Since joining the Big 12, there is just one team that West Virginia hasn’t yet been able to best on the football field: Oklahoma.
Last year’s matchup was a thriller. Two then-Heisman candidate quarterbacks led their teams in an offensive battle which ultimately saw the Sooners edge the Mountaineers, 59-56. Although many of their top players from 2018 have gone on to the next level, the Sooners reloaded in the offseason and picked up right where they left off.
Lincoln Riley is in his third year as Oklahoma’s head coach, where he has a 30-4 record. After starting out as an assistant under Mike Leach at Texas Tech, Riley has instituted one of the most successful Air Raid schemes in college football.
“I think Lincoln has done a tremendous job there,” said West Virginia head coach Neal Brown. “That’s one of the premier jobs in the country, but I think it’s also a difficult job….and I’ve got a lot of respect for how he’s handled that.”
The Sooner offense is the most prolific in the nation, leading the FBS with 3366 total yards in six games. Their offense is so high-powered, that Brown described their numbers as “something that our guys play on Madden.”
The offensive story typically starts with the quarterback, but the show is often stolen by wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Whenever he catches the ball, he gains an average of 21.8 yards. Lamb catches the ball a lot, with a total of 28 catches (eighth in the Big 12).
“If there’s somebody playing better in the receiver position in the country, I haven’t seen him,” Brown said of Lamb.
Lamb gets his passes from transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts, who is following OU’s consecutive Heisman Trophy winners with a Heisman campaign of his own this year. A former SEC Player of the Year at Alabama, the senior is tied with Sam Ehlinger for the conference lead in passing touchdowns (17), while leading the conference outright in passing efficiency.
He can get it done with his feet, too, adding 8 rushing touchdowns.
“Jalen Hurts gets a lot of publicity, and deservedly so,” Brown said. “He’s running the ball well, he’s got that offense really rolling right now.”
The biggest improvement in this Sooner team over years past is their defense. While OU has consistently had one of the top offenses nationally, they’ve struggled stopping their opponents — but that issue doesn’t seem as present this season.
The Sooners’ defensive leader is junior linebacker Kenneth Murray, who leads the team in tackles. He was the preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, a moniker which he has lived up to so far this season.
Oklahoma boasts a tough front seven that has amassed 22 sacks this year — that’s second in the Big 12. That total is spread evenly among several players, including defensive linemen Ronnie Perkins and Neville Gallimore.
“The pressure the defensive line got on [Texas QB Sam] Ehlinger on Saturday, I mean they tied the school record for sacks,” said Brian Brinkley, the sports director for KFOR in Oklahoma City. “We haven’t seen that kind of pressure from OU’s defensive line in a long time.”
There has been much improvement in the Oklahoma secondary, as well.
“I think the biggest change that I’ve seen is in the secondary. The secondary play has been so much better than it has been in recent years,” Brinkley said. “It’s been a 180-degree turn.”
The Sooners’ pass defense is third in the Big 12, allowing 199.8 pass yards per game.
“If you look at their football team, they’ve got a complete football team,” Brown said. “They’re playing well in all three phases right now.”