The Oklahoma Sooners and West Virginia Mountaineers are set to take part in FOX’s Big Noon Saturday thing, and here to discuss the matchup is Matt Kirchner of The Smoking Musket — SB Nation’s WVU site. We talk about former OU QB Austin Kendall, first-year head coach Neal Brown, our ‘Horns Down’ bond and more!
Also, make sure to check out this week’s episode of the Oklahoma Breakdown Podcast in which we interview Smoking Musket’s Bart Keeler about notable (or honorary) West Virginians, the state’s famous pepperoni rolls and the current state of Mountaineer football.
Neal Brown obviously didn’t inherit a great roster situation from Dana Holgorsen, yet his team has still put forth some solid and respectable performances through six games. So what is the current opinion of WVU’s head man amongst the WVU faithful?
The fan base has surprisingly embraced a Year Zero, mostly because of their faith in Neal Brown’s program building. He’s said all the right things despite but saddled with a disastrous roster situation the led to 21 Freshmen or RS Freshmen seeing major time on Saturday against Iowa State.
On Thursday, Brown announced that Kendall would play barring any setbacks. How has he looked within that offense, and do you expect him to be the only QB West Virginia throws out there on Saturday?
He’s been okay. He has clear limitations, but he is clearly West Virginia’s best quarterback option short of breaking the glass on transfer and presumed 2020 starter Jarret Doege.
He plays safe, sometimes to the detriment of the offense but he seems to be a quarterback who recognizes his own limitations and tries to play within them. However, when the throws are bad, they are very bad, and Oklahoma will have some very interceptable balls thrown their way on Saturday.
Aside from the QBs, which skill position players are most likely to make an impact on Saturday?
West Virginia’s receivers, while struggling to get separation, have had a few bright spots. TJ Simmons, he of illegal blocking vs. Oklahoma fame, has finally started looking like the number one wide receiver this team needed him to be. RS Freshman (there’s a theme) Sam James has emerged as a star this season and can only get better. The offense struggles to go vertical, so that’s different, but the pieces are there to make plays.
Speaking of the offense, what has been the unit’s biggest area of weakness?
Offensive line, no question. West Virginia came into this season with questions at WR and three RBs that were supposed to make the offense go. Because of the deficiencies up front, West Virginia hasn’t been able to get the run game going all season. There’s been some lineup shuffling that has helped, but with the interior
featuring two freshmen (again, WVU is going to be good in 2021), its been a process with a steep learning curve.
Defensively, the Mountaineers have experienced a considerable amount of attrition over the past two offseasons. What’s your current opinion of the unit, and is there hope for improvement over the next few years?
It’s been a lot better, honestly, and has been keeping West Virginia in games until the offense failings leave them gassed late in games. The defensive line has been stout with the Stills brothers leasing the charge and Darius Stills especially emerging as a superstar defensive tackle. Lately, I’ve been impressed with true freshman safety Tykee Smith who has earned the starting position and has made big plays in the last two games, including a tip drill pick six against Iowa State.
With West Virginia being so far away from any other Big 12 school and no longer playing Pitt, which conference opponent do Mountaineer fans hate or resent the most at this point in the program’s history?
Texas. (Editor’s note: We knew the answer to this question, but we wanted to hear it anyway)
Who is your favorite WVU alum outside of athletics?
Billy Mays didn’t graduate, but did matriculate.
What’s one fact about either WVU or the state of West Virginia that you’d like Oklahoma fans to be aware of?
The go-to here is always RIFLE SCHOOL. Bow down to our prowess and know that we produce better sharpshooters than West Point.
With the Big 12 needlessly turning ‘Horns Down’ into a penalty and throwing a flag on every Oklahoma and Texas player for a very typical pregame scuffle, how annoyed are you with the softness of this conference?
The bureaucracy of this conference is weird, man. The hills they choose to die on are just strange. Still, I’ll always appreciate the Big 12 as a lifeboat in the storm for West
Virginia and the cultural (if not geographical) fit has been outstanding.
The spread is currently 33.5. Does West Virginia cover?
Ehhhhhhh, probably not.
Moving forward, what are the expectations for the rest of the 2019 season?
Neal Brown has this team ahead of schedule, and a bowl game is still in their sights, which would have seemed absurd after the Mizzou game. I think most West Virginia fans want to see wins against TCU and K-State and then stealing one of the Oklahoma State and Texas Tech matchups to sneak into a bowl and get those extra reps.