STILLWATER, Okla. — A second straight week in which Oklahoma State attempts to play the roll of Big 12 spoiler will involve a visit Saturday from No. 9 West Virginia to Boone Pickens Stadium.
The Cowboys, aware of their positioning as a 5-5 team, came within a two-point conversion of effectively removing Oklahoma from the College Football Playoff chase. That bid fell short in a 48-47 road defeat, but Oklahoma State will get to pose another threat to a Big 12 co-leader in spite of a 2-5 mark in the conference.
“I know what we expect to see from Oklahoma State. They are scary,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, a former assistant for Cowboys coach Mike Gundy.
“They can score points and look really good. I think some of it is the up and down in the Big 12 Conference. You have to be ready to play every week. We expect to get their best.”
A victory would give West Virginia (8-1, 6-1 Big 12) a shot at its first Big 12 title in a Nov. 23 clash against No. 6 Oklahoma, which plays host to last-place Kansas on Saturday.
Heisman Trophy candidate Will Grier has maintained a torrid pace for the Mountaineers. The senior quarterback has thrown for 300 yards in all but one game, a 100-yard passing performance in West Virginia’s only loss, at Iowa State.
Grier, who ranks fourth nationally with a 329-yard average, is even on an uptick, according to his coach.
“He is coming off his best performance yet. He played lights out and controlled the whole game,” Holgorsen said of his QB’s effort against TCU, a 47-10 home win that did not push the Mountaineers higher in the College Football Playoff standings.
“Gary Patterson does great job coaching (the TCU defense) and he puts guys in position to make plays. We got after them pretty good and scored 47. That doesn’t happen to TCU very often. (Grier) was as accurate as he has been here. He had like five drops and only missed two passes.”
Management of any game played at Pickens Stadium can be tricky because of how the teams are confined to little room along their sideline. The Cowboys, however, have tumbled in four of their last six conference home games, including losses this season to Texas Tech and Iowa State.
Offensive balance could be key for West Virginia considering Oklahoma State allowed 400-plus yards in the first half at Oklahoma before attempting a frantic comeback behind quarterback Taylor Cornelius, who passed for 501 yards, including 220 on 10 receptions by sophomore receive Tylan Wallace.
Wallace, a Biletnikoff Award candidate, will oppose another semifinalist for that honor, West Virginia senior David Sills.
Cornelius is a rare breed, a quarterback who remained in the same program before finally getting his shot as a fifth-year senior. By contrast, Grier is a Florida transfer.
“The guy is a competitor, he is tough. He takes a lot of hits, keeps fighting, never gives up and made a lot of plays,” Gundy said. “(Cornelius) is a ‘salt of the earth,’ ‘blue collar,’ small West Texas kid. Probably raised a little differently than some kids nowadays. The values that have been instilled in him with his mom and dad were, ‘You need to do what you are supposed to do and figure it out,’ and that’s what he did. It’s worked out well for him.”
West Virginia will attempt to blend a ground game that employs multiple backs. Grier will be working against a young Oklahoma State secondary, though the Cowboys rank third nationally in sacks (36), including nine by defensive end Jordan Brailford, the Big 12 leader.
Oklahoma State junior running back Justice Hill, the leading rusher in the Big 12 last season, is expected to return from a rib injury that limited him to five attempts against Oklahoma.