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How to Defeat the Oklahoma State Cowboys

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Mississippi v Oklahoma State Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Alright, ladies and gentlemen, the holidays are over and it is time to look to what the Hokies will face in the Camping World Bowl.

The Oklahoma State Cowboys are host to Mason Rudolph. Mason is the QB leading the FBS in passing yards. Rudolph is a senior and closing out his third season as the starter for OKST. He leads the nation’s number one passing offense regarding yards per game, averaging 392.3. The Cowboys feature the number two overall offensive effort referencing total offensive yards per game, averaging 576. They’re also no slouch when it comes to points per game. Clocking in at number three Oklahoma State averages 46.3 points per game.

Joining Mason, as top offensive performers in the FBS, are a pair of wide receivers and a running back. James Washington has the third most receiving yards (1423 yards), 12 touchdowns, and averages an astounding 20.6 yards per reception. Marcell Ateman also has over 1000 yards receiving and stands as the number 18 receiver with 1049 yards. He has eight TDs and an average of 19.4 yards per catch. On the ground RB Justice Hill rounds out the offensive attack as the 18th overall rusher with 1347 yards. He has 14 rushing TDs and averages an impressive 5.5 yards per carry.

Rudolph has several impressive performances, but his best game came against an ACC foe – the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Cowboys blasted the Panthers, 59-21, and Mason had a career game. His overall passer rating was an absurd 247.6. He was 23-32 (0.72), 497 yards, threw five TDs, and only tossed one interception. His worst game came during Oklahoma State’s midseason match up against the Texas Longhorns. That game showcased an uncharacteristic low scoring Big 12 matchup, but OKST won during OT, 13-10. Against Texas Mason’s rating was only 128.1 and he went 25-38 (0.66), 282 yards, and threw zero TDs and INTs. Both Rudolph’s best and worst performances were victories for the Cowboys. What about their losses?

Oklahoma State only lost to three teams: TCU (31-44), Oklahoma (52-62), and Kansas State (40-45). The Horned Frogs rock the number 52 overall offense with 415 yards per game. But, TCU has the number 19 overall defense with 329 YPG and they have the 75th passing defense at 228.7 YPG. The Oklahoma Sooners own the number one overall offense, earning 583 YPG. Defensively they are much more mortal, with the No. 57 overall defense (385 YPG) and the No. 88 passing defense (240.6 YPG). The Kansas State Wildcats are quite the outlier. K-State carried the overall 96th offense (368 YPG), 98th overall defense (432 YPG), and the 129th – wow! – passing defense (310.2 YPG).

Looking at the above it seems that there isn’t any specific common denominator. OKST lost to a top tier, middle tier, and bottom tier offense. Defensively it’s also hard nail down any cohesion. TCU has a higher tier overall defense, Oklahoma is middle tier, and KSU is bottom tier. When looking at their passing defense, the Cowboy’s clear offensive strength, all three teams are in the bottom half. Is there anything that joins these teams that defeated Oklahoma State?

Well, there does seem to be some commonality. Texas Christian boasts the No. 4 overall rushing defense, allowing only 99.8 YPG, an average of 2.8 yards, and only six total TDs on the year! Kansas State checks in with the No. 18 overall rushing defense, allowing only 121.8 yards per game. KSU’s average per carry drops off to No. 30 when looking at yards per carry with 3.6. Oklahoma is middle tier at No. 40 with 144.2 YPG and at No. 44 with 4.0 YPC. Now let’s throw Texas into the mix, a game that OKST almost lost. They have the No. 6 rushing defense with 105.7 YPG and only 2.9 YPC.

QB pressure also is of interest. TCU ranks at No. 5 (tied) with 41 sacks on the season, Oklahoma and Kansas State are both tied at No. 63 with 24, and Texas is tied with multiple teams at No. 36 with 30. TCU scored three sacks and two QB hurries. Oklahoma also had three sacks, but only one QB hurry. Kansas State had the most with four sacks, but only one QB hurry. Texas had two sacks and one QB hurry. That is 12 sacks total. Mason Rudolph has only been sacked 21 times this season. 57% of his sacks came in the three games that OKST lost and the one they almost lost.

In the three losses and the OT win there was only one defensive / special teams score. Kansas State ripped off a punt return, which to be fair, was needed to carry them to their five-point win. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s hard to imply that defensive / special teams scoring was key in OKST’s losses.

Time of possession was indicative. In all three losses the Cowboys were in the deficit for TOP. TCU had the ball for 39:04, KSU had it for 35:01, and Oklahoma had it for 35:41. The OT game against Texas fell in OKST’s favor, with the Longhorns only holding the ball for 25:45 (in regulation).

