Oklahoma Sooners vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Complete Game Preview
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Where: Gaylord Family–Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, Okla.
When: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: Fox Sports Regional Coverage
Live Stream: Sooner Sports
Listen: Sooner Sports Radio Network
Betting Line: Oklahoma (-20.5)
This is a matchup that pits two teams on opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Sooners are coming off a 34-0 thrashing of Louisiana-Monroe. The Oklahoma defense suffocated the Warhawks’ run game, limiting them to just 38 yards on 22 carries. In fact, the Sooners piled up more yards on the ground (305) than Louisiana-Monroe did combined (166).
It was a dominating effort that started Oklahoma’s season off on the right foot.
On the other hand, West Virginia needed a late fourth-quarter touchdown to put away FCS opponent William & Mary 24-17. The Mountaineers juggled quarterbacks and struggled to shut down an opponent they should have beaten handily.
But if last year’s contest between these two teams is any indicator—a 50-49 Sooners victory—nothing is predictable when it comes to Oklahoma-West Virginia.
Will this year be any different?
Oklahoma Keys to Victory
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1. Get Trevor Knight Going Early
If Oklahoma wants to win this game, the freshman quarterback must be able to move the ball through the air.
Although West Virginia struggled against William & Mary, their rush defense looked impressive. The Mountaineers allowed just 102 rushing yards on 31 carries (3.3 YPC). In fact, the Tribe didn’t have one rusher top the 50-yard mark on the day.
It’s critical that Knight gets going and going early. Otherwise, expect West Virginia to load the box and make life difficult for Oklahoma Saturday.
2. Stuff the run
The Sooners looked downright dominant during their 34-0 victory over Louisiana-Monroe this past Saturday. However, the most impressive part of that performance had to be their run defense.
The Warhawks rushed 22 times, only totaling 38 yards on the ground. Every time a running back tried to find a hole, the Oklahoma defense quickly swarmed around him. There was absolutely nowhere for him to go.
With Mountaineers running back Charles Sims coming off a solid 120-yard performance, the team will be looking to establish the run game early. If the Sooners can slow him down, it will force West Virginia to turn to their first-year quarterback for offense.
West Virginia Keys to Victory
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1. Make Knight One-Dimensional
Oklahoma benefited tremendously from Trevor Knight’s ability to run the ball.
The freshman made up for an abysmal passing stat line—86 yards through the air—by rushing for 103 yards on 13 carries. Not only did he lead the Sooners in the category, but he kept the Louisiana-Monroe defense on its heels at all times. As a result, Knight was able to get away with throwing more incomplete passes (17) than complete ones (11).
West Virginia should focus on taking away the quarterback run and force the youngster to step back in the pocket and air it out. Knight looked hesitant at times against a weaker opponent. Imagine what could happen against a tougher opponent and once he knows he doesn’t have his running ability to fall back on.
2. Run the Ball, Control the Tempo
The Mountaineers have a first-year starter at quarterback. It would be in the team’s best interest to not have to rely on him 100 percent. That makes running the ball critical.
Against William & Mary, Charles Sims made the most of his West Virginia debut, putting together an impressive stat line. Now, he’ll be facing an Oklahoma defense that held their previous opponent to just 38 rushing yards. If Sims can break through Saturday, he’ll give the Mountaineers a chance to pull off the upset.
It would also make Millard’s life a hell of a lot easier.
Oklahoma Players to Watch
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Trevor Knight (QB, RS Fr.)
The freshman quarterback had himself a solid debut.
Knight’s rushing ability proved to be far better than what was originally expected. He shredded the Louisiana-Monroe defense for 103 yards on the ground on 13 carries. Knight also limited the mistakes, only throwing a meaningless interception with the game already out of hand.
However, he seemed to struggle a great deal with accuracy. If his 86 total yards of passing wasn’t concerning enough, Knight was just 11-of-28 through the air. Time and time again, he overthrew wide-open receivers.
Overall, Knight’s feet make him a dangerous asset for the Sooners. But if he hopes to lead Oklahoma to a Big 12 title and maybe more, it’s imperative that he gets a better grip on his passing ability.
Jalen Saunders (WR, Sr.)
On a passing game that was almost nonexistent, Saunders was the one bright spot.
