Oklahoma Preview: Sooners Feature Nation’s Best Offense
Two of the nation’s top offenses will meet at Mountaineer Field Friday night in a clash that will decide a berth in the Dec. 1 Big 12 Championship game.
Oklahoma (10-1/7-1) comes to Morgantown sporting a No. 6 College Football Playoff ranking and the top FBS offense in both scoring (49.5 points a game) and total yards (576.1 per game). Meanwhile No. 13 West Virginia (8-2/6-2) features the nation’s ninth best scoring offense (40.9 points per game) and the 10th best offense in terms of total yards (502.0 yards per game).
“(Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley) has been calling the same offense there for (four) years, and this is the best one they’ve had,” WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen said of the top Sooner, who was OU’s offensive coordinator in 2015 and ‘16 and its head coach the past two seasons. “I didn’t think there was any chance that I would say that after last year. Last year, they were as good as what I’ve seen in college football, and as well rounded as any team I’ve gone against. With a Heisman Trophy quarterback (Baker Mayfield), NFL guys across the board at running back and (offensive) line, receiver, tight end, fullback, I think they averaged around 8.3 yards per play last year. Then, they come back with a new quarterback (Kyler Murray) and have to replace a couple of linemen, an NFL tight end, a fullback and what not, and they’re better. Now, they’re at 8.8 yards per play.
“The quarterback is hard to tackle, I don’t know if you guys know that or not. He’s really, really, really quick, he’s fast, I hear he’s a good baseball player,” Holgorsen said with a chuckle about Murray, who was drafted in the first round by the Oakland As this past summer. “If he’s better at baseball than he is at football, then it’s unreal. He’s really a good player, and we’ve known about him for a long time. Obviously, (WVU assistant Coach (Jake) Spavital recruited him at (Texas) A&M, and I always followed that and watched him play at A&M. I was really upset when he transferred to Oklahoma because now we had to play against him. So, he’s really a good player and fun to watch, hard to tackle. You have to contain him. You’re not going to stop him, you’re not going to get hits on him, you just have to contain him.”
Murray leads a Sooner attack that is 11th nationally in passing yards (315.4 per game) and seventh in rushing yards (260.7 per game).
OU has scored 48 points or more in 10 of its 11 games so far this season, as only Army, in a 28-21 overtime victory for the Sooners, was able to keep Oklahoma below that mark.
So, that begs the question, how do you slow down the Sooners?
“You don’t,” stated WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson emphatically. “They’re good, obviously. We all know that, because we all watch them. Everybody’s said, ‘Kansas played them pretty tough.’ They had 10 possessions against Kansas, 11 if you count their victory formation. Kansas had two turnovers and gave up eight touchdowns on 10 possessions. Iowa State got two turnovers, they kicked three field goals and scored three touchdowns. Then, they got into victory formation. They don’t have a lot of possessions, but they’re lethal when they have the ball. They run time off the clock, and they score points. They’re efficient.”
Out of all OU’s gaudy offensive stats, the one that catches Gibson’s eye the most is from special teams.
“They’ve only punted (26) times all year,” noted WVU’s defensive coordinator. “That’s the one where you say, ‘Whoa.’”
Those 26 punts are fewer than any other FBS team this season. Even juggernaut Alabama has punted 28 times. WVU, by comparison, has punted 36 times despite playing in one fewer game than the Sooners.
Oklahoma may have one of the best offenses in college football history, but its Achilles Heel is definitely its defense, which is 86th nationally in points allowed (30.7 per game) and 87th in total yards allowed (425.8 per game). West Virginia’s own defense is vastly superior in those statistical categories, as the Mountaineers are 44th in points allowed (23.3 per game) and 55th in total yards allowed (379.2 per game).
The Sooners are the only team in the past 80 years of college football to give up 40 or more points in three straight games – 51-46 over Texas Tech on Nov. 3, 48-47 over Oklahoma State on Nov. 10 and 55-40 over Kansas on Nov. 17 – and still win. OU also allowed 30 or more points in two other games, including in its 48-45 loss to Texas, which is its only setback this season.
Those defensive issues caused Riley to make a coaching change in mid-season, relieving long-time defensive coordinator Mike Stoops of his position and inserting Ruffin McNeill into the DC spot.
“I think they’re playing extremely hard for him, I do,” WVU offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said when asked about the difference in the OU defense after McNeill took charge. “I think they play complimentary football with their offense. It’s a bend-but-don’t-break defense, because they’re offense is pretty explosive. The thing that I am seeing with them right now is they’re playing a ton of different bodies. They’re playing different (defensive backs). Their linebackers are playing (defensive) ends. They’re moving them all around right now. They sat a lot of people out during the Kansas game (because of injuries). We’re expecting them to be full force when they come in here.”
Both defenses will certainly be strained Friday night by offenses that between them combine for over 90 points a game.
Kickoff is slated for 8 p.m. (Eastern) Friday night, and the contest will be broadcast nationally by ESPN.