Oklahoma football: West Virginia poses biggest OU challenge to date

Oct 19, 2019; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley (left) greets West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown after the game at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 19, 2019; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley (left) greets West Virginia Mountaineers head coach Neal Brown after the game at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

After posting two wins by seven or fewer points against Power Five nonconference opponents, the 2021 edition of Oklahoma football now heads into the Big 12 portion of the schedule.

The No. 4-ranked Sooners (3-0) host West Virginia under the lights on Saturday at a sold-out Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

Oklahoma is 8-0 against West Virginia since 2012, when the Mountaineers became part of the Big 12 Conference. The Sooners are the only Big 12 team West Virginia has not beaten since joining the conference.

This will be Oklahoma’s fourth straight game at home to start the 2021 season, although the Tulane game to open the season was relocated to Norman in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida and the Sooners were not the designated home team.

815. Sooners -17.0. 2-1. 877. ABC. Satirday, Sept. 25. 3-0. 6:30 PM CT

The Sooners that are 25-2 at home in Lincoln Riley’s four-plus seasons as head coach. The average score in those 27 home contests has been 48-22, just two points higher than OU’s 46.3 average this season.

West Virginia comes in with a 2-1 overall record, including a 27-21 win over 15th-ranked Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers’ one loss came at Maryland, 30-24, on opening weekend.

The game is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff and will be broadcast nationally in prime time on ABC. with Chris Fowler doing play-by-play and Kirk Herbstreit providing analysis. Holly Rowe will be the sideline reporter.

What to watch for from West Virginia

West Virginia likes to run the ball just slightly more than putting it in the air. Through three games, the Mountaineers have run the ball 109 times and thrown it 99 times. Their offense has been the most effective with senior quarterback Jarret Doege going to the air. West Virginia averages 271 passing yards per game, second in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma. When the Mountaineers run the ball, it is generally with senior Leddie Brown, who ranks seventh in the Big 12, averaging a little over 88 yards a game.

The Mountaineers have two receivers in the top 15 in the Big 12. Sam James gets most of the targets. He has 10 catches for 166 yards and three touchdowns this season.

The West Virginia defense will pose a solid test for an Oklahoma offense that most experts believe has underperformed its talent level so far this season. The Mountaineers are more of a bend-not-break defense, which forces offenses to remain patient and play error free in order to finish drives. Of particular note is their high success rate in preventing points in the red zone. They rank No. 1 in the nation in red-zone defense (36.4 success rate).

West Virginia has a special teams weapon in kick-return specialist Winston Wright Jr., who is averaging 43 yards per return, second best in the country through three games.

What to watch for from Oklahoma

Oklahoma has put up solid offensive numbers in its three games, the problem being they are below where they have been in recent seasons. The Sooners rank second in the Big 12 in scoring (46.3) and total offense (487.3 yards per game), and are No. 1 in passing (291.7 with seven TDs).

Spencer Rattler enters Saturday’s date with West Virginia averaging 253.7 passing yards and with a 158.6 passing efficiency rating. Both rank just ahead of West Virginia’s Doege. Rattler does lead the Big 12 in touchdown passes with seven. The Sooners’ rushing attack features dual roles by Kennedy Brooks and Tennessee transfer Eric Gray. The OU rushing attack averages 195.7 yards per game, which ranks in the middle of the pack in the Big 12.

Marvin Mims, Jadon Haselwood, Mario Williams and Mike Woods are Oklahoma’s main receiving weapons in a talented receiving corps that could be the deepest and best in the country. Look for at least two of the four to have big games against West Virginia.

Oklahoma’s run defense this season has been outstanding. None of the three teams the Sooners have faced so far have rushed for more than 100 yards in a game, and the defensive front is allowing just 2.5 yards per running play. Additionally, OU ranks fifth nationally with 4.5 sacks per game and is ninth in the country with 9.0 tackles for loss per contest. The Sooners will need that same kind of disruptive effort to get the job done against a productive West Virginia offense.

West Virginia head coach Neal Brown this week called the Sooners’ defensive line “difference makers across the board. Those kids are all high-round NFL draft picks.”

If turnovers are a factor in this game, and they usually are, the Sooners have a commanding advantage. OU is finally living up to defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s emphasis on takeaways. The Sooners are plus-five in turnover margin this season; the Mountaineers’ are minus-five in that category through three games.

Savvy Sooner stat

Lincoln Riley has been head coach in three games against West Virginia. All were Oklahoma wins. In those three contests, the Sooners have averaged 56.7 points, 624.7 yards of total offense, and 10.5 yards per play. The numbers probably won’t be that impressive on Saturday, but Oklahoma should have more than enough firepower to secure their fourth win of the season and ninth straight over the Mountaineers.

Bottom line

The betting line on this game, according to WynnBET, is -17 in favor of the home team Sooners. I’m inclined to believe that this spread is a bit too high. West Virginia is a better team than both Tulane and Nebraska, and Oklahoma struggled late putting those two teams away. OU is clearly the more talented team in this matchup, and if the Sooners truly show up this weekend, the 17-point margin shouldn’t be high enough. Like ESPN’s Lee Corso likes to say, “closer than the experts think.”

Oklahoma 38, West Virginia 28