At the beginning of the 2017 season, this matchup between the Oklahoma Sooners and West Virginia Mountaineers had all the makings of a late-season classic. It looked like West Virginia, powered by quarterback Will Grier, would give the Sooners a game in Norman. Instead, the Mountaineers lost Grier for the season in a disappointing loss against Texas last week. Entering Saturday’s game, the Mountaineers sit in fifth place in the conference and come into this game with a mediocre 7-4 record overall(5-3 in conference play). To right the ship, and finish its season on a solid note, West Virginia will have to rely on backup QB Chris Chugunov. Chugunov will be making the first start of his career Saturday against an Oklahoma defense that has shown some improvement over the last couple of games.
With Baker Mayfield not making the start this week, the Sooners will lean on Kyler Murray and their running game early on — possibly for only one possession. Here are some of the keys to the game for both teams:
Let Kyler Murray loose
While I am a huge fan of Lincoln Riley and his play-calling in general, I think he has a bad habit of getting too conservative in certain situations. I see Riley trying to ease Murray into the game and calling mainly running plays early on. While this may be the safe approach, I think it plays into the hands of the West Virginia defense. If Riley lets Murray take some shots down field early on, it could catch the Mountaineers off guard.
When given the opportunity, Murray has shown he has the arm strength and accuracy to hit on the deep ball. If he can connect with Marquise Brown, Jeff Badet, CeeDee Lamb or someone else downfield, then Baker Mayfield will step into the game with an early lead. If the Sooners get up on the Mountaineers early, expect Mayfield to come in and pile it on. The players on West Virginia will be trying to get a rise out of Mayfield and I think he will dominate while keeping his cool this time around.
Be aggressive on defense
In games against Baylor, Kansas State, and Iowa State this year, the Oklahoma defense struggled to stop backup quarterbacks. This problem underscores the bigger problem that the Oklahoma defense is faced with week in and week out — the stewardship of Mike Stoops. When Stoops has not seen a lot of tape on a guy — Chris Chugunov in this case — he struggles to prepare his defense.
The Sooners need to come out playing aggressive against West Virginia. This means operating out of a four-man front and dialing up pressure from time to time against Chris Chugunov. With Neville Gallimore back and Duvonte Lampkin finding his groove at nose tackle, the Oklahoma defensive line should be able to generate some pressure up front. On top of this front-line pressure, Stoops shouldn't be afraid to send guys like Emmanuel Beal, Kenneth Murray, Parnell Motley, Steven Parker and others up on blitzes.
An aggressive approach early on could help generate some turnovers for Oklahoma. This will give Kyler Murray some relief early on until Baker Mayfield takes the reins. I expect Oklahoma to create a couple of turnovers in this game since West Virginia will likely take some chances.
Get Justin Crawford the ball
Last year against Oklahoma, Justin Crawford had an absolute field day. The running back ran for 331 yards and had his way with the Oklahoma defense. Luckily for the Sooners, West Virginia failed to capitalize on a couple of long drives and Oklahoma was able to come away with the win.
I fully expect Dana Holgorsen to utilize the same game plan this year. Crawford can run the ball between the tackles and get to the outside. If Kenneth Murray and Caleb Kelly are not in position, Crawford could burn them and get into the second level. If the Mountaineers are able to get Crawford going, they will have the option of using play-action against the Sooners.
Utilize the talented receiving corp
After Oklahoma State, this West Virginia receiving corps is up there with the best in the nation. Leading the receiving group is David Sills V, who has been dominant this season and leads the country with 18 touchdown catches. At 6’4 and over 200 pounds, Sills is a matchup nightmare for this young Oklahoma secondary. The Oklahoma corners have struggled with big receivers throughout the season, most notably against Iowa State and Oklahoma State.
In addition to Sills, West Virginia has Gary Jennings, Ka’Raun White and Marcus Simms. This plethora of options makes it difficult for defenses to key in on one guy. For the Sooners to slow down this dangerous receiving group, they will need to pressure Chugunov and play tough press coverage. I expect the Sooners to have some issues but to hold down the fort against the West Virginia offense. I am predicting that Parnell Motley gets another pick in this game. Motley regained his confidence against Kansas and can be the best player in the secondary if he keeps his head held high.
I expect this Oklahoma team to rally around Kyler Murray early on and then really get going once Baker comes into the game. The Sooner defense is moving in the right direction and I see their progression continuing against West Virginia. I expect this to be a statement game for the Sooners. They have not been getting the respect they deserve from the CFP committee but that will change after Saturday.
Oklahoma 52, West Virginia 17