WVU Strolls Into Stillwater
OSU is first Big 12 task
MORGANTOWN — There are plenty of questions and maybe even more hype surrounding West Virginia University’s Big 12 Opener on Saturday in Stillwater, Ok., where the Mountaineers will face No. 15 Oklahoma State at 3:30 p.m. inside Boone Pickens Stadium.
The main questions are, will Cowboys’ starting sophomore quarterback Spencer Sanders be under center after suffering an ankle injury a week ago? And will WVU’s rushing attack continue to build off of the solid Week 1 performance or will it be a repeat of last year’s struggle?
We’ll soon find out.
Sanders was in a boot earlier in the week but Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy has not yet determined if he will start or go with freshman Shane Illingworth.
WVU coach Neal Brown and his staff are preparing for Sanders but will be ready for a game-time change.
“Spencer Sanders is a guy who can hurt you both ways,” Brown said. “I know he is questionable for the game but we are preparing as if he will play.
“I think what you do is prepare for the guy who started the year and if another guy plays, they will adjust and we’ll have to adjust.”
Sanders only attempted two passes in last week’s 16-7 victory over Tulsa, before giving way to a combination of Illingworth and junior Ethan Bullock.
Illingworth looked sharp, completing 4 of 5 for 74 yards, while Bullock went 8-for-13 for 41 yards and an interception.
“(Illingworth) came in the game last week and I thought he did a really nice job,” Brown said. “Anytime you come in the game and your first play from scrimmage you throw a touch fade, which is as hard of a throw as there is in football, and he did it. So if he does play against us, I don’t think the moment will be too big for him, but we’ll go back and watch high school film just to get a good understanding of who he is.”
The hype surrounding the game comes from the running back position where Cowboys’ star and last year’s Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, redshirt junior Chuba Hubbard will be lining up in hopes to make a run at a Heisman Trophy.
Hubbard was held in check for the most part last week, rushing for 93 yards and a score on 27 carries, breaking his 11-game 100-yard streak.
“Offensively they are extremely explosive, they play with a lot of tempo and are very talented at the skill positions,” Brown said of the Cowboys. “I think it starts with Chuba Hubbard. He is a Heisman candidate and his ability to break touchdowns, explosive plays at any time and his ability to break tackles is what really sets him apart in my opinion.
“He gets a lot of publicity for his rushing attack, which he should, but he beat us last year with his receiving skills, which says a lot about him.”
Despite Hubbard’s ability to catch the ball, the Cowboys’ main target at receiver is senior Tylan Wallace, who racked up 94 yards on four catches last week.
“I think he had a groin injury last week and still almost went for 100 yards,” Brown said of Wallace. “I think he is really a guy who is as good as any wideout in the country. I have a lot of respect for him.”
WVU Running Rampant
As for the Mountaineers, it was a nice breakout game to start the season for the rushing attack of juniors Leddie Brown and Alec Sinkfield, who each ran for 123 yards in a 56-10 walloping of Eastern Kentucky. It was the first time the Mountaineers had two 100-yard rushers in a game since 2017.
Coach Brown knows that Oklahoma State’s defense, however, is a step or two above Eastern Kentucky.
“Defensively, they’re underrated,” Brown said of the OSU defense. “From the midpoint of last season until now, they’ve created a lot of negative plays and they’ve created turnovers. Tulsa was 0-for-11 on third down last week and they have 10 of 11 starters back on a group that played really well down the stretch.
“They’ve been very good against the run, too. They held their opponents under their average last year in six or seven games and same with scoring, as well.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Jarret Doege proved he deserved to be the starter last week as he came out firing for 228 yards and three touchdowns on 19 of 25 passing for WVU.
His top target was sophomore Sam James who hauled in five passes for 72 yards and a score.
Senior linebackers Malcom Rodriguez and Amen Ogbongbemiga and a strong secondary will test the West Virginia duo this week.
“The strength of their defense is their ability to mix and match,” Brown said. “They give you a bunch of different looks. I think both linebackers are very good players. Rodriguez makes them go. He’s around the ball all of the time. Amen is very talented. He hurt us last year and he was in on a bunch of tackles.
“Secondary-wise I think they have at-least four NFL players in the back end. They played a lot more man coverage in the game on Saturday and I think that’s because they can.”
Sills Welcomes Former Team
The defensive line for WVU will be facing a familiar face it was used to going up against in practice.
Redshirt senior Josh Sills, a Meadowbrook graduate, transferred from WVU to Oklahoma State during the offseason and will get his first taste of his former team.
“We’re going to line up, he’s going to play offense and our defensive guys are going to go out there and play,” Brown said of going against his former player. “We wish him the best of luck. I don’t want to see a lot of success (from him) in this game but after that we wish him the best of luck.”
Gundy, on the other hand, is happy to have him on his side.
“Josh has been really good for us,” Gundy said. “He’s come in and competed. It took him quite a while to get back in shape. He was off and then the virus hit and he went back home and I think he hunted for three months, came back and had to get in shape again. But he’s been good for us. He likes to play football, he’s a good leader and a great person. So I’m certainly glad he is on our team.”