West Virginia football squares off against Oklahoma on Saturday, with the Mountaineers looking to get their first win over the Sooners since joining the Big 12 in 2012.
The twelfth meeting between the two programs will be the first for Neal Brown against Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0 Big 12), and earning his first win will be a tall task. Lincoln Riley’s Sooners are currently the fifth-ranked team in the nation, going undefeated through all six of their games. Most recently, they defeated No. 11 Texas in the Red River Showdown by a score of 34-27.
“I think Lincoln has done a tremendous job there,” said 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.”
West Virginia (3-3, 1-2 Big 12) is hoping to break their two-game losing slip, in which they fell to both Texas and Iowa State at home. The Mountaineers have dealt with injuries and other roster issues throughout their season while developing their young team.
While last year’s contest was a fireworks display of offense between the two programs, this year’s fifth-ranked Sooners are favored by a heavy 33.5 points over the rebuilding Mountaineers — West Virginia’s largest spread deficit since 2001.
The all-time series between the two teams dates back to 1958, a 47-14 victory for Bud Wilkinson’s Sooners over Art Lewis’s Mountaineers. West Virginia’s last victory came in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl, a game which featured some of the most memorable moments in recent Mountaineer history.
Oklahoma has the top offense in the country this year, averaging a whopping 622 yards per game and 9.6 yards per play. In recent years, the Sooners seemed to have lacked a strong defense, but this year is different as they have the third-leading defense in the Big 12, holding opponents to 341.8 yards per play.
West Virginia’s offense ranks last in the Big 12, generating 326.2 yards of offense per game while fighting injuries and depth issues. Their defense, on the other hand, has performed well, especially in the secondary. The Mountaineers’ pass defense is fourth in the Big 12 (just behind Oklahoma) holding opponents to 207.7 passing yards per game.
Here are some of the top storylines for Saturday’s game:
The battle of transfer signal-callers
Austin Kendall will likely get the opportunity to start for West Virginia against his former team after transferring from Oklahoma in January as a graduate student (a move which was originally blocked by Riley, his former coach). With the exception of his 4-interception outing against Texas, Kendall has completed the third-highest number of passes in the Big 12, with 126 completions in six games.
He is currently probable for the contest as he is nursing a chest injury he sustained early in WVU’s contest with Iowa State.
Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts began his college career with Kendall in the 2016 recruiting class, but earned Alabama’s starting quarterback job as a true freshman. After an illustrious career at Alabama, he transferred to the Sooners in January after losing his starting job to Tua Tagovailoa.
Hurts is working on a Heisman campaign this season, generating 2,409 yards of total offense so far this year, as well as 8 touchdowns.
Two tough defenses
Despite being banged up, the Mountaineer defense has had several players step up to make plays in crucial points of games. Tykee Smith, a freshman safety, is one of the most notable cases: after senior JoVanni Stewart redshirted for this season, Smith stepped into his starting role and has made an immediate impact in two games as a starter.
The Mountaineers have also put on one of the top pass rushes in the Big 12, amassing 17 sacks for a total of 110 lost yards. The Stills brothers — Darius and Dante — lead the way, garnering 4 sacks each in six games.
The Sooner defense is much stronger than it has been in years past, and they also boast a top pass rush — just one spot above West Virginia in the sack column. They have several weapons in the box, with experience players like Ronnie Perkins and Neville Gallimore leading the way.
Junior Kenneth Murray is the leader on the defense, topping their tackle totals from the linebacker spot.
How to watch
West Virginia kicks off against Oklahoma at noon ET. The game will be broadcast on FOX and streamed on the FOX Sports GO app.