On Friday, the Mountaineers will face off against the Sooners for a chance to make it to the Big 12 Championship. Oklahoma brings a wide-open, powerful offense but a staggering defense that gives up an average of 30.7 points per game. They are led by their Heisman hopeful quarterback, Kyler Murray, who averages 49.4 points per game. In this edition of “From the Film Room,” we’ll focus on what West Virginia’s defense will have to accomplish to stop the high-flying Sooners’ offense.
Here, Kyler Murray hits a deep fade route to CeeDee Lamb. Despite good coverage by UCLA, Lamb is able to make a play between two defenders. UCLA has both a corner and a safety in good position but the Sooners out execute the defenders. Between CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown, a Bilentnikoff Semi-Finalist, the Oklahoma Sooners have two exceptional wide receivers.
Oklahoma State quarterback, Taylor Cornelius, ran for 106 yards against the Mountaineers. He picked up critical first downs and allowed the Cowboys to extend drives. Below you will see Cornelius execute a “RPO,” also known as a Read, Pass, Option play. The quarterback can hand off to the running back, pass it, or keep it them self. On this play he keeps it, gaining seven yards and a first down. David Long, the linebacker aligned on the bottom hash, comes too far inside. This is because he assumes the running back is going to get the ball. With Long out of position, he isn’t able to make the tackle, or force Cornelius wide so another defender can make the play. Long is the most instinctive, and overall, the best defensive player that West Virginia has, but here even he is fooled. These RPO plays are proving to be a weak point for defensive coordinators across the country. The defense will have to play fundamentally sound football to prevent Kyler Murray from running wild on Friday.
Compared to Oklahoma State’s Cornelius, the Sooners have an even more challenging quarterback running game to stop. Kyler Murray has true elite speed. The Mountaineers will have to contain Murray to win the game. Oklahoma head coach, Lincoln Riley, doesn’t always utilize Murray’s legs with play calls. In a tight game, or if plays break down, we will likely see Riley call upon his quarterback to take advantage of his athleticism.
What makes Murray so dangerous is his ability to throw the ball. The Junior has thrown for 3,310 yards this season. Usually dual threat quarterbacks can be challenged because of their inability to throw the ball deep or to middle routes. Having a well-rounded route tree prevents defensive coordinators from placing their safeties close to the box area to stop the run. Murray’s ability to throw the deep ball is highlighted below.
What makes the Oklahoma offense so difficult to stop is their multifaceted attack; they are not limited to the passing and running game of Murray. The Sooners average 260 yards per game on the ground. They’re led by two running backs, Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks, that both have over 800 yards on the season. Their returning starter, Rodney Anderson, has been hammered with injuries this season. Despite this setback, they haven’t missed a beat. Below, is a highlight of their running game. Here, you see an option toss where they use Murray’s speed, then take advantage of their strong stable of backs. Watch the receivers in this play and the level of effort shown in downfield blocks.
The Mountaineers, with one regular season game remaining, are in contention for the Big 12 Championship for the first time. With a win on Friday, they’re guaranteed a birth to the the championship game. To do so they’ll have to find a way to limit the relentless attack of Kyler Murray and the rest of Lincoln Riley’s offense. The Mountaineers have their work cut out for them on Friday: win and they’re in.