by Jim Buzzerd
The West Virginia University football team dives into the 2020 Big 12 football schedule headfirst this Saturday when travel to Stillwater, Oklahoma to face Oklahoma State. The game is scheduled to begin at 3:30 and televised on ABC. The Cowboys struggled to a 16-7 win over Tulsa in their opener last Saturday, in part due to the loss of starting quarterback Spencer Sanders with a first quarter lower leg injury. His status for Saturday is unknown, but he’s not expected to practice until Wednesday.
Reports have circulated that Sanders suffered a high ankle sprain. If that’s the case, it is unlikely that Sanders could go Saturday, or at least be effective as a dual threat quarterback. There was a noticeable drop on the Cowboy offensive output with backup quarterback Ethan Bullock. OSU was better when true freshman Shane Illingworth entered the game. Illingworth is a four-star recruit from California and had just come out of quarantine from COVID-19. Expect Cowboy’s coach Mike Gundy to be coy this week as to who will be the starter.
I’ve seen many Mountaineer fans looking at the result of the OSU game as a sign that this game is more winnable than previously thought. Betting line projected that to some degree when the opening line came out with WVU as a six-point underdog. The line quickly moved to 8 ½ points. I would tend to agree that I like the Mountaineers’ chances more now than I did prior to Saturday, especially without Sanders. That doesn’t mean I’m predicting an upset though. OSU has great personnel, even if they didn’t perform well Saturday.
West Virginia looked good in their opener against Eastern Kentucky, but there is no way to take anything away from that game. The biggest question mark coming into the season for WVU was the offensive line. Despite rushing well against EKU, those results are not really of significance. Same thing for the West Virginia secondary. Eastern Kentucky was unable to challenge with any type of passing game. Even if the true freshman Illingworth gets the call Saturday, the secondary will be challenged. Illingworth completed 4-of-5 passes for 74 yards against Tulsa, leading OSU to 13 unanswered points to seal the victory.
WVU head coach Neal Brown said, “We’ll game plan as if Sanders is going to play. I think that is how you have to go about it. We’ll adjust if he doesn’t, but we’ll game plan as if he is going to play. He has elite speed for the quarterback position. You could see that on a couple of the runs he had early in the contest on Saturday, but also in the games last year. He is a threat on scrambles and on called runs.”
In other news, The WVU Department of Athletics announced Monday that next Saturday’s Big 12 home opener vs. Baylor will be played in front of families of players and coaches only. It will be similar to the season opener vs. Eastern Kentucky, which saw just 976 fans inside Milan Puskar Stadium. The game will kick off at noon and be televised by ABC.