The sound of the school fight song. The thousands of screaming fans supporting their team. The traditions, the pageantry and the pride of two teams battling it out on the gridiron on a Saturday. This is what college football is all about. After months of hibernation it is back and bigger than ever. So fans fire up those grills for your tailgates and put on your school colors because college football season is here! Every week I will breakdown and preview the best matchup the Big 12 has to offer and for this week’s pick, I will be previewing the (9) Oklahoma Sooners taking on the (14) West Virginia Mountaineers. Coverage begins at 8 PM ET on ABC from Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, West Virginia.
What’s at Stake?
What an absolute wild weekend of football last week. We saw five top ten teams go down to possibly open up some doors for the Big 12 conference (maybe). As we hit mid-November, there are three teams that stand apart from the rest. Luckily for us, two of these teams are squaring off for a showdown of epic proportions on Saturday. Oklahoma enters this weekend on a 14 conference game winning streak, which is the longest win streak since Texas did it from 2004-2006. This team is red hot and will look to seize full control of the Big 12 title race. West Virginia is a football team that is getting VERY little respect nationally. This will be an excellent moment to show the rest of the country how good they are in primetime. This game reminds me of a prized heavyweight fight, a heavy hitting, hard nose matchup. It’s do or die for these two football teams. The winner will have a shot at the Big 12 title and possibly a playoff spot while the loser walks away empty handed.
This offense begins and ends with the golden boy, quarterback Baker Mayfield. Mayfield is averaging 321.2 passing yards per game while tossing 33 touchdowns on 7 picks. Yes, that’s correct, 33 touchdowns! If that does not impress you then maybe his 72% completion percentage will. This guy is deadly and accurate with the football in his hands. Whether is throwing or running, Baker gets the job done period. I really can’t say enough about Mayfield and his impressive performances.
What’s a good quarterback without a good running game right? Well the Sooners certainly do not have that problem to worry about. Samje Perine and Joe Mixon have been stellar when healthy and out of trouble. Samje Perine is a bone crushing back, averaging 82.1 rushing yards per game while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. He also has hit pay dirt 8 times this year even after missing a few games. The shifty back of the two is Joe Mixon, who averages 104.1 yards per game on 7 yards per carry. Mixon has seen the end zone 6 times running the football. Not only is Mixon a running threat but he is currently the second on the team in receiving yards as well.
This receiver group is led by the phonemical Dede Westbrook. Westbrook has played like a man with his head on fire for this team. Averaging 125.4 yards per game and scoring 14 touchdowns, Dede is the best wide receiver in the Big 12 and will be an All-American this year. Behind Westbrook is TE/WR Mark Andrews. Andres is a total mismatch with his height at 6’5 and has scored 6 times this season. Rounding out the group is Nick Basquine who plays a small part in the passing game with 25.2 yards per game.
Up front Oklahoma will use starters LT Orlando Brown, LG Ben Powers, C Erick Wren, RG Dru Samia and RT Bobby Evans. This bunch has been really good at opening lanes for their backs.
West Virginia Defense
Even though DE Noble Nwachukwu missed almost all of the game against Texas, he still is the best pass rusher that the Mountaineers have with 3 sacks. Opposite Neachukwu, will be DE Chritian Brown, who has a sack and 3 TFLs. Brown has been getting better each week at his positon. In the middle will be NT Darrien Howard, who has 4 TFLs with 2 sacks. Howard is a great space eater to help free up his linebackers.
While he may be undersized, Justin Arndt finds himself leading the defense in tackles. Arndt has 5 TFLs with 3 of them being sacks on the year. This is a guy who plays the game with his heart, which makes up for him being smaller than most linebackers. Joining him will be MLB Al Rasheed Benton and WLB David Long. Both Benton and Long have been playing well for this 6-man front defense and will look to continue their good play.
Here is a name you can pencil in for an all Big 12 cornerback, Rasul Douglas. Douglas is a tall, lengthy corner who has been a ball hawk giving offenses fits. He not only is the second leading tackler on the team, but he has 6 interceptions this season. He is one of the best in the entire country. Alongside him will be CB Maruice Felming, who has 6 PBUs and a pick so far filling in. At the famous SPUR positon is Kyzir White. White is a heavy hitter who looks to knock peoples block off on defense. He has 5 TFLs with 3 of them being sacks. Jeremy Tyler and Karrod Harper will get the nods at FS and BS. Tyler has 6 PBUs and an interception while Jarrod Harper has been a tackling machine for the back end.
