Oklahoma is coming off of a tough loss to Baylor, and QB evaluation has been the name of the game. Dillon Gabriel’s three-interception first half feels more and more back-breaking as we remove ourselves from it. This weekend will open itself up for a rebound.
Knowing that confidence continues to be the name of the game (yes, there are two names of the game), and the fact that Oklahoma’s defensive performances aren’t improving, we now need to talk about Jeff Lebby and the offense.
Lebby has done a great job this season doing what is “needed” to win. With Iowa State he played it safe, and with Kansas he took shots and tried to maximize points. This game will add a new challenge. Eric Gray has been your most consistent offensive player. Why? Gabriel hands him the ball, he doesn’t throw it. Marvin Mims is the most talented skill position player on offense, but he is dependent on the pass.
Gabriel has been inconsistent and shaky. Up and down. Oklahoma might need to consider leaning into the run game and allowing Eric Gray and a hobbled Marcus Major to carry the Sooners’ offense home the rest of they year. The assumption that Dillon Gabriel is going to be able to clean up the turnovers and remove the missed layups for me is a farce. Gabriel is who he is. Good enough to not lose games in Power 5 football but not good enough to consistently win them. Oklahoma will have to do that elsewhere, like the running game.
Storylines to watch
- Gabriel this entire season had played clean football, but then against Baylor uncorked three interceptions in the first half. His worst throw of the day likely should’ve been his 4th interception. The Sooners are hoping that Gabriel can dial that in while continuing to help put up points with a struggling defense on the other side. West Virginia are averaging just south of 40 points a game at home. The Sooners will need to score, and Gabriel will have to be involved.
- Eric Gray last week was far and away the best Sooner on the field. He led the team in rushing and catches. As Eric Gray continues his best season of his career, you have to ask — How long can he be a focal point like this? Gray is not built like some former bell cow backs of Oklahoma’s past. He, however, is shouldering the largest load on this team. Gray will be asked to do that again against West Virginia, and it’s a necessity (see above). Something to monitor as this team tries to get bowl eligible.
- West Virginia is not very good. However, they are great at home offensively. They have scored 42, 65, 40, and 31 at home this season. One of those games was against this Baylor defense we just saw. OU is likely walking into a shootout, but if OU can muster a defensive rebound, this game gets a lot more simple. My expectation is OU to give up somewhere between 35 to 45 points. If Oklahoma can keep West Virginia under 30, though? Likely an easy win. I just wouldn’t be holding my breath.
- Oklahoma’s defensive line has been terrible. The edges are setting edges. Jalen Redmond hasn’t been the guy we thought we were getting. Frankly, it’s been really, really poor this year. Oklahoma has some youth they will be injecting this upcoming offseason but I do stare at guys like Reggie Grime and wonder... how many more snaps of this do we need to see? I think West Virginia might mark a change to young players taking the bulk of the snaps. Why now? Their remaining schedule isn’t anything that should ruin the confidence of a 19-year old.
Knowing your opponent: West Virginia Mountaineers
- JT Daniels is back in the show. From USC, to losing your job, to being on the bench with a national championship team... it’s been a ride for Daniels. Landing in West Virginia I think he would admit is not what the former five-star QB had planned but it hasn’t been perfect in Morgantown this season. 81 yards last week. Three interceptions against Texas Tech. Feels like that superstar in the making might be gone forever. However, Daniels still can put it together when it’s rolling. He almost stole a game against TCU and did against Baylor this season largely based on his right arm. This OU secondary needs to be on high alert.
- West Virginia defense hasn’t exactly been amazing this year. 38 points to Texas, 40 to Baylor, 48 to Tech, and 31 (gag) to Iowa State. Oklahoma will have chances to really push this football down the field. Oklahoma’s biggest concern will yet again be a Stills brother patrolling the middle of the defense. That could pose a major issue for Oklahoma with how their interior has played this year. Gabriel and Gray might have a defender in the lap early in snaps.
- Neal Brown is coaching for his job. No doubt about. After a successful tenure in Troy, the West Virginia experience will largely be labeled as a failure. This year felt different though, right? They finally had a QB and a OC. However, it hasn’t worked. The home road splits are baffling. The defensive regression is tough to swallow. So my point? Never discount a desperate man. I expect all the stops to be removed. Beating Oklahoma sure wouldn’t hurt the chances of him keeping this job.
- Morgantown is an amazing place to watch a football game. I don’t even really have a point here other than Oklahoma will likely be playing in a hornet’s nest. The Mountaineers have been disappointing all season but this fan base will smell blood. Oklahoma is a team that everyone loves to beat and they will have their chance on Saturday. I expect the fan base to be loud and proud calling for an upset over a team that has historically hung half a hundred on them.
Load up the pistols, partner — I think we have a shoot out incoming. The Sooners’ offense will need to score and JT Daniels plays his best game against a struggling pass rush and secondary. West Virginia keeps it close enough that you can’t turn off the TV and maybe even sneaks it to a one-score game late. Sooners win but no one feels good about it.
Oklahoma - 44
West Virginia - 35