This week WVU has been preparing for their final regular season matchup with the Oklahoma Sooners down in Norman, OK. This game is not quite the headliner that some may have imagined just a few weeks ago. WVU will be without Quarterback Will Grier, as he recovers from a broken hand and dislocated finger. That was something many had expected and accepted by halftime of the Texas game last Saturday. What many did not expect was that Heisman front-runner Baker Mayfield would not start in this game either. Mayfield’s on field antics against Kansas have earned him some time on the bench this week.
It is not clear how long Mayfield will sit on Saturday, and is not likely he will sit out the entire game with the Heisman Trophy on the line. Sooners Head Coach Lincoln Riley has not been clear about how long Mayfield will sit out, but Redshirt Sophomore Kyler Murray will start in place of Mayfield on Saturday. There is not much tape on Murray in a Sooners jersey, but he has completed 16 of his 19 attempts for 307 yards this season. Granted Murray’s numbers were produced in garbage time against UTEP, Tulane, and Kansas. This will be Murray’s first test of the season, and you have to imagine Riley will keep Murray in until the end of the first half. The only way Murray comes out of the game sooner, is if the Mountaineers get out to a fast start against the Big 12’s fourth ranked defense.
It has not been the typically dominating defensive year for the Sooners like in the past. OU has put better defenses on the field in past years, but it is better than last year’s defense. In 2015 the Sooners ranked second in the Big 12 in rush defense, first in scoring defense, first in defending the pass, and first in total defense. 2016 the Sooners took a major step back. From first in total defense to sixth in the Big 12. Then first in defending the pass in 2015 to eighth in the conference. All in one year. In 2017 they took a step forward.
The Sooners on defense this year in the Big 12 are fourth in total defense, fourth in defending the pass, and fourth in scoring defense in the conference.
An inconsistent defense would be encouraging if Grier was playing, but he is not. It will be Sophomore Chris Chugunov. Chugunov practically played the entire game, so hopefully rust will not be a factor, as well as chemistry considering he has had a full week of reps with starters. Last week Chugunov did not play bad throwing for 189-yards and a touchdown, though he was not perfect, he was not horrible and helped keep the game within reach.
The Sooners are favored to win by 22.5, but the Mountaineers can make this a game, by trusting their run game. Oklahoma is sixth in the conference against defending the run, and it just so happens Senior Running Back Justin Crawford had a field day against the Sooners last season in Morgantown.
Of course it is a new year, and Crawford has battled lingering stingers and injuries throughout the season. Those factors have limited some of his abilities, along with some inconsistency in the play-calling which has made it difficult for Crawford to get into a rhythm at times. Sophomore running back Kennedy McKoy will have to be used heavily as well to give WVU a change of pace in the running game. WVU will also have to control time of possession, something they have been absolutely terrible at this season. The mountaineers rank last in the Big 12 in time of possession while Oklahoma ranks first.
If the Mountaineers can keep their defense off of the field it will maximize the defenses production and eventually turn into big plays. The longer they have to be on the field, the more big plays WVU will give up.
Vegas favors the Sooners by a wide-margin, but a balanced pass-rush attack may help the Mountaineers keep this game close. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:45 PM ET.
OU: 28 WVU: 20