The Sooners have an electrifying offense with a ton of weapons. Even if you can shut them down in one phase of the game, they can expose a defense in another way. The weakness of a 3-3-5 defense is stopping the run. This is not good news for a defense when you face two guys like Perine and Mixon. Anytime a defense starts keying the run game, the Sooners take deep shots to Dede Westbrook and Mark Andrews. Oklahoma is going to try to establish the ground game and then mix in some play action as well. Another thing to keep an eye on is QB Baker Mayfield. He could be key in the read option game because last week the Mountaineers crashed hard on the inside to stop the Texas rushing attack. For the Mountaineers, they will do everything to try and slow down the Oklahoma run game to make them unbalanced on offense. This defense loves to get offenses in 3rd and longs so they can bring the pressure on the quarterback to make big mistakes. West Virginia has had their moments when they struggle to bring down ball carriers and that certainly can’t happen on Saturday.
West Virginia Offense
Ok, yes he made some mistakes last weekend but Skyler Howard has been a very good game manager for the Mountaineers at quarterback. There is nothing wrong with being a game manager as long as you do not turn the football over. Skyler is averaging 284.7 passing yards per game while throwing for 17 touchdowns on 9 picks. His completion percentage has gone up from last season as he is completing 64.5% of his passes. Like I always keep saying about Howard, he never lacks toughness and has the mentality of a linebacker playing quarterback. Sometimes his toughness and trying to force throws will cost him.
Physical, balanced and speed are the three words I would use to describe this West Virginia backfield. Rushel Shell is the bruiser rushing for 63.1 yards per game along with 5 scores on the season. He has been a bit banged up but he should be a go for this weekend. Justin Crawford is a guy who has the right mix of quickness and power that you look for in a running back. He is the most balanced of the trio, averaging 66.6 yards per game and averaging 6.1 yards per carry. The speed guy is Kennedy McKoy who is like lighting in a bottle. He has done a great job stepping up as a true freshman this season and will be fun to watch as he matures.
What was once a one man show for this receiver group has now turned into a solid trio much like the running back position. Daikiel Shorts is the leading receiver averaging 83.7 yards per game along with 4 scores. Behind him is the speedy deep threat, Shelton Gibson. Gibson is averaging 77.9 yards per game and has caught 6 touchdowns. Last but not least is Ka’Raun White. White has been getting better each and every week. He is playing the up to his capabilities as being that physical receiver who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty.
Up front the Mountaineers will use starters LT Adam Pankey, LG Tony Matteo, C Tyler Orlosky, RG Kyle Bosch and RT Colton Mckivitz. This bunch is still the best that the Big 12 has to offer as far as offensive lines go.
With all the injures going on for this defensive line, Oklahoma’s line looks completely different from a few weeks ago. DT Jordan Wade is a familiar name in the middle who began the season in the starting lineup. Next to Wade will be Neville Gallimore and Austin Roberts at the DE spots. There aren’t a lot of stats for these guys because most of them were backups at some point and time this season. I will say that Wade has been good when healthy.
Look out offenses, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo is healthy and looking to terrorize offenses. Okoronkwo is one of a few guys in contention to win Big 12 defensive player of the year. He has 8.5 TFLs with 7 of them being sacks. This is a guy to really keep an eye on. Jordan Evans and Emmanuel Beal will handle the roles at the ILB spots for this defense. Evans leads the team in tackles with 8 of them coming for loss. He also has 3 interceptions on the year as well. 2nd on the team in tackles is Emmanuel Beal who has 3 TFLs, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. These three have been outstanding at making plays this season. Also look for OLB Caleb Kelly, who is a true freshman with a lot of talent.
At corner the Sooners will use Jordan Thomas and Steven Parker. Thomas has 15 PBUs on the season while Parker has 3. This is a position that really struggled early in the year but is starting to really catch on. Will Johnson will handle the duties at NB when needed. Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker are the two guys holding things down in the back end. Thomas brings a physical approach at FS while Parker has 2 this season.
What West Virginia tries to bring on offense is balance. They love to keep defenses guessing all game long. Much like their opponent, they want to establish the ground game with their trio of backs. The Mountaineers will even use QB Skyler Howard in the run game as well. If possible, they would love to run the ball every play because of the shaky play of Skyler Howard. He has had his ups and downs in the past but with a good solid rushing attack, he is able to hit his targets more often. I expect West Virginia to use all three of their running backs in this contest. A name to keep an eye on here is WR Shelton Gibson who has the ability to score on every play. For Oklahoma, they need to slow down this Mountaineer run game. They need to get West Virginia behind the chains to force them to throw the ball more than they would like to. Put the game on QB Skyler Howard’s shoulders and force him to beat you with his arm.
Oklahoma wins if they are able to run the football. If they can take control of this game on the ground it will make life a lot easier for Bob Stoops and take a wild crowd out of the ballgame.
West Virginia wins if they are able to run the football. I know it is the same key for Oklahoma, but I truly believe whoever wins the rushing battle will emerge victorious.
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