MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia’s 2019 senior class was placed in an unenviable position well before its tough final season.
They came to West Virginia for a chance to win a conference title, and came painfully close to playing for it until back-to-back losses against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma to close out last season derailed those hopes. But even had the Mountaineers prevailed, this class still would have been burdened with being the leaders of a team dealing with a precipitous loss of talent.
In terms of NFL draft picks, they had little chance of comparing favorably with the class who came before them.
The challenges were multiplied for this group in the offseason as they were subjected to West Virginia’s first coaching change since 2011. Neal Brown came in with a vision that excites fans, freshmen and recruits, but the mantra “trust the climb” let the seniors know the majority of success was expected to take place without them.
Some chose not to buy in, as happens in any coaching change. Those who stuck around are determined to leave a legacy that goes beyond wins and losses.
“We’ve been totally invested, 100 percent,” said senior cornerback Keith Washington. “The younger guys on the team look up to you. When you buy in, those type of guys buy in.”
West Virginia’s seniors play their final home game when the Mountaineers (4-6, 2-5 Big 12) play host to Oklahoma State (7-3, 4-3) at noon Saturday. And while this season has not gone as they’d hoped, they still feel there is plenty to play for against the Cowboys.
For one, they’ve never beaten Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have won four straight in the series, including their erasure of a 17-point halftime deficit last season. Just as important, a win would keep West Virginia eligible for a bowl game heading into next Friday’s season finale at TCU.
“Think about it, we have a lot to play for,” said senior defensive end Reese Donahue. “Chance at a bowl game. Sending out the seniors right. The way things went down last year against Oklahoma State.
“Why would you not want to play as hard as you can and prepare as well as you can? We have what, 10 days guaranteed? After that we’re not guaranteed anything. Why would you not lay it on the line?”
Strange as it may sound, many of these seniors also have long-term goals yet to accomplish. Donahue said it is important to continue laying the foundation for a massive group of freshmen that could well contend for a Big 12 title by the time Senior Day 2022 rolls around.
“That’s something we talk about regularly. We’re here to set the standard,” Donahue said. “How they prepare and stuff like that. It’s important for us to set an example.”
Make the Pokes throw…
Last week West Virginia did a good job taking Kansas State out of its comfort zone, baiting the Wildcats into 39 pass attempts. With starting quarterback Spencer Sanders and top receiver Tylan Wallace both out and running back Chuba Hubbard leading the nation in rushing, there’s little question what the best defensive strategy will be in this game.
… but don’t get burned
Oklahoma State leads the country with 19 plays of at least 50 yards. Those explosions are balanced, too, with 11 coming via passes and eight on runs, including seven by Hubbard.
If it seems like this is listed as a key every week, well, you’re right. But it is especially true this week in particular. No one in the Big 12 has turned the ball over more than the Cowboys (18 giveaways), and the Mountaineers aren’t far behind (17).
With an 85 percent chance of rain forecast to hit Morgantown around the same time the fourth quarter should be underway, the pigskin may be slippery at a critical moment for two teams that have a penchant for giving it away.
PREDICTION: West Virginia 33, Oklahoma State 30