Eight Items To Track As WVU Hosts Oklahoma
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Eight things to know, look for or talk about as No. 13 West Virginia plays against No. 6 Oklahoma at Milan Puskar Stadium in a crucial Big 12 game at 8:00 p.m. today:
No. 1 — WVU must stop the run game of the Sooners
We know, Oklahoma has a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Kyler Murray and some dynamic receivers and that, over the years, it has hurt the Mountaineers badly with their running game.
But this team can run the ball at you from everywhere and always have when it plays WVU.
In the last five years the Sooners have rushed for more than 300 yards (319, 316, 107, 301 and 312) while scoring 14 touchdowns on the ground. The total yardage over that time was 1,354 yards rushing and “only” 1,097 passing yards with nine touchdowns.
Oklahoma has three rushers with 700 or more yards, including quarterback Kyler Murray. WVU, by the way, has no 700-yard rushers.
But Oklahoma has some injuries to the running backs.
“(Oklahoma running back Trey) Sermon played two snaps against Kansas. He had an ankle. He’s had an ankle for the last two weeks,” WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said.
“They’ve had a bunch of guys beat up. So, they’re not as deep as they’ve been. In my mind, I would think they’re going to run (Oklahoma quarterback Kyler) Murray a little more because of that.”
No. 2 — Playing football AND baseball
Murray is a rare bird, indeed, for he is ready to join the Oakland A’s after his college football career is over. The list of those who played NFL and major league baseball is not long but it is distinguished, and if you throw in college football and major league baseball it gets stronger.
Among those who played in both the NFL and MLB is Bo Jackson, who probably at the top of the list, along with Deion Sanders, but you also can throw in the legendary Jim Thorpe, Brian Jordan, old-time Hall of Famer Ernie Nevers and, surprisingly, the Papa Bear, George Halas, who not only founded and coached the Bears but played for the 1919 New York Yankees, a year before Babe Ruth joined the team.
Halas wasn’t a very good baseball player, a shortstop who hit but .091 in 13 games in 1919 and earned, according to Baseball Reference.
Toss in some college stars like Kirk Gibson, Tim Tebow and Jeff Samardzija and it’s a distinguished list.
No. 3 — Offense, offense, offense
Oklahoma’s offense leads the nation in scoring with 49.8 points a game, but don’t overlook the WVU offense.
Since Iowa State solved the offense in handing the Mountaineers a 30-14 loss in Ames, West Virginia has scored 58, 42, 41 and 45 points in four straight victories.
No. 4 — A big game, but as Dana Holgorsen says, “not the end all”
In its history, WVU has played some big games. This Oklahoma game is one of them, although if they win it will probably set up another one.
What are the biggest games WVU has ever played?
It begins with the 1989 Fiesta Bowl matchup with Notre Dame with the national championship at stake, a game WVU lost when quarterback Major Harris suffered an early shoulder injury when the entire game was built around him.
The second was the 2007 home loss to Pitt that not only cost the Mountaineers a chance at a national championship showdown that they felt they could have won but after which coach Rich Rodriguez left.
The third-biggest game was the next game WVU played, facing Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, the program on the ropes and without a coach. They upset the Sooners under Bill Stewart and, say what you want about Stewart, he stabilized the program and went on to win nine games in three straight seasons and turned over a talent-laden team to Holgorsen that won the Orange Bowl over Clemson, 70-33, in 2011.
No. 5 — Will Grier finally gets a crack at Oklahoma
Grier is in his third year at WVU, having sat out a season, then played last year until a season-ending injury against Texas, but he has never had chance to play Oklahoma.
“It’s something that I haven’t thought a ton about, and I haven’t been asked too much about it,” Grier said this week. “I was very much a part of the team last year and part of the game plan trying to encourage everybody.
“So, I felt really involved last year even though I didn’t get to play. I’m excited. This is obviously a really good program, a good opponent. That’s all you can ask for. It’s going to be fun.”
No. 6 — If Oklahoma can run the ball, so can WVU
The Mountaineers’ main weapon is Grier, but when the offense is really clicking they are running, too, and running back Kennedy McKoy knows that the Sooners have been vulnerable to the run this season.
“That’s definitely been a focus point,” he said. “We’ve watched film on them over the past two days. We’ve seen some things that we can exploit. We’re just going to line up and take advantage of what they give us, whether that’s running the ball or throwing it.”
“I think it’s the most important thing we have,” offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said of the run game. “I think we are better as an offense when we establish the run game.”
No. 7 — Home field “disadvantage”
Normally, teams don’t like to come into Milan Puskar Stadium, but Oklahoma is a horse of a different color.
The Sooners have the nation’s longest winning streak in true road games at 19 games and have not lost a true road game in four years.
They have never lost in Morgantown, having won on all three visits.
No. 8 — Saying goodbye to the seniors
Friday is Senior Day and WVU will say goodbye to 16 seniors this year: Dravon Askew-Henry, Toyous Avery Jr., Kenny Bigelow Jr., Yodny Cajuste, William Crest, Jr., Will Grier, Isaiah Hardy, Gary Jennings Jr., Billy Kinney, Dominique Maiden, Jabril Robinson, Ezekiel Rose, David Sills V, Brenon Thrift, Brady Watson and Trevon Wesco.