Ranked in the Top 10, every game is big for WVU
It used to be that football teams took care to schedule a team they could beat at Homecoming. Make everybody happy and deliver a win over Salve Regina or Panhandle A&M.
In Stillwater this Saturday, the homestanding Cowboys of Oklahoma State will greet the ninth-ranked Mountaineers of West Virginia at noon. It’s Homecoming at T. Boone Pickens Stadium for the orange-clad home side. But West Virginia is not your usual Homecoming lamb-to-the-slaughter.
West Virginia is 6-0 . . . ranked ninth in the latest coach’s poll . . . and actually winning games with its depth-rich defense.
The Cowboys of 12-year coach Mike Gundy are 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Big 12 standings. The Mountaineers have beaten Kansas State, Texas Tech and Texas Christian to land their record at 3-0 in conference games.
Last week, before a mostly bundled crowd that sat or stood in noisy unison against a stiff wind in Morgantown, the Mountaineers banished TCU, 34-10, by limiting the Horned Frogs of Coach Gary Patterson to only 148 passing yards . . . and no points in the second half.
It’s West Virginia’s best start to a season since the
7-0 beginning to the 2006 campaign.
Quickly becoming household names in the valleys and crossroads in the Mountain State are defenders Justin Arndt, Al-Rasheed Benton, Elijah Battle, Rasul Douglas, Kyzir White, Darrien Howard, David Long and Noble Kwachkwu.
Even punter Billy Kinney is moving to center stage. He punted five times against the Horned Frogs and averaged 43.2 per boot.
When people think of Oklahoma State football they immediately see plenty of points coming from the passing arm of quarterback Mason Rudolph, the tens of millions of dollars for athletics thrown the school’s way by T. Boone Pickens and the massed thousands dressed in orange that attend sporting events.
But these Cowboys already have 18 sacks in seven games . . . have blocked five kicks . . . and usually run as often as they pass.
Gundy has won 99 games in his tenure as caretaker of Boone Pickens’ largess. To make West Virginia his 100th scalp on Homecoming Saturday would stir the ready-to-celebrate faithful to do more than paint the small city in shades or orange.
West Virginia has been able to run as well as pass against its recent opponents. However, Justin Crawford could run only once against TCU before injuring his ankle and leaving the bulk of the planned runs to Rushel Shell (24 carries for 117 yards) in West Virginia’s sixth straight win of the year.
Skyler Howard has a range of targets in Daikiel Shorts, Ka’Raun White, Shelton Gibson and Gary Jennings — all four had touchdown catches last week — and they all might be needed against the Cowboys.
This game comes on the air at 12-noon. Who knows how much background the television people want to show on T. Boone Pickens, the Homecoming festivities, the whole landscape with its theme of orange and the pleasantries found all across Stillwater?
The Mountaineers have steadily risen in the polls. But few are there nationwide that will put them in the same rarefied air as unbeaten Baylor or ranked Oklahoma, now 5-2 overall but 4-0 in Big 12 games.
Howard has to perform well. The Mountaineer defense has to be as important as it has been in recent wins over Texas Christian, Texas Tech and Kansas State.
And then maybe when the sun sets in the rural Oklahoma sky it will be the only pastel orange anybody is paying much attention to in the town that has T. Boone Pickens as its favorite son.