Match-ups: WVU - Oklahoma State

Jorge Wright

West Virginia will have to slow Oklahoma State's running game and find more offensive productivity if it is to end its three-game losing streak.

BlueGoldNews.com Game Scorecard
Sat 11/10/12 3:30 PM

Stillwater, OK

Boone Pickens Stadium
Record: 5-3
BCS: NR
Last Game
TCU 39-38 L
TV: ABC
Radio: MSN
Web: BlueGoldNews.com
Record: 5-4
BCS: NR
Last Game
Kansas St 44-30 L
Rosters/ Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

Series: WVU 2-1
First Meeting: 1928
Last Meeting: 1987
Rosters/Bios
Press Release
Season Stats
2012 Schedule

MATCH-UPS AND STORYLINES

OSU RB Joseph Randle vs. WVU Run Defense

Randle and the OSU running attack are what West Virginia's offense aspires to be in that play phase -- a serious weapon that makes defense pay for dropping too many defenders into pass coverage. While WVU has struggled to run the ball against sparse defensive fronts and almost empty boxes, the Cowboys have forced foes to pick their poison -- and in most cases, it's been like choosing between hemlock and arsenic.

Randle has been the engine driving OSU's ground attack, averaging almost 117 yards per outing. However, he's not the only car in the train. Overall, the Cowboys pile up 220 yards per contest, with a number of runners offering support to Randle's 22 carries per game. While WVU will have to account for Randle on every play, it can't solely focus on the Doak Walker Award candidate, which makes the challenge of slowing the attack even more difficult.

West Virginia's performance against the run this year rates as a solid B, but it will have a tough time achieving that against OSU without exposing other areas to attack. Can WVU keep the Cowboys in check with six defenders? Or will it have to commit more players to the box? Will it continue with the more aggressive blitzing tactics it showed last week to try to produce negative plays and keep Randle from getting untracked?

If WVU can hold OSU to 150 yards or fewer on the ground, count that as a win for the defense. However, the Mountaineers will have to do so without selling out to stop the run, because the 'Pokes will take advantage of a thinned-out secondary in the passing game if they do. That's the basis of the Holgorsen system, which OSU still employs to great effect.


WVU Quarterback Geno Smith vs. Himself

There's no doubt that Smith hasn't been himself the past three weeks. One of the best passers in WVU history has suffered through a bout of inaccuracy, compounded by drops from receivers, communication and read breakdowns, and iffy pass protection. Add in the responsibilities he shoulders as a leader of the team, and it's clear the senior is struggling under the weight of all of those issues.

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Smith must put all of those things aside and start afresh against the Cowboys. That's easier said than done, of course, and there's no real blueprint to clearing one's mind and starting new. However he approaches it, Smith must correct a couple of items -- one physical, and one mental -- to return to his former heights of productivity.

First, he needs to find the touch on the ball he had earlier in the season. in those games, Smith was right on target with the vast majority of his passes, and dropped strikes over and around reaching defenders with unerring accuracy. Compare that with last week against TCU, when he struggled to get screen passes on target and couldn't hit the deep out routes that are a staple of the WVU offense. Saying he has to correct this is like telling a pitcher he has to throw strikes, but Smith has to find a way to get it done.

Second, he has to be patient and take what the defense allows. If receivers are covered, he has to run it. It deep routes are blanketed, he has to take the safe throw. It's tough to be patient in these circumstances, but forced throws are going to result in incompletions and interceptions.

Of course, there's much more to WVU's offensive woes than Smith's play. By no means is he the only, or even the chief, cause of the Mountaineer Meltdown on offense. But as the leader of a team with few such players to look up to, he has to play at his best if West Virginia is to have any chance in this game.


THINGS TO WATCH

The presence and performance of wide receiver Stedman Bailey is key for the WVU offense. Will he be in the starting lineup, or will the combination of injury and other factors keep him out of regular play? Since suffering a leg injury against Texas Tech, Bailey's productivity has plummeted. He caught six passes for 56 yards and a score against the Red Raiders before the injury forced him to the sidelines, and it's no coincidence that West Virginia's offensive productivity has plummeted since then. He caught just four balls for 34 yards against Kansas State, and had just two catches for 30 yards in part-time duty against TCU.

Granted, the defensive techniques employed by opponents have also limited some of the wide open chances Bailey got in earlier games this year, but he's good enough to make catches in traffic and against tight coverage. If he's not in the starting lineup, and not playing on most every down, WVU's offensive struggles are going to continue.

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Which quarterback will WVU face on Saturday? Freshman Wes Lunt was injured against Kansas State, and while he has practiced some this week, OSU head coach Mike Gundy may go with Clint Chelf, who played reasonably well against the Wildcats. He could also return to Lunt, who started the season but missed time after sustaining a knee injury early in the season. Will that matter to the Mountaineers?

Both are good passers, but Chelf has a bit of a running dimension to his game, having gained 38 yards on six carries in three appearances. Lunt has rushed just once for a loss of six yards, which might give WVU the chance to blitz more without being worried about a QB scramble. (Oklahoma State's real running threat from the QB spot, J.W. Walsh, is out for the season with an injury.)

Both QBs have been hurt by interceptions -- Lunt has thrown seven, while Chelf's two include a pick six against K-State that allowed the Wildcats some breathing room last week. Chelf, however, has more experience in the program, while Lunt, a true freshman, doesn't have that to fall back on.

Watch how WVU attacks the quarterback -- whichever one gets the start . Look for the Mountaineers to continue the blitz-heavy tactics they used last week, as that's the one way that have to help the secondary out against the pass. That's nothing new for OSU, of course, but West Virginia has to hope that the lack of playing time for the two QBs will result in a least a bit of confusion and an interception or two.

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West Virginia's morale has to be an item of concern, especially if it gets behind or gives up a big play early on. The WVU sideline hasn't been a lively playce for about a month now, and if heads start hanging or players are again moping on the bench, this contest will get ugly in a hurry. WVU seemed to have learned its lesson about fighting through adversity a year ago, but consecutive thrashings followed by a gut-busting third loss may have pushed this team to the emotional edge.

Watching how a team behaves on the sidelines isn't always indicative of how it's going to play, but in this week's game it could be very significant. Are the Mountaineers paying attention to their coaches? Are they together, encouraging each other? Or are they off in their own small groups or alone? WVU has to stick together on this road trip, or it will be coming home with another loss.

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