The senior hauled in three passes for 30 yards. However, he made the most of them, taking two in for touchdowns. Those included grabs of 12 and 18 yards.
When Knight looked to be in trouble, Saunders tended to be his first read. He will be vital in Knight’s ability to grow as a passer.
Look for Saunders to have an even bigger game this Saturday against West Virgina.
Full Depth Chart: click here
West Virginia Players to Watch
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Charles Sims (RB, Sr.)
After losing 10 starters on offense from last season, West Virgina will rely heavily on Sims this year.
A transfer from Houston, the senior racked up 2,370 yards and 29 touchdowns on the ground over three years with the Cougars. After rushing for 120 yards on 23 carries and one score against William & Mary, Sims looks set to have a breakout season.
Expect the Mountaineers to look to him until they have a steady quarterback situation.
Paul Millard (QB, Jr.)
Replacing Geno Smith isn’t an easy task. However, Millard looks to have the chops to do just that.
After being swapped out after his first three series in favor of Florida State transfer Clint Trickett, Millard made the most of his second chance. The junior successfully completed his first eight passes and wrapped up the day 19-of-25 for 237 yards and a touchdown. That included an impressive 69-yard touchdown toss to Ronald Carswell.
He still has some work to do to catch up to Smith’s accolades, but Millard certainly showed some of that potential.
Full Depth Chart: click here
What They're Saying
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Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from Oklahoma’s Meet the Media conference on Aug. 26 via Soonersports.com.
Head coach Bob Stoops:
Now we’re on to West Virginia, a conference game at home. We had a barn burner 50-49 a year ago so our guys understand the challenge of facing these guys. They’ve only had one game as well so it’s a bit different to have a conference game this early. It worked out best for us and them agreeing [to the early game] must have been best for them, as well. [Dana] Holgersen's groups do a great job over there as well. We came out of the game healthy and we’re looking forward to playing a conference game this week.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops:
I think this is a different team. I don’t think you can judge much by the William and Mary game. They were very vanilla. They have a lot more offense than they showed in that game, so it’s a tough preparation. They worked us pretty good a year ago. They run the ball and they have some pretty good backs. They moved Tavon Austin back there. They have a pretty solid running game, and they throw the ball. He’s always throwing the ball. They throw a lot of good screens, and they’re going to try to attempt some of our aggressive play, and that’s where we’re going to have to be smart and be able to counter it. That’s really what plans are all about. They’re going to try to take away what we do well, and we’re going to take away what they do well. That’s what football is all about.
Senior running back Brennan Clay:
I don’t think [West Virginia] played poorly at all. They played a good team. We went down to West Virginia last year and that was a shootout so we know how lethal their offense can be. I know they lost a few guys but they have got to replace them. There’s no excuse to go in there and think ‘Oh, they played poorly’ or anything. They’re going to come out and play us on Saturday night and come out to beat us at home. We need to come in with the mindset that they’re going to be able to put up 40, 45 points again and hopefully our defense shuts someone out again.
Senior defensive back Gabe Lynn:
Definitely still think about last year. It was just horrible on our part. Giving up almost 800 yards on defense is ridiculous. We definitely are excited about this game.
They’re like a lot of other Big 12 teams, a lot of motions, a lot of switch sets. We just have to definitely be focused and watch a lot of film on them this week.
M. Hofeld of Crimson and Cream Machine:
It may be strength on strength Saturday as Oklahoma's offense goes against the West Virginia Defense. The Sooners ran for over 300 yards against Louisiana Monroe last Saturday night and the Mountaineers held William & Mary to an average of 3.3 yards per carry.
The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey on why West Virginia will lose:
Last year's Mountaineers had Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. This year's Mountaineers needed a second-half rally to beat lowly William & Mary at home.
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West Virginia caught Oklahoma napping last season during their shootout—a 50-49 victory for the Sooners. However, this time around will be different.
If Week 1 was any indicator, Oklahoma is going into every game like they’re playing the No. 1 team in the nation. Against a solid Louisiana-Monroe team, the Sooners’ defense was stifling. That doesn’t bode well for a Mountaineers team that has lost 10 offensive starters.
Expect the Oklahoma defense to be just as good as last week—maybe even better—and for Trevor Knight to step up his play.
It might be close early, but the Sooners should pull away in the second half.
Prediction: 34-14 Oklahoma