Well, it’s almost here. Mason Rudolph, James Washington, Chad Whitener, Ramon Richards and a host of other Oklahoma State Cowboys seniors are about to play in their final game as members of the Cowboys.
The Cowboys are aiming for their third straight 10-win season - the sixth in the last eight seasons. Standing in the way is the talented No. 22 Virginia Tech Hokies in the Camping World Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
When: Thursday, December 28, 4:15 p.m. CST
Where: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, FL
Listen: Cowboy Radio Network
Line: Oklahoma State (-4.5) | Over/Under: 63
The Cowboys and the Hokies have only met twice in the history of the two programs, splitting the series 1-1. The last time the two teams met up, it was the Hokies that squeaked out a 34-32 victory in 1972.
The 2017 edition of the Hokies come into the season with a 9-3 record, including a 5-3 record in ACC play.
Let’s talk about the offense.
The Hokies are averaging 28.8 points per game, which is good for sixth best in the Atlantic Coastal Conference and 62nd in NCAA FBS football overall. Virginia Tech is led by quarterback Josh Jackson (no, not the Phoenix Suns’ forward and former Kansas one-and-done). The freshman from Ann Arbor, Michigan has put up some impressive numbers for a freshman, throwing for 2,743 yards and 19 touchdowns in 12 games. He is completing 60.3 percent of his passes on the season and has a passer efficiency rating of 138.3, which is No. 44 in the nation. His game of the season came against East Carolina, where he completed 77 percent of his passes for 372 yards and five touchdowns.
His favorite target is Cam Phillips. Phillips has 71 receptions for 964 yards and seven touchdowns on the year. His 80.3 receiving yards per game is almost more than double the nearest leading receiver. Those numbers were more than enough to earn him First-Team All-Offense in the ACC.
However, Jackson will have to do it without him.
It was revealed that the senior standout played the entire season with a sports hernia. He will not play in the bowl game and leaves a significant hole in the already-average Hokie offense.
VT relied heavily on its passing game. Travon McMillian, the leading rusher, has a grand total of 439 yards this season on the ground. Let’s put that in perspective. The Cowboys’ second-leading rusher - J.D. King - has 466 yards on the season. Justice Hill has 1,347 yards on the season, which is more than three times McMillian’s total.
With Phillips out, look for the Hokies to rely on Sean Savoy and Eric Kumah to pick up the slack, though it doesn’t look good. Savoy has 454 yards and Kumah has 252 on the season - more than 250 fewer yards than Phillips. McMillian will likely also get increased targets, as the junior running back has twelve receptions and three touchdowns through the air as well.
It’s the Hokie defense that Mike Gundy and Mike Yurcich need to worry about. It’s the vaunted defense that keeps the Hokies in games and set the team up for its nine wins.
Virginia Tech is allowing a scant 13.5 points per game, which is fifth-lowest in the nation.
If the Hokies want to win the Camping World Bowl, the stout D will have to play out of their minds to shut down Mason Rudolph and the best passing offense in the country. VT currently has a +7 turnover margin and will need to continue that trend if they want to upset the Cowboys in the bowl.
Here is the full comparison of 36 different stats between the Cowboys and Hokies.
It's crystal clear what needs to happen against the Hokies.
A healthy dose of #Rudolph2Washington should be enough for the Cowboys to take down the Hokies.
Reigning Biletnikoff winner James Washington only needs 69 yards (nice) against the Hokies to claim the all-time record for career receiving yards at Oklahoma State. Washington leads the entire FBS with 118.3 receiving YPG and my semi-educated guess would be that Rudolph will attempt to connect with his favorite receiver and get him the record.
Expect Yurcich to include a good mixture of Hill and King - especially if the score starts to get out of hand. Despite having a pass-heavy offense, the Cowboys love to run the ball and get the RBs involved in the game plan.
*Side note: remember just a few years ago when the Cowboys had absolutely no running game? Man, I'm glad that's not the case anymore.
1) Control the tempo.
This is a key in each and every single game in college football, but controlling the tempo in a bowl game is arguably the biggest importance. In the bowl game, the teams are playing in front of a national audience on TV. The Cowboys want to play their game, which is up-tempo, no-huddle, breakneck-speed style of offense. If the Cowboys want to be successful, they need to get the Hokies on their heels and keep them there. If they let VT's defense start forcing 3-and-outs or 6-and-outs and the offense cannot get in a rhythm, the Cowboys could be in trouble.
2) Don't do anything stupid.
Yes, it's always nice to win a bowl game. Yes, it's nice to have 10-win seasons. However, it's not worth pushing so hard that they risk the health of players. In last year's Alamo Bowl, Washington suffered a nasty finger injury that could have been much, much worse. If it starts to get out of control, pull the graduating seniors that are going to make it to the next level. No need to risk anything in a game that essentially means nothing.
That way, they get the proper and well-deserved standing ovation from the Oklahoma State faithful and Gundy and Co. can usher in the next era of Cowboy football.