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Preview: Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia

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MORGANTOWN, West Virginia -

Last year's inaugural Big 12 tilt between Oklahoma State and West Virginia was a much-anticipated affair pitting two of the most explosive offensive teams in the country against one another.

OSU ended up handing the Mountaineers their fourth-straight loss in a 55-34 shellacking and things really haven't gone well for Dana Holgorsen's squad ever since.

Oklahoma State has held up its end of the bargain as an offensive force, ranking among the nation's elite in most offensive categories but WVU enters Saturday's contest in a tailspin coming off a 37-0 embarrassment against Maryland.

Here is a look at what to expect from the Cowboys' first trip to Morgantown since prohibition:

 

Five Things To Watch

1) J.W. Walsh's consistency

Walsh had a superb outing in his first start of the season against UTSA, completing 24-of-27 passes for 326 yards and four touchdowns against the Roadrunners on his way to setting the school's single-game completion percentage record.

However, he looked decidedly more human against overmatched Lamar a week later. He completed 17-of-30 passes for 181 yards with a TD and an interception that resulted in Lamar's only points of the game. He seemed a bit off for his entire stint and missed several routine passes. OSU is clearly better than WVU, but Walsh will need to be sharper than he was against Lamar for the Pokes to win comfortably.

2) Cowboy's rushing attack

Injuries have been an unfortunate storyline on the OSU offensive line through the first quarter of the season. As a result, the OSU running game has been inconsistent and the Cowboys will need to rectify that before getting into the meat of the conference slate.

Walsh leads the team in rushing with 182 yards on 7.3 yards per carry. He gained 125 of those in the season opener.

Obviously the potent passing attack takes away from rushing stats but the run hasn't worked particularly well when it has been attempted against rather unimposing foes in UTSA and Lamar. Starter Jeremy Smith averaged just 2.8 yards per carry (12 carries for 34 yards) against the Roadrunners and 4 yards (10 carries, 40 yards) against Lamar. The backups haven't produced any better results, either.

The Cowboys were dominant against Mississippi State and it would be a big plus to see a return to form against an improved WVU defense.

3) Mountaineer motivation

After just four games, West Virginia might be close to folding up the tent for the 2013 campaign. If OSU can pounce on WVU early and build a two-score lead in the first quarter things could snowball quickly in the Cowboys' favor against a confidence-challenged, offensively-anemic Mountaineer squad. How offensive challenged, one might ask? Well, against Maryland they completed just one pass to a wide receiver all game … and threw two interceptions. In fact, last Saturday's 37-0 loss to Maryland marked the first time a team has ever been shut out with Dana Holgorsen on staff — gulp. The much-improved OSU defense can show just how much better it's gotten by taking WVU out early.

4) Turnover production

The Cowboys are in good shape in the turnover department on the offensive side, ranking second nationally with just one miscue on the season. The Cowboys have also forced at least one turnover in each game, including two against Mississippi State and UTSA. As a result, OSU is ranked 11th nationally in turnover margin with a 5-to-1 ratio.

OSU players and coaches talked all preseason about a return to their ball-hawking ways of 2011 and Saturday is a custom-made matchup for the Pokes to showcase it.

Only one team in the country, Western Kentucky, has more turnovers this season (15) than West Virginia's 12. And things haven't exactly improved over time for the Mountaineers, who are coming off of a season-worst six-turnover outing in last week's 37-0 drubbing against Maryland. The Mountaineers have thrown four picks and lost a borderline unbelievable eight fumbles through four games. The Cowboys already have an upper hand in the talent department and an opportunistic OSU defense vs. a mistake-prone offense is a recipe for a blowout.

5) Bulletin board material

"They have good skill guys, even though I think Maryland was better up front. They do not have as many skill players as Maryland, I will say that," WVU linebacker Jared Barber said in reference to Oklahoma State.

These are the types of things players never learn NOT to say before playing explosive offenses that might have previously been overlooking them.

 

Notables

• Last season West Virginia ranked 10th nationally in yards per game (502 ypg) and ninth in scoring at 39.5 points per contest. So far this season, Holgoren's troops rank 108th in scoring (18 ppg) and rank 71st in yards per game at 393.8.

• A win on Saturday would mark the fourth time in the past six years Oklahoma State has started 4-0 under coach Gundy.

• A win against WVU on Saturday would give OSU the all-time series advantage over the Mountaineers 3-2. West Virginia hasn't beaten the Cowboys since 1929.

• OSU has at least one touchdown drive lasting two minutes or less in each of its past 25 games and in 41 of its last 42 contests.

• Oklahoma State currently ranks in the Top 20 nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense. The Pokes rank 10th in scoring at 45.3 points per game and come in at No. 17 in the country defensively, having allowed just 13.7 points per contest.

• The aforementioned defensive number is actually even more impressive than the 13.7 points allowed might indicate. The Cowboys' starting defense has allowed just 13 points all season.

• Oklahoma State leads the nation in red zone efficiency, having scored 15 touchdowns in all 15 visits inside the 20.

• OSU has gained at least 400 yards in 28 of its past 29 contests.

• OSU has had 13 different receivers catch a pass in each of the past two games and seven Cowboys already have a touchdown reception.

• West Virginia will be rolling out its third starter at QB already this season against OSU. Florida State transfer Clint Trickett will get the nod under center and he is just 0-for-2 passing this season. He did start one game at FSU in 2011, throwing for 336 yards and three TDs in a loss against Clemson.

 

Prediction

Things aren't going well for Holgorsen and the Mountaineers and getting the shipped turned around against the No. 11 team in the country seems unlikely. Oklahoma State has lost its past three conference road games but all three were tougher than this trip to Morgantown.

The Mountaineers are coming off of a performance that will test the team's mettle, while the Pokes are focused on making a run at the conference title. The 18-point line in Vegas on this game has the makings of being way on the low end and OSU is smart enough to respect a Holgorsen-led offense, even though it has faced never-before-seen levels of ineptitude in 2013.

Score: Oklahoma State 45-17

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