KICKOFF: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
GAME DATE: 9/28/13
SITE: Mountaineer Field, Morgantown, W.Va.
SERIES: Oklahoma State is 2-2 against West Virginia. In the first Big 12 matchup between the teams, the Cowboys prevailed 55-34 last season as Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen returned to Stillwater, where he was offensive coordinator for OSU in 2010.
AP RANKINGS: Oklahoma State, No. 11
KEYS TO THE GAME
Oklahoma State gets another opportunity to face its former offensive coordinator, Dana Holgorsen, though his wizardry has yet to take effect this season on West Virginia.
The Mountaineers had to replace several key playmakers and have struggled with the transition, going 2-2 with wins over William and Mary and Georgia State. One of those teams is from the Bowl Championship Subdivision and the other moved up to the FBS just this year.
For Oklahoma State (3-0), the trip to Morgantown looks rather easy, especially with West Virginia coming off one of the worst nonconference losses for the Big 12 in years, a 37-0 pasting by Maryland in Baltimore on Sept. 21.
The game against the Mountaineers serves as the conference opener for the Cowboys, the preseason media pick to capture the Big 12 title.
With a week to prepare, the Cowboys had time to tinker on various issues, though coach Mike Gundy stressed to his players to familiarize themselves with schematics by watching film as much as he put them through any paces on the practice field.
"We think the mental preparation gives us the best chance to have success," Gundy said.
That preparation could have easily digressed into lapses because of the struggles West Virginia (2-2, 0-1 Big 12) has gone through, but the Oklahoma State staff is aware of Holgorsen's abilities after he spent a year on the Cowboys staff before accepting the West Virginia job. Holgorsen also spent eight seasons in the Big 12 at Texas Tech.
"It will be on the line for us every play," Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. "He has a great mind, and if we take something away, he will try to find another way to attack us. It's fun. I have a lot of respect for him and what they do offensively."
The Cowboys defense has continually progressed under Spencer, who is in his first season as the sole coordinator. His unit is allowing 360.7 yards and 9.0 points per game, with most of the points coming against the second string. Turnover margin, a priority the Cowboys wanted to establish, has gone their way so far with a plus-four. They are one of seven FBS programs not to lose a fumble yet this season.
Against West Virginia, they will face an opponent that suffered its first shutout since 2001 in the loss to Maryland. The Mountaineers committed as many turnovers (six) as they produced first downs.
Establishing control will be a key for Oklahoma State with the Mountaineers riding little momentum. Although he began the season as a second-stringer, J.W. Walsh has established himself at quarterback. He ranks fifth in the Big 12 with a 274.7-yard average in total offense, despite splitting time earlier in the season with Clint Chelf.
The Cowboys have been most effective in the red zone, going 15 of 15, with all the scores being touchdowns.
"With the depth that we have at every position," Walsh said, "we're going to make plays. It makes it easy on us as long as we can get the ball into the right people's hands."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
--RB Jeremy Smith is a versatile back capable of boosting Oklahoma State's balance as both a rusher and receiver. Smith has a nose for the end zone, scoring six touchdowns among his 37 rushing attempts. He often splits carries with QB J.W. Walsh, who mixes in several keepers.
--DT Calvin Barnett serves as the anchor of a defensive front that is among the best in the Big 12. The Cowboys have allowed just 3.5 yards per rush. Five of the Cowboys' seven sacks are by linemen.
--WR/PR Josh Stewart leads the Big 12 with a 21.3-yard average on punt returns, scoring on a 67-yard runback against Lamar. Stewart remains the most dependable receiver on the squad, though the Cowboys have distributed the ball well. Against both Lamar and Texas-San Antonio, 13 different receivers caught passes.
--QB Ford Childress is under fire entering just his third career start. Inconsistent offense has been Childress' issue alone. Despite his three-turnover day last week in a 37-0 drubbing by Maryland, coach Dana Holgorsen said this week "he's going to be our guy," faulting his offensive line for the doldrums. "It was probably as bad as we've ever played on the offensive line," he said.