West Virginia's rise aided by limiting opponents' strengths

BY foxsports • October 25, 2016

Neutralizing the strengths of Big 12 opponents has fueled West Virginia's rise into the Top 10.

No. 10 West Virginia's best start in a decade has been crafted mostly at home with conference wins over Kansas State and TCU in Morgantown sandwiched around a manhandling of Texas Tech on the road.

On Saturday, coach Dana Holgorsen will head back to familiar ground when the Mountaineers (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) take on his former boss Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State (5-2, 3-1). Holgorsen was Gundy's offensive coordinator in the 2010 season.

''Always a fun trip to go to Stillwater,'' Holgorsen said Tuesday. The Cowboys ''could easily be sitting at 7-0, and that's the way we've got to approach it.''

Oklahoma State's Mason Rudolph is the third straight opposing quarterback averaging at least 320 passing yards per game.

West Virginia's defense, which had its hiccups early in the season, has been stellar in blowout wins over Texas Tech and TCU. The Mountaineers held national passing leader Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech and Kenny Hill of TCU far under their season averages. Hill had a season-low 148 yards.

While West Virginia lost to Oklahoma State a year ago in overtime, Rudolph completed just half of his pass attempts and threw three interceptions.

''Mason Rudolph is probably the best pocket passer that we have in our league,'' Holgorsen said. ''We've got to make sure we know where he's at at all times.''

The Mountaineers' success so far has been more than just about slowing opposing quarterbacks.

Kansas State had the nation's top defense when it came to Morgantown for their Oct. 1 conference opener and held West Virginia scoreless in the first half. The Mountaineers rebounded with key third- and fourth-down conversions to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, finished with 420 yards and won 17-16.

West Virginia's offense has had no turnovers in two straight games.

But clearly the defense has been the team's strength during the Big 12 portion of the schedule.

Two of West Virginia's last three opponents compiled no more than 300 total yards of offense. Texas Tech and TCU managed a combined 27 points. The Mountaineers combined for seven sacks in those two games after getting five in their previous five.

TCU played four snaps on offense in the third quarter last week as West Virginia built a big lead and ran time off the clock in the second half.

''All you hear about in this league is offenses,'' said West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson. ''Right now our recipe has been run the ball and play defense. And they continue just every week to come out and perform. Knock on wood, hopefully we can keep it rolling.''

And ignore whatever hype is thrown their way.

''I think we've got a group of kids that understands where we're at,'' Holgorsen said. ''Our job is the same going into Game Seven as it was going into Game One. You prepare all week and you practice hard, get yourself into position to play on Saturday, and then go play. Based on what people are saying or the attention, I can assure you, has no impact on them whatever.''

''That message has been sent loud and clear.''

Follow John Raby on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jraby-ap

More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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