MORGANTOWN - The last time West Virginia and Oklahoma State played one another, the Cowboys won the 1987 Sun Bowl 35-33 thanks to a MVP performance by Thurman Thomas.
On his last college game before beginning a Hall of Fame career with the Buffalo Bills, Thomas had 157 yards rushing and a game-record four touchdowns.
The two teams renew their series at 3:30 p.m. (WCHS) game Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium. Oklahoma State will bring a running back that's evoking comparisons to Thomas.
"I think it's fair," said Cowboys Coach Mike Gundy, who played quarterback at the school when Thomas starred in the backfield. "I don't know if it's ever fair to compare a guy to a NFL Hall of Famer. That could be a little unjust. But at this point in his career, Thurman was effective in the same areas Joseph Randle is."
Randle leads the Big 12 in rushing with 116.75 yards per game. A junior from Wichita, Kan., Randle averages 5.34 yards per carry and has had at least 100 yards in six of eight games. WVU (5-3, 3-2 Big 12) has struggled on defense and ranks No. 111 overall, No. 116 in scoring defense and last among 120 teams in pass defense, but has actually done a good job against the run.
The Mountaineers rank No. 32 and allow 132.5 yards per game and just 3.3 yards per carry. They've yet to allow an individual opponent to rush for 100 yards, which is one of their stated goals, but which hasn't been tested like it will be by Randle.
"It'll be a challenge," Coach Dana Holgorsen said.
"They've got a pretty good plan. They've got good guys up front and a running back who can hit it pretty good."
He would know. Holgorsen was the Oklahoma State offensive coordinator in 2010. He remembers the first time he watched Randall in practice. "This is going to be fun," Holgorsen thought.
The Cowboys would finish ranked No. 3 in total offense, No. 2 in passing offense and No. 3 in scoring offense with quarterback Brandon Weeden throwing to receiver Justin Blackmon. They were also No. 35 in rushing offense thanks to Kendall Hunter, who happened to be a consensus All-American.
Randle was a factor, too, though. He added 435 yards rushing and was the team's fourth-leading receiver with 37 receptions for 427 yards. The potential was unmistakable.
"Joseph Randle is a fantastic football player," Holgorsen sad. "He's one of my favorite kids I've ever coached even though I only had him one year as a true freshman. It means a lot to him. He lives it.
"He's quick-twitch, powerful and very skilled. He can catch the ball out of the backfield. You can throw him screens. You can line him up at receiver and throw him the ball down the field. He's just a good player."