Expected, because West Virginia’s defense is one of the worst in the Big 12, if not the country. They entered Saturday’s game allowing more than 482 yards per game, ranking No. 111 nationally. Even with third-string quarterback Clint Chelf taking snaps for the Cowboys, OSU was bound to put up points.
The unexpected part of the Cowboys' victory was where many of those points came from – special teams. After allowing 238 return yards and kick return for a touchdown last week against Kansas State, OSU took charge and took advantage of West Virginia special teams errors throughout.
“I thought our special teams were the difference,” coach Mike Gundy said. “Their offense made plays and our offense made plays, but I think special teams gave us the advantage.”
The Cowboys dominated nearly every area of special teams Saturday night. Justin Gilbert returned a kickoff 96-yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. OSU recovered two fumbles off muffed handles by Mountaineer return men – scoring 10 points off those mistakes. And the Mountaineers’ most explosive return man, Tavon Austin, was held to 20 yards on two kick returns and 12 yards on two punt returns.
Between Gilbert’s return, scores off the mistakes of WVU’s special teams unit and Quinn Sharp’s extra points/field goals, the Cowboys scored 29 points from special teams.
“I think we’re kind of getting back to where we were a year ago on special teams,” Gilbert said. “Putting in more work and having that mindset of wanting to make plays.”
The progress began with a Sunday chat after the Cowboys loss to K-State last week. Gundy said the unit needed an overhaul.
“They sat down and talked to us, but I don’t even think they needed to talk to us after the way we had performed last Saturday,” kicker Quinn Sharp said. “I think (K-State’s) average drive start was almost mid-field. That’s just embarrassing. You’re not helping your defense out at all. You’re not helping the rest of the team out.”
Gundy attributes Saturday’s success to new schemes and capitalizing on WVU mistakes. The Gilbert return? That was just his most athletic player doing what he does best.
“I mentioned to the team that it sure looked nice when (Gilbert) breaks through there, because when he does, whoever is chasing him is going to have a hard time catching him,” Gundy said. “I thought the return was executed to perfection. He was patient. He jumped through that hole. We’ve been waiting for him to get that, we just haven’t had many opportunities this year.”
Gilbert’s return touchdown was the fifth of his career. That ties the Big 12 career record and sets OSU’s mark, passing former Cowboy speedster, Perrish Cox.
“I was aware of it, but I wasn’t just pushing for it,” Gilbert said. “The most important thing is containing the ball at the end of the possession and getting great field position for our offense.”
With Chelf making his first career start, it was imperative for another unit of the Cowboys’ to step up. On Saturday, it was clear which group did just that.
“We had to change something,” Sharp said. “We had to challenge ourselves to make plays, and fortunately, we did that today.”