This Friday in Morgantown, Oklahoma(10-1) plays West Virginia(8-2) with their season on the line. Win, and they go on to the Big 12 title game with their playoff hopes still intact. If the Sooners lose, they may still get to play in a New Years six bowl, but the season will be considered a massive disappointment. For the West Virginia Mountaineers, they still have a shot at a Big 12 crown but no longer can compete for a CFP spot after losing a tight game to Oklahoma State last Saturday. With two high-powered offenses squaring off in this one, another Big 12 shootout is in order. The Vegas Over/Under is 84, and I don’t think that's nearly high enough.
Date: Friday November 23rd
Time & TV: 7:00PM CT on ESPN
Spread: Oklahoma -3
Health of the Oklahoma Backfield
Going into the game tomorrow, Oklahoma has one truly healthy scholarship running back on their roster(Kennedy Brooks). Both T.J. Pledger and Trey Sermon are questionable with injuries. Sermon only played a couple plays against the Jayhawks before getting pulled from the game and putting on a walking boot.
Against West Virginia, the Sooners may need to lean heavily on the redshirt freshman Brooks and QB Kyler Murray. After playing sparingly in the first few games of the season, Brooks has been an absolute beast over the last month. He has rushed for 811 yards on the season and is averaging a whopping 9.9 yards per carry. The amazing thing about Brooks is his vision hitting the hole and seeing the entire field. He is not a burner and doesn't run people over like Trey Sermon but he always seems to find a way to rip off big runs. It’s his instincts that make him so special. The Brooks/Murray duo should be able to continue to dominate on the ground against West Virginia, but the Sooners need to be concerned about depth behind Brooks in case he goes down.
I have a feeling that OU will have ore than one back available, but things could be interesting (and play calling could be impacted) if not.
Despite producing a defense in 2018 that is historically bad, Oklahoma always seems to find a way in money time to produce a key turnover. OU has only come up with eight turnovers all season, but when it seemed like all hope was lost against Army, Oklahoma picked off a tipped pass to turn the tide of the game. On that crazy night in Lubbock a few weeks ago, Robert Barnes picked off a pass on a two-point conversion (doesn’t count in the TO statistics) and swung the game once again. In Bedlam two weeks ago, DT Neville Gallimore forced a fumble that prevented Oklahoma State from icing the game. Against Will Grier & Co., the Oklahoma defense will likely need to come up with another clutch turnover for the Sooners to win the game. I expect the Oklahoma defense to struggle in this game (GOING OUT ON QUITE A LIMB), but they need to at least play aggressively to try and force a turnover or two.
On the West Virginia side, they need to keep doing what they have been doing in terms of turnovers. West Virginia ranks 27th in the FBS currently with a turnover margin of +6. Their defense has struggled but does a much better job of producing turnovers than OU. West Virginia plays a 3-3-5 scheme that puts their DB’s in good positions to make plays. They have 12 interceptions and are led on the back end by senior safety Dravon Askew-Henry. Henry has six career interceptions so he is someone Kyler Murray needs to look out for. West Virginia DC Tony Gibson does a good job disguising coverages, which has sometimes given Kyler Murray some trouble this season. Since this game will likely be a tight one, turnovers could make all the difference.
West Virginia Psyche
After a crushing loss against Oklahoma State that dashed the CFP hopes of the Mountaineers, it will be interesting to see where their head is at tonight. They may still be reeling from the Oklahoma State loss and could have a letdown in front of their home crowd. They also have the mental obstacle of being winless against Oklahoma since they entered the conference in 2012. Aside from the infamous Tavon Austin game, Oklahoma has generally dominated the Mountaineers. The 2016 game stands out — remember when the Mountaineers appeared to be too worked up in the early going (and in pregame) and laid an egg? Holgorsen, his staff and his seniors will need to keep that kind of thing in check.
With all that being said, Morgantown will be rocking tomorrow night so the Sooners need to be prepared for a hostile environment.
Oklahoma Run Defense
After getting absolutely shredded against Kansas, the Oklahoma run defense obviously needs to bounce back against West Virginia. While I do not expect the Oklahoma secondary to be able to slow down Will Grier, David Sills and Gary Jennings Jr., the Oklahoma front seven can slow down the West Virginia ground game. For this to happen, Kenneth Murray, Curtis Bolton, and the defensive line need to put forth a much better effort than they did against Kansas. The Oklahoma defense also could use DT Neville Gallimore back in the lineup. He has been solid against the run this year but is now questionable for the game. If Oklahoma can make West Virginia one-dimensional, and play more aggressively against the pass, their likelihood of actually getting some stops will substantially increase. In that event, we will see if Oklahoma interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill will have the stones to turn this defense loose with blitzes and press coverage. They really can’t get any worse at this point — might as well let it rip.
While I am juiced up for this game, I know it will be a stressful one for myself and the rest of Sooner Nation. Expect a shootout of epic proportions tomorrow at 7 PM CT. I see the Sooners pulling this one out with a late run to ice the game.
Prediction: Oklahoma 55, West Virginia 51