MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Oklahoma State is without starting quarterback Spencer Sanders for the rest of the season, but West Virginia coach Neal Brown does not expect that to make matters any easier for the Mountaineers when the Cowboys visit on Saturday afternoon.
Sanders underwent thumb surgery this week, setting up Dru Brown as Oklahoma State’s presumptive starter against the Mountaineers.
When it comes to playing the position, Brown is the farthest thing from being green. Much like West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege, Brown has a host of experience playing the position for a Group of Five program.
Brown started 23 games in two seasons at Hawaii, passing for 5,496 yards with 40 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Also similarly to Doege, Brown is a mobile quarterback even though he’s not necessarily a speed demon. Brown has gained 326 yards and six touchdowns on 149 career rushing attempts.
“He’s a fifth-year senior. He’s experienced. He can run, just like the Sanders kid,” Neal Brown said on his Thursday night radio show. “I don’t think it changes anything.”
With or without Sanders, the Cowboys intent is to establish the running game around Chuba Hubbard, the nation’s leading rusher.
“They’re built on running. Chuba is physical and durable,” Brown said. “They’re built around their offensive line and him.”
Oklahoma State leads the Big 12 with 19 plays of at least 50 yards this season. Oklahoma, the next-closest team, has 11 such plays.
Four-man fun, Part I
West Virginia’s defense came out with a major wrinkle against Kansas State, playing the majority of the game with four down linemen after spending almost the entire season in a three-man front.
“It was fun,” said defensive lineman Reese Donahue. “It was really enjoyable to be out there with almost everybody. It felt like everyone got a piece of the action instead of a couple guys are in, a couple guys are rotating out.”
The reasoning was simple enough since the Wildcats use fullbacks and two tight ends with more frequency than most of the Big 12. But playing in a 4-2-5 really highlighted the strengths of defensive end Jeffrey Pooler. Though he only finished with two tackles, both came behind the line of scrimmage. Pooler frequently harrassed K-State quarterback Skylar Thompson throughout the game.
“Having a four-down front really set us up for a lot of 1-on-1’s for me to get into the backfield,” Pooler said. “They couldn’t double-team certain ways. It set up real well for us.
“Each week, Coach Vic and the defensive staff do a good job of getting us in the best position to make plays. We have a versatile defense. Guys who can do a lot and move a lot.”
It wasn’t without its challenges. The Mountaineers rotated five linemen to play those four spots, increasing everyone’s typical snap count.
“It was hard,” Donahue said. “Depth is an issue when you play four guys. But it was a lot of fun.”
Four-man fun, Part II
For the first time since beating Kansas in the Big 12 opener, the Mountaineers made positive progress in the running game at Kansas State. Though they finished with 85 rushing yards on paper, they gained 103 when sacks and the game-ending kneel-down are removed from the stats.
Part of that was because of a reworked interior line. Junior Chase Behrndt took over for freshman Briason Mays at center, while Mike Brown played his best game at left guard while James Gmiter continued to grow into his new spot at right guard.
But what may have helped even more was West Virginia finally getting to play against a four-man defensive front. It seems little coincidence that WVU’s five-game losing streak coincided with playing against three-man fronts featuring hefty nose tackles who dwarfed the Mountaineers’ first-year starter at center.
“All year, those guys have had a head-up nose over them,” said senior left tackle Colton McKivitz said. “Just seeing a different front was kind of a relief for the centers. Seeing that extra space, we were able to get some outside runs on them and move with relative speed inside on the O-line. A different look was nice to see.”
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, the respite from three-man fronts will be short. Oklahoma State primarily plays with three-down linemen.
The biggest star in Saturday’s game is Hubbard, the Oklahoma State running back who hails from Alberta, Canada.
“Canadian football is underrated,” Brown said.
As it turns out, the location of multiple Tim Horton’s locations in Morgantown may soon be working to Brown’s benefit on the recruiting trail.
“That’s an area we’ve pinpointed in recruiting,” Brown said. “You may see some movement in December.”
The Mountaineers already have one Canadian on the roster in defensive back Alonzo Addae, who has impressed on the scout team as he sits out after transferring from New Hampshire.
WVU is in pursuit of a pair of native Canadians playing their high school football in Florida — defensive ends Akheem Mesidor and Wesley Bailey.
West Virginia will wear gold helmets, blue jerseys and gold pants against Oklahoma State.
— West Virginia Football (@WVUfootball) November 21, 2019