It is week 5 in college football and the Big 12 title picture must now begin to take form. The hype around undefeated teams must die down. Team's simply have to put up, or shut up. The Mountaineers take on the Oklahoma Sooners in what will be the Big 12's first fall blockbuster. West Virginia is 0-3 against the Sooners and will look to change that this Saturday in one of college football's toughest environments, Gaylord Family Memorial in Norman, Oklahoma.
Oklahoma's Best Case
Though the Sooners show a new air raid scheme and talented Baker Mayfield at quarterback, offensively they will be in a stale mate with the very much battle tested West Virginia secondary. Three out of the five starters to the West Virginia defensive backfield have played in this game three times already and this year the entire secondary has accounted for 9 interceptions thus far. This battle cannot be left to winning through the air if you're Oklahoma even with a talented Sterling Shepard at receiver. The Mountaineers often will bring 5 or 6 to rush the quarterback because they trust the secondary so much. The Sooners best case will be the ground and pound. They need to bring the hammer that is OU football and control the trenches. The offensive line is fairly new but with the right play calling and a mix of Samaje Perine, and Joe Mixon things could get ugly in Norman. Running the ball will not only fatigue the Mountaineer's but it will give the Sooners complete control of the clock which is key to any game.
Defensively the Sooners must stop the big play. Wide receiver Shelton Gibson is averaging 27.4 yards a reception for a team leading 329 receiving yards. Running back Wendell Smallwood is averaging almost 7 yards a carry with a longest run of 25 yards. The Sooners and cornerback Zack Sanchez have to limit Gibson over the top while gifted linebacker Eric Striker and the defensive line contain the run. The play calling must be conservative. Dropping 5 or 6 players into coverage forces WVU's young quarterback Skyler Howard to think in his first game with almost 100,000 in the stands. This also helps a secondary who struggled two weeks ago against Tulsa. Conservative play calling also helps the Sooners not over run or guess on the wrong gap in the battle against West Virginia's rushing aspect.
Oklahoma has to be able to stall drives and keep momentum on their side. WVU has beat it's opponents by a combined point total of 74-0 before halftime in 2015. If the Mountaineers get off to a hot start it could be over early.
West Virginia's Best Case
Quarterback Skyler Howard and his receivers must attack Oklahoma in the passing game. The Sooners are led by one of the Big 12's most talented cornerbacks in Zack Sanchez but that has proven it's not enough. The Sooners gave up 427 passing yards to Tulsa and Sanchez himself was torched for 189 yards and a touchdown. Shelton Gibson will need to test him. He and fellow wide out Jovon Durante have the ability to keep Oklahoma's safeties deep all game long while Daikiel Shorts and Jordan Thompson anchor the inside.
Before any of that even starts the key to the passing game will be protecting the quarterback. Perhaps the most intriguing match up of the night will be redshirt freshman offensive tackle Yodne Cajuste going up against the likes of a talented senior defensive end in Charles Tapper. The maturity difference could be detrimental to the game. Fifth year senior also at offensive tackle Marquis Lucas could take on the task but then who would take care of Striker coming off the edge? If West Virginia can keep those two out of the backfield Howard can win the day.
On defense, the Mountaineers have to control the battle upfront. Kyle Rose and the defensive line have to stop Perine from putting up another 242 rushing yards like last year's performance. The linebackers and possibly even spur safety KJ Dillon should be run supporting primarily. The secondary can be trusted to handle an Oklahoma pass attack but new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley brings an air raid offense to the table that could give WVU a taste of its own medicine.
West Virginia has too much fire power on offense to be stopped by an Oklahoma team that has already given up 65 points in just 3 games. The OU secondary is depleted. The key will be in the pass rush but even that can't guarantee victory. Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield will throw for two touchdowns while Perine rushes for another but in the end this game is over before it starts. Mountaineers win and go into half up 21-7.
WVU 38-OU 21
Saturday's game will kick off at noon ET and will be televised nationally on Fox Sports 1.