WVU Taking Positive Attitude Heading Into OU Game
In the end, it comes down to attitude, this journey in “The Valley of Death” that is otherwise known as Norman — not Bates, but Oklahoma — that West Virginia’s football team takes Saturday.
The noon eastern game against the No. 5 Sooners, who rule as a 33-point favorite, is televised on Fox.
Can WVU win as such an underdog against the only Big 12 team they have not beaten since joining the conference in 2012? ESPN says no, giving them only a three percent chance of victory in a stadium where the Sooners are 116-10, a .921 winning percentage, over the past 20 seasons.
Colton McKivitz, their senior leader on the offensive line, says there better not be any Mountaineer player thinking they can’t win.
“If you don’t think you can win a game, you shouldn’t be playing sports,” McKivitz said this week. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to show what we’re made of and what some of our younger guys are made of to play in a venue like that.”
It won’t be easy, as one might guess.
Oklahoma offers up the most prolific offensse in college football with quarterback Jalen Hurts — equal part passer and runner — and with CeeDee Lamb, the game’s most dangerous wide receiver.
“I saw they average 9-point-something yards per carry. You can get teams with stats and stats and then look at film and see something different. That’s not the case here,” said Vic Koenning, the man charged with stopping the Oklahoma juggernaut.
The Sooners are the only team in the nation to have scored 19 or more touchdowns running and 19 or more touchdowns passing and lead the nation in total offense at 621 yards per game while ranking third in scoring at 50.2 points per game.
What must WVU do to stop them?
“We’re going to have to sneak 12 or 13 guys out there. I don’t know if we’ll get away with it,” Koenning joked.
The most impressive statistic to come with the Sooner offense is that they average 9.8 yards per play, which rounds off to a first down every time they snap the ball.
Despite that, McKivitz believes it’s important that he offer the type of senior leadership that will allow WVU to stay in the game and have a chance to win as the fourth quarter begins as it did against both Texas and Iowa State.
“You definitely have to [have that leadership],” McKivitz said. “Some of young guys are hearing people say ‘You can’t win’ or ‘The odds are stacked against you.’ As an older guy you know it’s all about approaching every week the same, no matter who the opponent is.
“It’s definitely going to be a test of character for the young guys and myself to see where we are.”
The Mountaineers, who will start their regular quarterback Austin Kendall, are saying all the right things.
“You approach the game the way you have to approach it. You expect to win. You go out to do what you can do,” said defensive lineman Reuben Jones.
“I think we can make a big statement going in. People don’t believe in us because of our last two games,” said redshirt freshman receiver Sam James.
“It isn’t like ‘Oh, Oklahoma Sooners,’” junior nose guard Darius Stills added. “They got to play me also.”
Asked how WVU can handle a game like this after two straight losses,” Stills, as always, was staightforward.
“Trust the climb. Coach Brown says it’s Year 1 and that’s always the toughest year. We just have to buy into the system,” he said. “I feel we have accomplished a lot considering no one expected much from us. We’re going in the right direction. We have to go back to Square 1.”
That the Sooners, under Coach Lincoln Riley, bring a power packed offense into the game is nothing new. They have scored 59, 59 and 56 points against WVU the last three years and 45 and 44 the two previous years.
In fact, in the seven prior conference meetings Oklahoma has averaged 47 points a game.
The difference in this year’s Oklahoma team is that they beefed up the defense, bringing in coordinator Alex Grich from Ohio State. Last week Oklahoma got to Texas’ quarterback Sam Ehlinger nine times for sacks.
The Sooners are giving up just 20.3 points a game, led by linebacker Kenneth Murray, whose uncle Lind Murray played at WVU in 1980 and 1981. Last season they gave up 33.3 points a game.
They also are giving up 113 fewer yards per game.
“They are studying a lot more film this year,” McKivitz said. “We wanted to get after them last year. They definitely weren’t as explosive as they are this year. They have turned the page up front and are a good group up front.
“They definitely present a different problem than in other years.”