The Chalkboard: West Virginia Mountaineers – Oklahoma Sooners

The Chalkboard: West Virginia Mountaineers – Oklahoma Sooners

How can West Virginia slow Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray? Ball control is the only guaranteed option, and that’s just what Army did when it dominated the time of possession and pushed the Sooners to overtime in a 28-21 loss. The Black Knights kept the ball for an incredible 44 minutes and 41 seconds.

Can WVU forge that kind of number? Probably not, but to have a chance to win it will probably need to be on the plus side of 35 minutes.  The key there is for the Mountaineers to avoid the three-and-outs that have dotted a mostly impressive list of drive charts. Giving up a score, then giving the ball right back after three snaps, is one of the surest paths to a Mountaineer defeat.

Another idea, which routinely gets floated against mobile quarterbacks, is employing a spy. While that tactic might work as a mix in, employed on a handful of snaps to try to cause a bit of confusion, it’s probably not something that will work against Murray. First, he’s faster and quicker than anyone WVU’s defense could match up against him. Second, would it be advisable to take a savvy defender, like David Long, and assign him this task. OU would counter by simply keeping Murray in the pocket and throwing against a pass coverage that is down a defender.

“The bad part is you lose a guy in coverage, number one, or you lose a guy in your pass rush,” WVU defensive coordinator Tony Gibson said of the spy. “The good part comes if you have somebody that can catch him. You don’t waste a guy when you put someone down to spy him, and they can do it. Some teams have tried that.”

Finally, turnovers. WVU did this well last week, but the offense didn’t capitalize. That’s another issue, but if West Virginia could get three, that would be huge. OU has committed just ten all year (and taken it away only eight times) so putting the Sooners in a deficit could be a factor that plays out mentally as well as physically.

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The importance of getting the opponent off the field on third down is highlighted by every coach, but just getting Oklahoma to that point has been a challenge. The Sooner have run 720 plays this year, but only 104 of those have been on third down. (By comparison, WVU, also an excellent offensive team, has run 706, with 120 of those being third-down snaps.)

Once there, though, OU kicks it into an even higher gear, as if that seems possible. It has converted an awesome 51% of those chances, far exceeding WVU’s excellent 42% rate.

With this week’s start, Dravon Askew-Henry will tie Joe Madsen atop WVU’s career list with 50.

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TRAVEL NOTE OF THE WEEK: It’s not the trip to Morgantown, but the potential re-trek to Dallas \ Ft. Worth \ Arlington that’s top of mind. Should WVU win, there will be postgame scrambles to book flights and hotels, all amidst the rush of getting our content produced.

This is similar to our procedures when NCAA Tournament bids go out, with the dual tasks of writing stories and confirming reservations evolves in a scramble on Sunday evening. Of course, it’s an issue we would love to face every year.

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There are numerous stats that illustrate just how thoroughly Oklahoma has dominated the Big 12 in recent seasons, but this one really stands out: The Sooners have won 19 consecutive true road games. That’s more than double the next longest streak (8), currently held by UCF and Northwestern. OU’s last road loss came on Oct 4, 2014 — 1,511 days ago.

Granted, this doesn’t include neutral site losses, so it’s not as if the Sooners are unbeatable outside Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. But OU, which is 32-2 in its last 34 Big 12 games, aren’t concerned in the slightest with playing in road venues.

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Which team is better able to withstand the rash of injuries that have cripple them, mostly on the defensive side?

West Virginia linebacker Shea Campbell (34) breaks through the line to pressure Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger

WVU’s injury list is well-known to Mountaineer fans. Linebacker remains devastated, even with the announced return of Brendan Ferns and Quondarius Qualls. Ferns has only seen special teams action, and Qualls has not dressed, and it’s unlikely either will play a role from scrimmage this week. Dylan Tonkery didn’t make the trip to Stillwater last wee, and Shea Campbell suffered at least two reoccurrences of stingers, the second of which forced him from the OSU game midway through the third quarter.

Oklahoma has taken more than its share of hits, too. Running back Rodney Anderson is out for the year, and Trey Sermon is doubtful that the WVU game. They still have Trey Sermon, so that’s not a crippler, but the defensive side is another matter.  Defensive lineman Jalen Redmond is out for the year, and among those missing time against Kansas and questionable for WVU are safety Kahlil Haughton, defensive lineman Neville Gallimore and outside linebacker Mark Jackson.

Say all you want about “next man up”, but these are critical absences and losses, and they contribute heavily to the problematic performances of both units. Note that of the 18 players WVU put on the field defensively against Oklahoma State, nine played on 60 or more snaps, while six were out there for 80 or more.

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Sometimes numbers presented to support one thesis actually show something else. That’s the case with Oklahoma’s trumpeting of defenders Kenneth Murray (nephew of former WVU defensive back Lind Murray) and Curtis Bolton. The pair averages more tackles per game than any other Big 12 duo, but that’s largely in part to the weakness of the Sooner defense, which has allowed 807 plays and 258 first downs against it.

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