West Virginia closes its 2022 season Saturday with little more than pride on the line when the Mountaineers meet Oklahoma State at noon inside Boone Pickens Stadium.
The matchup, which airs on ESPN2, marks the final game of Neal Brown’s fourth season as head coach. Whether or not Brown remains coaching at WVU for another game beyond Saturday remains to be decided, likely in the near future following the hire of a Director of Athletics.
Brown is hopeful his team is hungry to end a seven-game skid to the Cowboys and is also aware the Mountaineers could knock off Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in the same season for the first time in program history.
“This is our last game. We don’t like it, but it is what it is,” Brown said. “This week is about gratitude and a lot of different things. We’re thankful for the opportunity to finish the season on a right note. This is the last week that this team will be together. We’ll make it good week and a fun week for the guys and I fully expect us to go out, play really hard and give ourselves a chance to win.”
Yet with bowl eligibility no longer at stake, West Virginia (4-7, 2-6) will have to find motivation from within following last week’s disappointing 48-31 loss to Kansas State, in which the Mountaineers trailed for nearly the entirety of the game.
Quarterback Garrett Greene will make his second career start and Brown said he would be intentional about utilizing more inexperienced players that can face the Cowboys and remain redshirted for the season.
“This is a really tough week for young football players,” Brown said. “The season is long and this is the first major holiday they haven’t been at home. For one game in our league, we’re allowed to travel more players. We’re going to travel more players and we’re going to be intentional about getting some guys in that we want to redshirt and are going to redshirt, but they have games. Special teams, offense and defense.”
Although he’s already used up his freshman season after redshirting last year, tailback Jaylen Anderson is one of the less experienced players expected to play a bigger role in today’s game. Anderson has rushed for 120 yards on 20 carries this season, including 69 on seven attempts against the Wildcats.
“I’ve stood here for two years and talked about how talented he is,” Brown said. “He just had to kind of put it together and now you’re seeing that. He is talented and he’ll get some more work this week. I’m excited about his potential.”
The Mountaineers are also expected to have wideout Kaden Prather back after he missed his first game of the season last week. Prather joins wideouts Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James as the team’s top pass-catchers and this could mark the final college football game or final game at West Virginia for each of the latter two.
West Virginia’s defense, which struggled mightily in the opening half of the loss to the Wildcats, will look to slow a Cowboys’ offense that’s sputtered over the last month.
Starting with a 48-0 loss to Kansas State on October 29, Oklahoma State (7-4, 4-4) has dropped three of its last four games and scored only 49 points over that time, including no more than 20 in any game.
The Cowboys were without quarterback Spencer Sanders for an early November loss at Kansas, though he’s returned to the lineup and threw 67 passes for 381 yards a week ago in a 28-13 loss to Oklahoma.
Spencer, who was intercepted four times against the Sooners, was also the team’s top rusher with 42 yards.
“It’s the same system they’ve been running for a long time,” Brown said. “You’re going to see the same plays. They’re going to play fast. They want to establish the run. As Spencer Sanders goes, they go. He’s been banged up and didn’t play his best game last week, but I fully expect him to bounce back. He played probably as well as I’ve seen him play early in the year and they were rolling offensively. They’ve had some injuries up front, but their skill guys are talented like always.”
OSU was 5-0 at one point, before an overtime loss to TCU and several key injuries began a downward spiral for the Cowboys.
Still, Oklahoma State is assured of its 18th consecutive winning season in what marks Mike Gundy’s 19th straight year as head coach.
The Cowboys have a 14-game win streak at home dating back to October 2020.
“They’ve had some adversity in the second half of the season,” Brown said. “They’ve had a lot of injuries, but it’s a group that plays a whole lot better at home.”