While last year’s matchup between West Virginia and Oklahoma was considered one of the premier games of the Big 12 Conference season, this year’s matchup comes with much less fanfare.
Despite that, this is still a critical game for the Mountaineers, as an upset victory over Oklahoma would do wonders in keeping WVU’s bowl game hopes alive.
WVU (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) will travel to Norman, Oklahoma, in order to take on the No. 5 Sooners on Saturday after dropping its last two games: Oct. 5 vs. Texas and Oct. 12 vs. Iowa State.
“If you look at their football team, they’ve got a complete football team,” West Virginia head coach Neal Brown said. “They’re playing well in all three phases right now.”
Coming out on top will be easier said than done for West Virginia as the Mountaineers will go head-to-head with one of the most effective offenses in the nation.
Led by quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0) ranks first in the country it has averaged 9.56 yards per play over its first six games. Additionally, the Sooners are also third in the NCAA in points per game — averaging slightly more than 50 points per game this season.
“[Hurts] is a smart football player,” West Virginia defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. “He throws the ball well, he runs the ball — he runs it as good as any running back.”
Outside of Hurts, the Oklahoma offense has been led by strong play from wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Over his six appearances this season, the junior has hauled in 28 receptions for 610 yards and 10 touchdowns, leaving him tied for the nation’s lead in receiving touchdowns.
The offensive line is also a big strength for the Sooners. Despite losing four of the five starters on last season’s unit, this season’s Oklahoma offensive line is tied for third in the NCAA in sacks allowed. Senior center Creed Humphrey is a member of the Rimington Trophy Watchlist, awarded to the top center in the nation.
Defensively, the Sooners feature a group that is one of the nation’s most successful on third down, ranking ninth in the country. Additionally, the unit ranks fourth in the Big 12 in total defense.
Junior linebacker Kenneth Murray leads the team in tackles with 42, ranking no. 10 in the Big 12. In the secondary, senior cornerback Parnell Motley ranks first on the team in passes defended with six. On the defensive line, redshirt senior Neville Gallimore has forced two fumbles.
While the Sooners themselves create a host of issues for the Mountaineers to address, West Virginia still has a variety of its own personal concerns.
For one, it is unknown who will start at quarterback for the Mountaineers. Starter Austin Kendall left Saturday’s 38-14 loss against Iowa State with a chest injury. Redshirt junior Jack Allison, who replaced Kendall, threw for 140 yards, one touchdown and one interception in Kendall’s absence.
Additionally, the team features personnel concerns on the defensive front. Redshirt senior cornerback Keith Washington II is currently working through a muscle injury, while fellow cornerback Hakeem Bailey will be out for the first half of Saturday’s game after being ejected for targeting against Iowa State.
VanDarius Cowan, who received playing time at the bandit position in two games after returning from a four-game suspension, is also out with an injury. The knee injury he suffered on Saturday will sideline him for the rest of the season.
Despite the issues, Brown says that the season is not yet lost.
“We’ve had back-to-back home losses here,” Brown said. “We’re disappointed, but it’s not doom and gloom in this building, I’ll say that. Not down and out.”
Saturday’s game against the Sooners will kick off at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium at noon. The game will be televised on FOX.