No Big 12 team has figured out a way to crack West Virginia’s defense this season. Three have tried. All three have failed to score 20 points. The Mountaineers' next foe, Oklahoma State, might have the goods to get the job done.
The key to the Cowboys pulling off an upset of the No. 10 ranked Mountaineers on Saturday in Stillwater is a freshman ready for the national spotlight: Justice Hill.
The rookie running back is the No. 3 rusher in Big 12 conference play behind Texas’ D’Onta Foreman and Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon. He’s getting 119 yards per game in his first foray in league play, with three 100-yard performances and a touchdown in each of his past four games.
That 119 per game puts him on pace for a 1,100-yard debut season, a possibility made even more impressive by the fact he had a light non-conference workload of just 24 carries over three games. Establishing him and the Pokes’ run game early against West Virginia would be a smart move.
The kid is averaging 4.8 yards on first down, 5.5 on second down and 6.6 on third down in Big 12 games. His play is giving the Cowboys some serious offensive versatility.
"He is exciting and can make guys miss," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said after Hill’s 162-yard performance against Kansas last week. "The difference between this year and last year is our ability to run the ball when [defenses are] protecting against the pass."
He’s received better help, too, now that Chris Carson is back in action. Carson vultured three rushing TDs in his return against Kansas on a respectable 7.4 yards per carry.
“It's a good one-two punch now,” offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “It eases the stress that gets put on the back of Justice. We increase your depth and increase your health with a guy like Chris, who is back running with an attitude.”
Will the rise of Hill and return of Carson make a difference against West Virginia? The Mountaineers have, relative to the rest of the Big 12, been fairly solid against the run at a rate of 158 yards per game and 4.2 per carry. But they’ve given up a league-low five rushing TDs and have forced just as many rushing fumbles.
West Virginia’s defenders seem to have a healthy respect for Hill. They had better be careful. He’s the kind of back who can open this game up and put WVU on upset alert with just a few big plays.
“I think he’s pretty good,” West Virginia linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton said, “but we’ll do what we have to do to stop that."