Win Over OU Would Be Big, But Not ‘Be-All, End-All’ For WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — If you look at the West Virginia football series against Oklahoma historically, it doesn’t seem to rank up there with such traditional opponents as Pitt, Virginia Tech, Penn State or even Miami, but looks can be deceiving.
True, WVU stands but 2-8 against the Sooners in the 10 games they’ve played, but those two victories were two of the most significant in the history of the program.
The first win came in 1982 on Sept. 11 in Norman. The Sooners were ranked No. 9 in the nation, in the season opener, but when WVU got through spanking Oklahoma, 41-27, behind Jeff Hostetler’s 321 passing yards and four touchdowns, the world was introduced to the era of Don Nehlen football.
WVU had gone through some difficult times before Nehlen took over, opened the new Mountaineer Field and went to Oklahoma — a place it had visited just four years earlier and was embarrassed to the tune of a 52-10 whipping, one so bad that the Sooner starters spent most of the second half enjoying themselves on the bench without even their shoulder pads on.
Six years after the OU win, Nehlen had brought WVU an undefeated season.
The next — and last — time WVU beat Oklahoma was at one of the program’s darkest moments: Jan. 2, 2008, right after West Virginia had been upset by a Pitt team that was a 28.5-point underdog on the Mountaineers’ home turf, costing them a chance to play for the national championship.
What’s more, Rich Rodriguez had packed up and moved on to Michigan a few days after the Backyard Brawl, leaving Bill Stewart behind as an interim coach going against the nation’s No. 3 team.
But Stewart, with a rousing locker room pre-game speech, and regrouped his team and they buried Oklahoma, 48-28, in the Fiesta Bowl despite star running back Steve Slaton going out with an injury after just one carry.
Much has changed since then, of course. Stewart has left us, Rodriguez is out of coaching and Dana Holgorsen came in to engineer the move from the Big East to what must be called the “Bigger 12.”
And WVU has not beaten Oklahoma in the decade that has passed since.
The teams have played have played six times in the Big 12 and Oklahoma has won each one.
Some close, some routs, most high scoring, one 16-7… but all Oklahoma victories.
And so it was that on the Tuesday before they were meet, Holgorsen was asked if not winning against Oklahoma weighed on him and how much he believed it would mean to the program to get that first Big 12 victory.
Would it mean as much as Nehlen’s victory, as much as Stewart’s?
“It would mean a lot,” Holgorsen admitted. “Our guys feel ready for it. We went toe-to-toe in the past. They were fun games. I think we’re up for the challenge.”
Certainly, this one figures to be a fun game. It matches the top scoring offense in the nation in Oklahoma against the ninth top scoring offense in West Virginia. It ranks maybe the two best quarterbacks in the nation in the Sooners’ Kyler Murray, on pace to break the national record for passing efficiency, and WVU’s Will Grier, who has been a top Heisman Trophy candidate with Murray all season.
What’s more, it is a game in which WVU figures to have as good a chance to beat Oklahoma as it ever will have. The Mountaineers are at home, they are desperate — for they need to win to advance to the Big 12 championship game — and Oklahoma’s pass defense stands at No. 106 in the country, playing right into WVU’s strength.
So it is huge, although Holgorsen prefers to downplay the impact this game could carry with it.
“It ain’t the be all, end all,” Holgorsen said “We have improved our talent over the years, our body of work is constantly getting better. We have 17 seniors and I love our seniors, but when they are gone we will reload and move on.
“Our recruiting is getting better. This is not a do-or-die situation for the program, but it would be big to win. Our goals is to get the Big 12 championship game. That’s everyone’s goal.”
But, Holgorsen understands the one reality of being in the Big 12.
“When the schedule came out, we knew this game would mean something. We knew we’d have to go through Oklahoma University to get to the championship. We’re fired up about it. It’s on our field in front of our fans and it’s Senior Night.”