keenly aware of their defensive duties. Against Eastern Kentucky on September 12th, the Mountaineers racked up 19 plays with gains of 10 yards or more, including 9 gains of 20+ yards and 4 gains of 30+ yards. Giving up big plays to a road team can flip momentum and help create the perfect recipe for upset.
Simply put, Oklahoma State needs to avoid busted plays. The Cowboy front line needs to contain the run game, and if West Virginia wants to sling the ball downfield, the Cowboys need their athletic defensive backs to go and make plays. Whatever the Mountaineers are able to do on offense, keep the big plays to a minimum.