Each week, MetroNews will hear from a writer who covers West Virginia’s opponent. Today we’re joined by Gina Mizell of The Daily Oklahoman, for whom she covers Oklahoma State. You can follow her on Twitter (@ginamizell):
MetroNews: Whereas most offenses would be paralyzed by losing a starting QB, the Oklahoma State attack keeps humming along whether it’s Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh or Clint Chelf making the throws. How does Todd Monken do it, and who do you expect to start Saturday?
Mizell: OSU has certainly had more than its fair share of tough injury breaks at the quarterback position this season. The Cowboys have also been hit particularly hard at receiver, where top target Tracy Moore suffered a serious ankle injury in the first half of the Kansas game on Oct. 13 and fellow starter Isaiah Anderson has been slowed by a finger injury for the past four games. But you’re right, for the most part, the offense has still been one of the best in the nation. A lot of that is a credit to the system, which West Virginia fans of course know well. Having arguably the best running back in the Big 12 in Joseph Randle is also a huge help, because it keeps the offense balanced and takes pressure off of whoever is playing quarterback. Josh Stewart has become a versatile weapon at receiver because of his ability to make plays in space, and guys like Charlie Moore (four straight games with a receiving touchdown) and true freshman Austin Hays have stepped up in place of injured players.
I tend to believe Chelf will start Saturday, based on how Wes Lunt looked on the sideline Saturday night. But Gundy and Monken said Lunt was expected to practice this week, so perhaps the injury wasn’t as serious as originally thought. Nothing would surprise me at this point.
MetroNews: Arkansas reportedly is targeting Mike Gundy as its next head coach. Having taken OSU to unprecedented success, could Gundy leave his alma mater? And how much does the perception of playing second fiddle to Oklahoma affect Gundy’s decision?
Mizell: Gundy signed a lucrative contract extension in January and just moved into a new house in Stillwater. His family is very rooted in Oklahoma. His parents and his wife’s parents all sit in the back of the room for every home postgame press conference. I know he believes those family relationships are important for his three boys. Gundy also has some of the best facilities in college football in Stillwater, and national respect after taking OSU to its first Big 12 title, a BCS bowl win and four straight seasons with at least nine victories. Never say never, of course. I don’t know if he’d be enticed by Arkansas or Tennessee or any of the other jobs that could come open after the season. But I do know Gundy is happy coaching his alma mater and living in Oklahoma.
MetroNews: The Cowboys defense has given up 40-plus points three times and is way off last year’s pace in forcing turnovers. What’s the lowdown on the unit?
Mizell: The defense itself has actually given up more than 40 points just one time–against Arizona in Week 2. Against Texas, a kickoff return for a touchdown helped put the ‘Horns over 40, and against K-State, Wes Lunt threw a pick-six and the Cowboys gave up another kick return for a touchdown.
With that said, the defense has been an interesting unit this season. It is much improved in some of the more conventional areas–it is forcing more punts and giving up fewer yards than last season. The interior of the defensive line (especially JC transfer Calvin Barnett) and linebackers have been good against the run. But the secondary, particularly cornerback Justin Gilbert, has struggled. That’s where you can pinpoint the lack of turnovers. Last season, Gilbert and fellow starter Brodrick Brown combined for 10 interceptions. This season, they don’t have any. The Cowboys’ goal is to force three turnovers per game. They’ve done that just once this season. OSU has also had trouble defending the deep ball at times this season. Overall, the defense has not been great this season, but it hasn’t been terrible, either. Average to good.
MetroNews: With both teams out of the Big 12 race, this game will establish some of the pecking order for bowls. What’s your final-score prediction for Saturday and where do you think OSU will wind up in the postseason?
Mizell: I like OSU to win a close game at home, mostly because it is better on the defensive side of the ball. Let’s go with a 41-34 final. It’ll certainly be an interesting game, though, considering the similarities on offense and Joe DeForest’s familiarity with the Cowboy players.
I think OSU will wind up in either the Alamo, Buffalo Wild Wings or Holiday Bowl. Since the BWW is the middle of those three, let’s go with that.
5. When it comes to good eats in Stillwater, you’re on record as recommending The Barn, Eskimo Joe’s and Hideaway Pizza. What can Mountaineers fans expect from these establishments?
Mizell: Eskimo Joe’s is pretty well-known nationwide, or at least in this part of the country, because of its t-shirts with the smiling eskimos and souvenir cups. It’s within walking distance of the stadium and a great spot to soak in the pregame atmosphere and eat some cheese fries with sweet pepper bacon. Hideaway is my favorite restaurant in town, though. It’s an Oklahoma pizza/Italian chain, but the original is in Stillwater and it is delicious. There are several Italian dishes, but I’ve only gotten the pizza, because there are so many different options to choose from. The Barn is a hilarious spot because it’s just that–a barn. In reality, it’s a drive-thru drink joint, but you drive through the middle of the barn. Of course, you can get alcoholic beverages, but they also have great flavored sodas and such. It’s on Washington Street, or “The Strip,” which is where you’ll want to be for postgame shenanigans.