The Big 12′s most highly anticipated game coming in to the season has definitely lost a lot of luster. College Gameday was supposed to be in Morgantown this weekend, however, four consecutive losses later and this one is just not the game it was once billed as before WVU collapsed.
Here to give us some insight is WVU alum Ken Durbin, who runs the West Virginia Mountaineer site on Fansided. I asked him five questions, and his answers are in italics below.
1. Going in to Saturday, what absolutely has to happen/change for West Virginia to compete with Oklahoma?
For West Virginia to compete on Saturday, the Mountaineers are going to need to rediscover their rushing attack. Against Texas, the Mountaineers did a great job of balancing the run and the pass, leading to a big road victory. In the four games since that win, the Mountaineers have struggled to find any sort of balance offensively, putting a ton of pressure on Geno Smith to carry the team. If they have any shot against the Sooners, WVU will need a big game from Andrew Buie, especially with Shawne Alston and Dustin Garrison ailing.
2. Is WVU’s defense the problem, or does some of the blame have to fall on the offense?
The biggest eye sore this season has clearly been the defense. WVU is currently 110th in total defense and 120th against the pass. Those numbers suggest that even an above average passer like Landry Jones should have no issue dismantling our secondary. I must give the defense some credit though, they have been steadily improving the past few games, forcing some big turnovers to keep the Mountaineers in the game (at least against TCU and OSU). Don’t be surprised to see the defense make Jones look foolish once or twice on Saturday.
3. Other than Geno and Tavon, what’s one player OU fans should watch out for Saturday night?
One player that Oklahoma should be most concerned about offensively is Stedman Bailey. A lot of attention gets paid to the electric, all-purpose Tavon Austin, but few realize that Austin trails Bailey in receiving yards and touchdowns. Stedman is actually the top touchdown receiver in all of college football with 16 scores to complement 75 receptions and 1,055 yards receiving. Bailey has been shaking off a lower body injury as of late, but looked back to 100% against Oklahoma State. That is not good news for the Sooners secondary. If Bailey is on his game Saturday, he will provide the depth threat to Austin’s underneath threat; a difficult task for any defense to shut down.
4. With a quality bowl out of the question, what does WVU take from this season and what does the future look like?
Yes, it looks like WVU’s bowl aspirations center around the Pinstripe Bowl at best. What WVU needs to take away from this season is the learning process. Defensively, the Mountaineers have transitioned from a 3-3-5 odd stack to a more conventional 3-4 scheme under Joe DeForest. It is going to take a couple recruiting classes to get the appropriate personnel in place to properly execute this defense. More importantly, WVU faced a harsh reality check this year, their first in the Big XII. WVU came in with lofty expectations based on the Orange Bowl massacre of Clemson and figured that they could just out-gun the rest of the league. The Mountaineers now know that they have to bring their A-game each and every week to compete in this league and to not let their guard down against lesser opponents. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers have needed to learn that lesson for the past four seasons.
5. Does the losing streak end this week? Why or why not?
Yes, the losing streak shall end this week. Oklahoma will finally beat the Mountaineers for the first time since 1978. WVU’s 2-game winning streak over the Sooners, and the 30 years of associated bragging rights (1982 in Norman and 2008 in Glendale), will finally be surrendered. Given the way the offense has been up and down, the defensive struggles, and the rash of special teams miscues, I think the Sooners will get a win in Morgantown. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this game was extremely close, because Mountaineer Field night games are (for the most part) exciting and memorable match-ups.