Cowboys hit trail to tangle with Mountaineers

The West Virginia Mountaineers will try to redeem themselves following an embarrassing loss, although doing so won't be easy as they play host to the 11th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday afternoon.

Oklahoma State has won its first three games by an average of 31.6 points, and the team has scored no fewer than 56 points in each of its last two outings. The Cowboys, who are playing their Big 12 opener in this one, were last in action on Sept. 14 against FCS foe Lamar, and blew out the Cardinals in a 59-3 final.

OSU is one of the favorites to win the Big 12 this season, and while most teams in the league have the ability to pull off an upset from time to time, coach Mike Gundy's squad should be right there to the end. The final three games will likely determine the Pokes' fate as they take on Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma, the last two at home.

West Virginia has certainly had its share of troubles here in the early going, splitting its first four games with the victories coming against FCS foe William & Mary (24-17) and first-year FBS member Georgia State (41-7), while the losses have come versus Oklahoma (16-7) in the league lid lifter and last week against Maryland (37-0).

The loss to the Terrapins was especially disheartening as the Mountaineers struggled in all phases in snapping a seven-game win streak in the series, and it was WVU's first shutout loss going back to a 35-0 defeat against visiting Virginia Tech on Oct. 6, 2001 -- a span of 151 games.

Following the shellacking his team took in Baltimore last weekend, WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen was quick to give the Terps respect.

"Give Maryland all the credit obviously. They whipped us on all three sides of the ball."

He then put the onus on himself with regard to his team's offensive struggles this season.

"Offensively we are as inept as we can possibly be in college football and I accept the responsibility for that," Holgorsen said.

The series between Oklahoma State and West Virginia is knotted at 2-2, and the teams met as conference rivals for the first time last season with the Cowboys prevailing in Stillwater, 55-34.

The Oklahoma State offense has been firing on all cylinders this season, particularly in the last two games. The Cowboys average better than 45 ppg while churning out 487.7 ypg and converting 56 percent of their third down opportunities.

The pass has been the weapon of choice for OSU, with quarterbacks J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf combining to throw for 935 yards (311.7 ypg), with eight TDs and only one interception. Walsh is also the Cowboys' leading rusher with 182 yards and two scores, although Jeremy Smith has crossed the goal line six times on a club-high 37 carries. Josh Stewart is the top receiver with 12 catches for 185 yards, and both Jhajuan Seales and Charlie Moore have more than 100 receiving yards as well.

Defensively, the Pokes have been downright stingy in yielding a mere 13.7 ppg, although foes produce 360.7 ypg, with the bulk of those coming via the pass (238.3 ypg). Oklahoma State averages more than 10 TFL per tilt, and has notched seven sacks while being credited with five turnovers.

A total of eight players have double-digit tackles on the season, led by Daytawion Lowe and Caleb Lavey with 21 apiece. Lavey and Tyler Johnson have both made five stops behind the line of scrimmage.

In the rout of Lamar two weeks ago, the Cowboys dictated the tempo on both side of the ball, piling up 426 yards to 245 for the Cards, while scoring TDs on all seven of their trips to the red zone. Balance was the key on offense, as several players got in on the act, paced by Walsh (181 yards, one TD passing, and 45 yards rushing) and Smith (40 yards, three TDs rushing). Lowe led the defense with eight stops.

Ford Childress made his first career start under center for the Mountaineers in last week's clash with Maryland, and the freshman had a rough day in completing just 11-of-22 passes for 62 yards with a pair of interceptions. In all, West Virginia turned the ball over six times and finished with just 175 yards of total offense. Dreamius Smith rushed for 74 yards on 12 carries, although 51 of them came on one run, while Charles Sims caught eight balls, but for only 33 yards.

Meanwhile, Maryland took full advantage of the numerous miscues by WVU, opening up a 30-0 halftime lead and putting it in cruise control from there. Karl Joseph paced the Mountaineers defense with eight tackles, seven of which were unassisted, and Will Clarke had both of the team's sacks.

West Virginia averages 1.2 ppg less than it allows, and the team generates 393.8 ypg. There have been more interceptions thrown than TDs (5-4), and the Mountaineers have lost eight fumbles while surrendering seven sacks.

Sims and Smith have combined to gain 579 yards with four TDs, helping the Mountaineers average nearly 175 ypg on the ground. As for the WVU signal callers, Childress and Paul Millard have thrown for a combined 876 yards with four TDs and the same number of picks.

Nick Kwiatkoski is the team's leading tackler with 29 stops, Darwin Cook has a pair of interceptions, and Clarke has three sacks.

Despite the difficulties WVU has had through the first month, Oklahoma State Defensive Coordinator Glenn Spencer knows this isn't going to be a cakewalk.

"Everybody sees the obvious, which is they've struggled in a couple games. But, if you watch the Maryland game, you'll see West Virginia went up and down the field on them, but they had six turnovers. It was just one of those days where it wasn't working out. They have weapons. Their quarterback can throw the ball. Smith and Sims are two great running backs, and Coach Holgorsen does a great job of spreading the field. It will be a test for us to defend all of it. They'll be back in front of their home crowd, ready to play. It will be a challenge for us."