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Tuesday, September 2, 2014
OSU, WVU look to build off openers

By Jake Trotter

Oklahoma State and West Virginia might both be 0-1.

But the way they lost their openers has completely changed the outlook for the rest of their seasons.

For the better, too.

The Cowboys took defending national champion Florida State to the wire. The Mountaineers went toe-to-toe with second-ranked Alabama.

Kevin White, Bradley Sylve
West Virginia's Kevin White had nine receptions for 143 yards and a touchdown against Alabama.
 Before last weekend, Oklahoma State was thought to be in rebuilding mode. Facing a brutal schedule, West Virginia seemed headed for another year without a bowl.

Not anymore in Stillwater.

And not anymore in Morgantown.

“They should be able to establish a certain level of confidence from the way we played,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said of his team. “The second half we were very competitive. Once they got up and going and realized they could play with the speed that Florida State brought to the table, they were much better. And so I think there’s a certain amount of confidence they should have developed from that game.”

The Mountaineers should take plenty of confidence out of their opener with Alabama, too.

West Virginia went into Atlanta almost a four-touchdown underdog. But on the first drive, the Mountaineers took it right to the Crimson Tide. Rushel Shell grinded out tough yards between the tackles, while quarterback Clint Trickett fired completions all over the field. The opening drive stalled inside the Alabama 5-yard line, leading to a field goal. But the Crimson Tide quickly learned they’d have a fight on their hands.

“We’re not interested in any moral victories,” Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said Monday. “But we felt like we could play with those guys. And went into the game with a good frame of mind that was going to happen. And it did.”

Coming off an injury-riddled year in which he was still learning Holgorsen’s offense, Trickett looked like a completely different quarterback. With perfect poise and even more perfect hair, he completed 29 of 45 passes for 365 yards -- the second-highest passing total a Nick Saban defense had ever allowed at Alabama.

“Clint is a completely different quarterback than he was last year,” West Virginia receiver Jordan Thompson told reporters after the game. “People are basing our team off of what we were last year. We were inexperienced last year. Everybody now has a year under their belts. We’re healthier, stronger, faster, a little bigger, but most of all we’re more experienced, and Clint’s the No. 1 difference.”

Mario Alford and Kevin White were difference-makers, too. Against one of the top-rated defensive backfields in the country, White showed he could flourish as West Virginia’s first go-to wideout since Stedman Bailey. White hauled in nine receptions for 143 yards and a 19-yard touchdown pass. Alford, meanwhile, kick-started a return unit that ranked last in the Big 12 last fall, returning a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

Defensively, the Mountaineers should get better, too. They struggled to contain Alabama’s powerful rushing attack up front. But at the back end Karl Joseph finished with 18 tackles and Daryl Worley pick off a pass, underscoring the playmaking West Virginia will have in its secondary this season.

Ultimately, the Mountaineers dropped too many passes and coughed up too many touchdown chances to pull off the upset. But along the way, they learned they can play with anyone in the country, which should do wonders for a program that has struggled the past season-and-a-half.

“Our guys are in a good place right now,” Holgorsen said. “That’s the standard that we need to play with. And if we can play with that kind of mentality the whole year, we’ll have a good team.”

J.W. Walsh
After a slow start, J.W. Walsh and the Cowboys regrouped against defending champion Florida State.
 If the Cowboys continue playing the way they did in Arlington, Texas, they might have a great team.

With the fewest returning starters among any team from a Power 5 conference, Oklahoma State’s young squad seemed to be on the verge of getting blown out after falling behind 17-0 in the second quarter.

Instead, the Cowboys hung tough. Quarterback J.W. Walsh settled down after a rocky start. Tyreek Hill began running away from anyone wearing a white Seminoles jersey. And Oklahoma State’s defensive line began imposing its will against Heisman winner Jameis Winston and a Florida State offensive line starting five seniors.

"We saw our team grow a little bit and mature," Gundy said. "I wasn't really sure how a number of players would react, and I think we learned that they'll fight and compete. We were in a really tough situation at one point, being down 17 points to a really good football team, but they kept their focus. I was proud of them for that."

Every time Florida State made a play, the Cowboys answered. And only after the Seminoles -- who won every regular-season game last season by least two touchdowns -- recovered an onside kick in the final minutes could they rest easy.

The Cowboys figure to be favored in at least their next five games, with the key tilt coming Sept. 25 at home against Texas Tech. And as Saturday showed, Oklahoma State has the pieces to transform its season outlook from rebuilder to Big 12 contender.

"We've got a lot of things to work on, and we had our mistakes, but there's obviously a lot of talent,” said slot receiver David Glidden, who hauled in a 55-yard touchdown bomb against the Seminoles. “There are a lot of guys who can play the game of football pretty well.”

The Cowboys and Mountaineers didn’t win Saturday. But based on how they played, plenty of victories could be on the way.