Another thing to look at is how effective the big play was against the Cowboys. Texas had zero big plays and lost. Of Texas Christian’s five TDs two were big plays of 28 yards and 41 yards. But, Oklahoma and Kansas State scored most of their touchdowns on big plays. Of Oklahoma’s impressive eight TDs five came from big plays of 49, 84, 43, 77, and 53 yards. Kansas State scored five of their six TDs from big plays, including the punt return mentioned above, the Wildcats scored on plays of 47, 89, 39, 46, and 60 yards.

It seems that Oklahoma won by out-offense-ing the Cowboys in a wild shootout. The other two teams they lost to and Texas were able to keep it close, or win, by a combination of keeping the rush in-check, owning the ball, scoring on big plays, and getting to the quarterback.

Mason Rudolph and the Oklahoma State Cowboys represent the best offense and quarterback that the Hokies have faced this season. Dear readers, you might be surprised to know that the Hokies have faced some top-tier passing offenses and walked away with a win. Referencing yards per game the West Virginia Mountaineers, quarterbacked by Will Grier, have the No. 12 overall passing offense with 324.8 YPG. Virginia Tech won, 31-24. The East Carolina Pirates had the No. 13 passing offense with 317.9 YPG. VT won 64-17. The Fighting Gobblers faced three other top half passing offenses during the season. The Virginia Cavaliers have the No. 42 passing offense with 257.3 YPG. VT blanked that squad, 10-0. The VPI losses are painful. Two of the Hokies three losses came from top half passing offenses. Clemson has the No. 53 passing attack (244.1 YPG) while the Miami-Florida Hurricanes have the No. 51 passing attack (245.8 YPG). The Hokies definitively lost those games, 31-17 and 28-10, respectively.

So, why did the Hokies defeat two top-tier passing offenses, but lose to others? The answer is clear. Opponent’s defense. The Pirates had one of the more potent offensive attacks in the entire FBS, but they also shared that badge with the absolute worst defense in the FBS. Out of 130 FBS squads ECU ranks at No. 130 in yards per game allowed at 542. As a result, despite having the 13th best passing attack, the Pirates finished the season 3-9. West Virginia barely ranks higher with an overall defense ranking at 111th, allowing 453 YPG. As a result, WVU finished 7-5.

What of VT’s losses? Although they are statistically ranked at No. 6 with 278 YPG the Clemson Tigers arguably have the best defense in the entirety of the FBS. Miami rolls in the with No. 33 overall defense with an allowed 354 YPG. Even Georgia Tech, with all their struggles, rocks the No. 40 defense with 360 YPG!

The Oklahoma State Cowboys have the number 73 overall defense, allowing 400 yards per game. The Virginia Tech Hokies have the number 12 overall defense, only allowing 305 YPG. The Hokies feature the 21st passing defense with 187.2 YPG. Potentially more important, VT sports the No. 16 rushing defense, only allowing 118.1 YPG. The Hokies are tied for 39th in sacks with 29 on the season.

If VPI wants to win the Camping World Bowl the plan shouldn’t deviate from where the Hokies have already found success. The defense will be key, but this is unwinnable if the offense doesn’t contribute. With players like Mason Rudolph, James Washington, and Marcell Ateman featured in the passing attack the Hokies need to be prepared to accept two or three big scoring plays. But, the defense needs to be prepared to stuff the run and pressure the quarterback. Beyond that, the offense must come to play. As shown in their three losses the Cowboys are susceptible to big scoring plays. With Cam Phillips and Travon McMillian being out for the bowl game the Hokies will be bereft of experience and their only consistent legitimate big play threat. VT’s offense must adopt the “next man up” mentality and not succumb to the desire of being conservative. It’s time for young men like Eric Kumah, Sean Savoy, Jalen Holston, Deshawn McClease, and Coleman Fox to step up. The future is now, gentlemen, and for the Hokies to win the offense must do their part by keeping Rudolph off the field.

Virginia Tech’s defense is the best Oklahoma State has had to face. The Cowboy offense is the best the Hokies have had to face. What does VPI need to do to win?

Keep OKST’s rushing attack at mortal numbers.

Pressure Mason Rudolph.

Keep the opposing offense off the field.

Expect and plan for the Cowboys to score 27 points.

Don’t lose heart when there are multiple big play scores.

The offense must score 31 points against the overall No. 73 defense in the league.

If the Hokies do these things they will win. So... Hokies... do these things...

Go Hokies!!!


Who will win the Camping World Bowl?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    The Virginia Tech Hokies!
    (110 votes)
  • 53%
    The Oklahoma State Cowboys...
    (129 votes)
239 votes total Vote Now