Big 12 crown on the line in Morgantown

November 22, 2018 ▪ By Ray Dozier

Friday’s matchup (7 p.m. ESPN) between No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 13 West Virginia will decide which team goes to the Big 12 Championship Game, and the winner is likely to take on Texas if the Longhorns beat Kansas earlier in the day.

The Sooners (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) would love another shot at Texas, winner of the Red River Showdown seven weeks ago. The Horns want a rematch at the Mountaineers, who beat the Steers three weeks ago.

Friday’s contest at Morgantown, WV features two of the top quarterbacks in the country—Kyler Murray and Will Grier.

Murray is second nationally with a 205.8 QB rating, and Grier is third with a 174.2 mark. Murray has completed 70.3 percent for 3,310 yards with 34 TDs and 6 INTs. Grier has connected on 67.2 percent for 3,325 yards with 33 TDs and 8 INTs. Both signal-callers are at the top of the Heisman Trophy list along with Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa. Murray is the best playmaker among the trio. The Allen, Texas junior has rushed for 739 yards (7.1 yards per carry) and 10 touchdowns. Tagovailoa has run for 256 yards (4.5 ypc) and 4 TDs. Grier has -68 yards and a couple of scores.

All three are finalists for the Maxwell Award. Murray and Tagovailoa are finalists for the Davey O’Brien Award.

The Mountaineers (8-2, 6-2) have not seen an offense as good as the Sooners, which is complemented by a dominant running game. Redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks is the probable starter as Trey Sermon is questionable. Brooks is the only healthy running back on OU’s roster, but freshman T.J. Pledger could be back this week.

Oklahoma’s balanced attack could be a huge advantage against WVU. Last week, Oklahoma State stunned the then-ninth-ranked Mountaineers, 45-41. The Cowboys rushed for 266 (6.2 ypc) and passed for 338. Before their matchup, WVU had allowed 122 yards rushing per game (3.2 ypc) and 233.7 passing.

WVU had allowed an average of 122 rushing yards before OSU. The Pokes rushed for 266. OSU averaged 6.2 per carry. WV allowed 3.2 per carry prior. WV allowed 233.7 ypg passing. OSU burned them for 338.

The Sooners’ offense is tops in the country with 49.5 points and 576.1 yards per game. They will go against the nation’s No. 43 scoring defense (23.3 ppg) and No. 55 in total defense (379.6.).

Both teams are going to put up a ton of points Friday night. Oklahoma’s defense has become worse in the last few weeks. Yes, they gave up a lot of points and yards to Texas Tech and OSU—two decent offenses, but Kansas? The Jayhawks scored 40 and rolled for 524 yards (348 on the ground).

The Sooners missed numerous tackles, which has been their bane for the last few years. Of course, they had safety Khalil Houghton and tackle Neville Gallimore sidelined with injuries, but their teammates really seemed disinterested in the game.

Here’s what West Virginia brings to the fight this week: Grier’s favorite target is Davis Sills V. The senior receiver was a Biletnikoff Award finalist last year, but not this season. His numbers have dropped, yet he leads the Mountaineers with 53 catches for 765 yards and 13 TDs. Gary Jennings has 47 grabs for 692 yards and 11 TDs.

WVU is not a power running team (but neither were the Jayhawks) ranked 75th nationally with 162 yards per outing. Kennedy McCoy and Martell Pettaway have combined for 1,134 yards and 10 TDs.

West Virginia’s defense ranks fifth nationally in tackles for loss, averaging 8.2 per game and No. 22 in passes intercepted (12). Linebacker David Long Jr. is the only player in the FBS to rank in the top 20 in tackles for loss (No. 5), solo tackles (No. 9) and sacks (No. 20). He’s logged 90 total tackles (62 solo), 18.5 for loss, including 7 sacks. Fellow ‘backer JoVanni Stewart has recorded 7.5 tackles behind the line, including 3 sacks. Cornerback Keith Washington Jr. leads the Mountaineers with 3 interceptions.

OU has a slight advantage in special teams. The Sooners are 18th in kickoff returns (42.4-yard average) while the Mountaineers are 110th (18.0). Oklahoma ranks No. 9 in punt returns (16.8), and WVU ranks 95th (6.3). Austin Seibert has averaged 41 yards per punt for the Sooners, and he’s hit on 11 of 13 field goals and all but one of his 72 PATs. WVU punter Billy Kinney has averaged 41.3 yards per punt, while kicker Stanley Evan has connected on 12 of 16 FGs and perfect on 51 PAT tries.

The Sooners are making their quest for a 12th Big 12 crown, and fourth-in-a-row. WVU is seeking its first conference title. The Mountaineers are perfect at home (5-0) but not one win against a ranked team. The team that manages to stop a drive (or two) will win the game. The Mountaineers faced three quarterbacks (Iowa State’s Brock Purdy, Texas’ Sam Ehlinger and OSU’s Taylor Cornelius). Those three combined to complete 68 percent of their passes and averaged 315 yards with 11 TDs and 3 INTs vs. WVU. The Mountaineers lost two of those contests (to the Cyclones and Cowboys) and beat Texas by one. None of that trio is nowhere as good as Murray.

The Sooners must play smart with no stupid penalties. The last three times they’ve been to Morgantown, they’ve been flagged a total of 23 times—seven of them were personal foul calls. OU has been whistled 68 times this year, and one-fourth of those have been a personal foul (9) or unsportsmanlike conduct call (8).

Is Oklahoma’s defense good enough to help win the game? No. But somehow, the Sooners seem to manage wins in shootouts, and crazy as it may sound, they get it done.

Sooners 54, Mountaineers 51.

Fast Facts

  • OU leads the series, 8-2, including six straight wins (all since WVU joined the Big 12).
  • OU is 3-0 in Morgantown.
  • OU is favored by 1.5.
  • Lincoln Riley is 22-3 (.880) overall; 1-0 vs. WVU; 8-0 on the road; 15-2 vs. conference opponents; 5-2 vs. ranked foes.
  • WVU coach Dana Holgorsen is 61-39 (.610) overall; 0-6 vs. OU; 16-1 at home; 33-29 vs. conference foes; 10-19 vs. ranked opponents.
  • OU is 14-4-1 in games played on November 23.
  • WVU is 7-8 in games played on November 23.
  • OU’s 19-game true road winning streak is the longest in the nation.

Articles by Ray Dozier