West Virginia and Oklahoma Play for Big 12 Championship Spot
#13 West Virginia Mountaineers (8-2, 6-2)
#6 Oklahoma Sooners (10-1, 7-1)
Kickoff: 8:00 pm est
Location: Morgantown, WV (Mountaineer Field)
Weather at Kickoff: cloudy 36º
Announcers: Sean McDonough and Todd Blackledge
Sideline Reporter: Holly Rowe
|Points Per Game||49.5||40.9|
|Points Allowed Per Game||30.7||23.3|
|Pass Yards Allowed||263.6||243.7|
|Rush Yards Allowed||162.2||135.5|
West Virginia and Oklahoma meet for the right to play in the Big 12 title game. The Sooners lead the all-time series 8-2 and have won six straight over the Mountaineers. This will be the fifth time these two programs have met while ranked and Oklahoma has the advantage 3-1.
Oklahoma reigns supreme in the Big 12. Since the conference’s conception in 1996, the Sooners have raised the Big 12 trophy 11 times and have won three-straight conference titles. Texas comes in a distant second with three.
The Sooners come into Morgantown arguably with one of their greatest offenses in program and college football history. They rank first in yards per play (8.8) and yards per game (576.1). If the 8.8 yard per play holds through till the end of the season, it will break the previous record set by Hawaii in 2006 at 8.6. Also, Oklahoma is averaging 0.73 points per play this season. Going back to 1996, the highest end-of-season figure was 0.69 by 2013 National Champion Florida State.
This offense evolves around quarterback and Heisman frontrunner Kyler Murray. He came into the season having to replace Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. The offense was expected to take a step back after Mayfield; however, Murray has proved to be extremely fruitful. He ranks second in the nation in passing efficiency (205.8; the NCAA single season record of 198.9 was set last season by Mayfield), yards per pass attempt (11.9), yards per completion (16.9) and first among power five players in points responsible for at 24.0 per game.
Murray isn’t just making plays with his arm he’s also doing it with his legs. Along with averaging 300.9 yards through the air, Kyler is averaging 67.2 yards on the ground and is the only player in the country averaging over 300 yards passing and 50 yards rushing.
Oklahoma has explosiveness on the outside too. Wide receiver and Biletnikoff finalist Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has nine grabs of at least 40 yards, six receptions of at least 50 yards, has three catches of at least 60 yards and has hauled in two passes over 70 yards. Seven of the nine receptions have gone for touchdowns, including his longest for 77 yards. Along with Kyler Murray, Brown is arguably the fastest player in the country.
On the other side, receiver CeeDee Lamb has caught 46 passes for 829 yards and a team leading nine touchdowns on the season. He has three one-hundred yards games, is averaging 18 yards per reception and has an 82 and 86-yard touchdown catches on the year. He had a streak of seven straight games with a touchdown reception but was snapped three games ago and hasn’t had one since.
If there is one area of this offense that is thin, it’s a running back. Nonetheless, the backfield not short on talent. It’s not clear who will all get some carries after starter Trey Sermon went out early last week with an apparent ankle injury and it’s not clear that he will be available this week. However, Kennedy Brooks is more than capable of carrying the load. Brooks has 811 yards and is averaging 9.9 yards per carry on the season.
Freshman TJ Pledger suited up last week but didn’t play last week as he is still coming back from an injury. Kyler Murray could make up the carries and quick screens to the receivers could also be a possibility to make up for the depth.
The Sooners defense has struggled to say the least this season and it could be the reason why Oklahoma is breaking some NCAA offensive records this season. The OU defense is ranked 87th nationally in total yards per game (425.8); they’re seventh in conference play (449.8) and eight in scoring, giving up 35.3 points per game.
Their most seasoned defensive back is redshirt safety Jordan Parker. The rest of the secondary is made up of freshmen and sophomores. The lack of experience is showing up on the stat sheet, as they are the only team in the Big 12 that gives up over 300 yards through the air per game (301.8) in conference play.
After the Oklahoma lost to Texas, Sooner head coach Lincoln Riley fired defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. In the first two games of interim DC Ruffin McNeil, Oklahoma held TCU and Kansas State to under 275 yards of total offense; first time to holding opponents to 275 yards or less in consecutive games since 2011. However, in the last three games they have given up at least 40 points per outing, including 40 points to Kansas in Norman last week.
The Sooner defense is led by linebackers Kenneth Murray and Curtis Bolton. No duo in the Big 12 averages more tackles per game (21.2 combined).
The Mountaineers have their handful no doubt about it. There was only one team this season that has held Oklahoma to under 30 points on the season and that was Army. The Black Knights held the Sooners to just 28 points in an overtime loss. Army held the ball for nearly 45 minutes running their triple option.
West Virginia’s offense plays fast behind quarterback and Heisman hopeful Will Grier. The Mountaineer offense is averaging 39.6 points per game in conference play, good enough for second in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma’s 50.6.
Grier ranks third nationally in efficiency (174.2) and yards per pass attempt (9.55). He is fourth among power five players in points responsible with an average of 21.2 points per game. He has three receivers that were all on the Biletnikoff watch list throughout the season in Marcus Simms, Gary Jennings and David Sills.
West Virginia has a stable of running backs that they can turn to. Leddie Brown, Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway have all had at least one 100-yard rushing performance.
The Mountaineer defense leads the Big 12 in turnovers (19) and is third in sacks (21). They have dropped down in defense in the last few weeks giving up over 500 yards to Texas and 600 yards to Oklahoma State.
The defense may have given up some yards in recent weeks, but they have been a big part of this team’s success. The question going into the game is: Will the gap between the OU defense and the WVU defense be enough to carry the Mountaineers over the Sooners?
The defense will need to make some big plays and the offense will have to answer to get an advantage. It is Senior night for the Mountaineers and under the lights at Mountaineer Field tends to be special. West Virginia is well overdue for a big time win in Morgantown and for the right to play for the Big 12 Championship on the line in front of the home crowd could be enough to pull off the upset and knock off the perennial Big 12 powerhouse.
I’m not sure the Mountaineers have enough to stop this offensive juggernaut. I think the Sooners find a way to win in the end, either by scoring in the final minutes to put the game out of reach or scoring in the final seconds for the win.