Guerin Emig: In OSU’s last stumble at Milan Puskar Stadium, a 20-13 conference-opening loss a decade ago in which J.W. Walsh's mistakes prompted a quarterback revisit. Ten years later, Alan Bowman has settled all sorts of early-season quarterback indecision.
So it’s on to Morgantown for the hottest Big 12 team this side of Oklahoma. What to make of OSU’s longest road trip of the season?
Not much if you judge recent history.
The Cowboys won at West Virginia two years ago when the Mountaineers’ offense couldn’t get out of first gear.
They won at WVU four years ago, when Chuba Hubbard brought them home in the second half.
They won at WVU six year ago, when Mason Rudoph outdueled Will Grier.
They won at WVU eight years ago, when J.W. Walsh scored in overtime.
We have to rewind a decade for OSU’s last stumble at Milan Puskar Stadium, a 20-13 conference-opening loss in which Walsh threw two game-turning interceptions to prompt a quarterback reconsideration.
Ten years later, Alan Bowman has settled all sorts of early-season quarterback indecision. That’s among the advantages in OSU’s bid for a fifth straight successful journey to Appalachia.
One player: Brennan Presley
Story No. 1 in the Cowboys’ takedown of Kansas last week was Ollie Gordon’s excellence. No. 2 was Collin Oliver’s second-half surge. No. 3 was the defense’s second-half turnaround. No. 4 was Bowman’s 336-yard, 0-interception stewardship.
THEN we finally got around to a fifth significant development – the biggest impact this season from one of OSU’s most lethal weapons.
“We need to get him involved more,” Mike Gundy said of Presley the week of the OSU-Kansas State game for what felt like the 100th time. “He needs to get the ball more.”
Presley got the ball more in the Cowboys’ upset of K-State. He caught it, ran it and even threw it once.
Then cme Kansas. Presley caught eight passes for 79 yards, his highest totals since last year’s Bedlam, and added the game-winning fourth-quarter touchdown on a 6-yard fly sweep.
The week of the KU game, Presley said: “If they want to take me away, then somebody else is open, they have man coverage, we’re gonna run the ball, things like that. As long as we’re out there performing and winning, that’s all that really matters to me.”
Thing is, Presley’s involvement and OSU’s success are tied together. The Cowboys need to keep feeding him at West Virginia.
He had six touches (all catches) in the offense two years ago, and the Pokes cruised because of their overwhelming defense.
Absent an overwhelming defense Saturday, Presley should double his touches from 2021.
One problem: Suddenly, the Mountaineers can sling it
Quarterbacks Garrett Greene and Nicco Marchiol spent the first six weeks of the season with injured ankles and ineffective stat lines, leaving West Virginia with one of the worst pass offenses in FBS.
So it was wild to watch Greene throw it all over the Houston Cougars in WVU’s last game. He went 20-of-38 for 391 yards and two touchdowns, the last a 50-yarder with 12 seconds left to put the Mountaineers ahead 39-35 (they would lose on a Hail Mary moments later).
The question for the Cowboys: Was that an anomaly made possible by Houston’s poor pass defense? Or a sign that Greene has reached a confident comfort zone?
Either way it complicates the week for OSU defensive coordinator Bryan Nardo, who already had his hands full against CJ Donaldson and a West Virginia rushing attack averaging 186 yards per game.
One preposterous prediction: OSU wins the ‘Helmet Game’
West Virginia blew the Houston game not just because of lax Hail Mary defense but because Greene removed his helmet on the field to celebrate his late touchdown pass, drawing a 15-yard penalty enforced on the ensuing kickoff. That became 15 significant yards of field position that set up Houston’s answered prayer.
We discovered after Saturday’s game that Gundy shared Greene’s postgame comments – “I messed that one up. If they’re 15 yards back, that last play probably doesn’t happen” – with the Cowboys as an instructional tool last week. The reason we find out is that Bowman hits Presley for a go-ahead touchdown with 12 seconds left in Morgantown, and several Cowboys are seen racing around the field while holding their helmets in place.
They come off 12 seconds later when WVU’s last play, a multi-lateral unanswered prayer starting from their own 25-yard line, signals a last-second OSU victory. The Pokes do their share of helmet-less yapping on their way toward the tunnel, but it’s all perfectly legal and perfectly deserved.
They win for the third time in three weeks in what goes down in Cowboys history as the “Helmet Game.”
One pick: Pokes 33, Eers 30