After an uninspiring non-conference campaign, the No. 4-ranked Oklahoma Sooners open Big 12 Conference play on Saturday.
Up first, the West Virginia Mountaineers will make the trip to Norman, riding high off of their 27-21 victory over Virginia Tech, who was ranked 15th at the time.
Since entering the Big 12, WVU has yet to notch a victory over the Sooners, but this year’s Oklahoma team has yet to impress in their two contests against FBS foes.
The Mountaineer defensive line should prove to be the toughest test to date for OU’s struggling offensive line, and the Oklahoma defense will see the first of many talented Big 12 running backs this weekend in Leddie Brown.
The battle in the trenches will be the key in this one, determining if OU can piece together their first convincing win against respectable opposition this season, or if the Sooners will have to sweat out another close victory on their home field.
Led by defensive lineman Dante Stills, the Mountaineers are only giving up 101.7 yards per game on the ground.
Last week, Oklahoma appeared to show signs of life in the running game after Andrew Raym was inserted into the lineup at center, and establishing the run will again be key for OU on Saturday.
If West Virginia’s defensive front can contain Kennedy Brooks, Eric Gray and the OU rushing attack, then it will be that much easier for the Mountaineer defense to drop into coverage and try to keep the Oklahoma passing game in front of them, something that has frustrated quarterback Spencer Rattler this season.
But if Bill Bedenbaugh’s offensive line can continue to gel and open up holes in the run game, it will force WVU to either allow the Sooners to gash them on the ground, or commit more numbers to the running game, which in turn will open up space for Oklahoma’s wide receivers to get to work.
Oklahoma faces a very different challenge this week.
Against Nebraska, the root of everything good for the ‘Huskers ran through the play of Adrian Martinez, specifically the quarterback’s ability to extend plays with his legs.
This season, West Virginia quarterback Jarret Doege is averaging -4.0 yards per game on the ground, as he’s very much a statue in the pocket for the Mountaineers.
Oklahoma’s pass rush is rated No. 1 in the country by Pro Football Focus, and if the Sooners can force West Virginia into obvious passing situations, OU may rake in the sacks. Even better, quarterback pressures could result in interceptions, as Doege has already thrown three picks this season.
All of that is contingent on containing the WVU run game, however, which will be no easy task without defense tackle Jalen Redmond.
In year’s past, Lincoln Riley’s offense has flat-out dominated the West Virginia defense.
The Sooners have averaged 56.7 points per game over the three contests between the two sides while Riley has been the head coach, and Oklahoma has completely shut down the Mountaineers in Norman since entering Big 12 play.
OU’s offense is averaging 624.7 yards per game and 10.5 yards per play over those three games, scoring at will against WVU.
Since entering the Big 12, Oklahoma has scored at least 44 points in seven of the eight meetings, a trend the Mountaineers simply will have to break if they stand any chance of pulling the upset on Saturday.
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