The West Virginia Mountaineers joined the Big 12 in 2012 with hopes of riding the momentum in football built during a successful stint in the Big East. They haven’t gotten over the conference’s biggest hump, however, going winless against the Oklahoma Sooners as members of the Big 12. OU’s imminent departure for the SEC means the two teams may meet on Saturday for the final time as conference rivals.
Through three games, the Sooners appear stuck in a rut. Games against Tulane and Nebraska both finished in unexpectedly close fashion, raising questions about the hype surrounding a team expected to contend for a national championship.
We’ll probably find out this weekend if OU has another gear.
*The Mountaineers rank around the middle of the country in Offensive SP+ at 59th overall. It’s not a bad unit. It’s also not extraordinary. Nothing about it stands out.
*WVU is averaging 70 offensive plays per game through its first three contests, roughly the same as OU. The Eers are averaging 33 passes per game and 37 runs per game.
It’s worth noting that WVU’s 66-0 win over Long Island skewed its play breakdown for the year. The Eers had 87 snaps for the game, including 55 rushing plays. In each of their games against Maryland and Virginia Tech, they had about 60 snaps.
*The Mountaineers can probably count on their rushing attack more than taking it to the air.
Featured runner Leddie Brown is averaging more than 5 yards per carry. WVU fed him the ball 19 times last week against Virginia Tech, and he produced 161 yards and a touchdown. It does bear mentioning that Brown’s first carry of the game on WVU’s second play went 80 yards for a touchdown right through the A gap. The Eers used motion to get a favorable look in the run box and let Brown do the rest.
WVU’s primary quarterback, Jarret Doege, doesn’t bring much to the table as a runner. Backup Garrett Greene does check in on occasion to give defenses something to think about with called runs from the QB spot.
*When the Mountaineers take to the air... things happen. Again, not much stands out – good or bad – here.
Doege doesn’t have a true go-to option among the receiving corps, opting to spread the ball around among five or six consistent targets. Sam James is arguably the best of the receivers. Keep an eye on Brown coming out of the backfield, too – he has nine catches for 92 yards and a score this year.
*The biggest concern in the this matchup for WVU has to be the Oklahoma pass rush. The ‘Eers have already allowed seven sacks this season, and they haven’t seen anything yet like what the Sooners are bringing on Saturday. Look for WVU to lean on the quick game when they’re throwing against OU in hopes of cranking out solid gains and potentially exploiting shoddy tackling by the defensive backs.
*The best word to describe the WVU defense: resourceful. The talent on the side of the ball won’t overwhelm most of the teams on its schedule, but they do just enough well enough.
The ‘Eers come in at 31st overall in Defensive SP+. It helps that they’re surrendering just 2.6 yards on average when opponents run the ball against them.
On the other hand, WVU looks vulnerable through the air. Opponents are averaging seven yards per throw against WVU, and they’re moving the ball efficiently. WVU’s D has a passer rating of 141.0, 94th in the country.
*The Mountaineers run hybrid defensive fronts and usually keep five defensive backs on the field. Personnel-wise, the headliner is defensive lineman Dante Stills. He combined with brother Darius last season to give WVU one of the better duos on the interior in the Big 12. Now Dante is showing what he can do on his own. Stills has the size (6-4, 280 pounds) and athleticism to slide around to any spot on the line.
Watch out for VanDarius Cowan, though. A former member of the Alabama Crimson Tide, Cowan has struggled to stay healthy since he transferred to WVU after the 2017 season. This year, he has started all three games at the Bandit position, which is akin to a RUSH outside linebacker for OU. The injuries have robbed Cowan of some of the explosiveness that made him a coveted recruit coming out of high school, but he can still create problems behind the line of scrimmage.
*Given the inconsistency of OU’s passing game this year, the Sooners’ ability to strike through the air will go a long way towards determining their fate Saturday night.
Maryland found a lot to like in that regard versus WVU in the first week of the season. Taulia Tagovailoa completed 26-of-36 pass attempts in the game for 332 yards and three TDs. The combination of lanky wideout Dontay Demus and jitterbug Rakim Jarrett caught 12 balls for 255 yards and a couple scores.
The Terrapins scorched WVU in a number of ways. At times, they used multiple deep routes to open up space on underneath routes. In other cases, UMD used the Mountaineers’ aggressiveness against them with screens and delay routes that victimized WVU defenders who got too far upfield.
This potentially sets up freshman receiver Mario Williams for a big game.