(13) Oklahoma (7-2) at West Virginia (5-4)
Saturday, November 17, 7 p.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By Frank Haynes, Senior College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: A pair of Big 12 Conference teams seemingly headed in opposite directions do battle on Saturday night, as the 13th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners pay a visit to the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Oklahoma comes into this clash sporting a 7-2 overall record and a 5-1 mark in conference. The Sooners, who are perfect 3-0 on the road this season, took care of visiting Baylor last Saturday, 42-34, running their current winning streak to three games. Despite only suffering the one loss against another Big 12 member, OU will need some help if it hopes to win the conference crown as that lone league defeat came against undefeated and first-place Kansas State (24-19) back on Sept. 22.
In addition to this bout, the Sooners still have to play rival Oklahoma State at home next Saturday, and then close the curtain on the regular season the following week at TCU. With last week's victory, head coach Bob Stoops moved into second place on the school's all-time wins list with 146.
West Virginia shot out of the gate this season, riding the hot hand of one- time Heisman hopeful quarterback Geno Smith to a 5-0 start. But since surviving its first two Big 12 bouts against Baylor (70-63) and Texas (48-48), the Mountaineers have lost four straight. Their most recent setback took place last Saturday at Oklahoma State (55-34), and WVU has surrendered an average of 49.5 ppg during its current slide. Add the two high-scoring wins over the Bears and Longhorns, and the Mountaineers have been torched for 51 ppg in those six bouts. West Virginia is still one win away from earning bowl eligibility, and it will have opportunity to accomplish that feat either this week against Oklahoma, next week at Iowa State, or in the regular-season finale at home versus Kansas.
The all-time series between these two historic programs is knotted at 2-2, with the most recent matchup going to West Virginia in a 48-28 decision in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl.
Both of these teams are capable of lighting up the scoreboard with alarming frequency, with the Sooners averaging 39.8 ppg and the Mountaineers an even 40.0 ppg. Defensively is where they are vastly different however, with Oklahoma giving up just 19.6 ppg and West Virginia an embarrassing 41.4 ppg.
The Oklahoma offense is led by veteran QB Landry Jones, and he has been rock- solid for the most part this season, throwing for 2,691 yards, 18 TDs and only seven interceptions. Other standouts for the Sooners include RB Damien Williams (113 carries, 687 yards, nine TDs), backup QB Blake Bell who has been used primarily as a runner (10 rushing TDs), and WRs Kenny Stills (54 receptions, 682 yards, six TDs) and Justin Brown (41 receptions, 537 yards, four TDs).
As for the OU defense, it has done a solid job against the pass (170.2 ypg), permitting just three TDs through the air. Tony Jefferson paces the unit with 79 tackles, while Javon Harris has a team-high four interceptions.
Jones threw for 277 yards and two TDs, and Williams ran for 99 yards and a pair of scores to help push the Sooners past Baylor last weekend. Brown led the receiving corps with six grabs for 83 yards and a TD, while RB Brennan Clay scored a pair of TDs, one on the ground and one through the air.
The Sooners limited Baylor to a season-low 172 passing yards, but the Bears did manage to rumble their way to 252 yards and four TDs on the ground. Both Harris (14 tackles) and Jefferson (11 tackles) were all over the field for OU, which allowed BU to convert 11-of-20 third-down attempts, and did not force a turnover.
Jefferson spoke after the game about his unit's lack of big plays, and how it has a direct impact on the flow of a game.
"We didn't cause any turnovers, and that ties into the score. We gave up some third downs and some big plays and we can't do that. Our main thing is that we have to get some turnovers. That's three games in a row where we've only gotten one turnover."
The Sooners are going to need to bring their 'A-game' against a West Virginia passing attack that features the record-setting Smith, who has thrown for more than 3,000 yards this season with an eye-popping TD-to-INT ratio of 31-3. Taking full advantage of their gifted gunslinger's exploits are WRs Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, the two combining for a whopping 171 catches, 2,023 yards and 27 TDs. When the Mountaineers decide to keep the ball on the ground, its RB Andrew Buie who gets the call more times than not, and he has responded by producing 646 yards and five TDs.
As mentioned, the WVU defense has been absolutely dreadful this season, particularly against the pass as it yields (345.2 ypg, 27 TDs) almost as much as the offense generates (347.6 ypg, 33 TDs). Isaiah Bruce leads the team with 80 tackles, while Josh Francis has 15 TFL and has combined with Terrence Garvin to record 8.5 sacks. Not surprisingly, the Mountaineers have come up with only seven interceptions, and their scoring yield ranks 117th in the country entering this week's action.
In last week's loss to Oklahoma State, Smith completed 36-of-54 passes for 364 yards and two TDs, with Bailey finishing with 14 grabs for 225 yards and a score, and Austin hauling in 11 balls for 79 yards and a TD as well. WVU lost a pair of fumbles and allowed three sacks.
The defense let the Mountaineers down once again, as it gave up 443 yards and six TDs (two rushing, four passing) to the Cowboys. Pat Miller paced the unit with six stops, all of them solo efforts, and the unit as a whole was credited with only two sacks and one takeaway.
Despite Oklahoma's propensity for curtailing the opposition's passing attack, Smith likes his team's chances in this one.
"It's a good opportunity for our wideouts to have some one-on-one matchups, and it's up to me to put the ball in the right spot. It's a good opportunity for us, and I'm looking forward to it."
Regardless of the confidence exhibited by WVU's field general, the Mountaineers are in a serious tailspin and taking on another ranked foe, whether it be at home or on the road, isn't going to make their job any easier. Expect the Sooners to prevail in what should be another relatively high-scoring affair.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Oklahoma 49, West Virginia 35
11/14 10:50:32 ET