As we get deeper into the season, the stakes continue to get higher. This week’s game is no different as the Sooners are playing to keep their BCS hopes alive will have to play for.
Tyler Bitancurt has been very inconsistent this season, hitting only 6-12. Bitancurt was a perfect 2-2 last week against Oklahoma State, hitting kicks from 41 and 37 yards. However, it was his four misses two weeks ago against TCU that was the difference in a 39-38 overtime loss. He has a long of 52 on the year, but that’s the only kick he’s made over 50 yards this year, going 1-4. The interesting stat is that Bitancurt has not attempted a field goal shorter than 37 yards on the year.
Michael Hunnicutt didn’t attempt a field goal last week against Baylor, but he was a perfect 6-6 on extra point attempts. Hunnicutt is still 10-11 on the year, and 44-46 on extra point attempts. Kicking in a cold, hostile environment could pose a challenge, but Hunnicutt has shown no signs of dropping off. The Sooners will need him to be at his best once again.
Tyler Bitancurt has punted the majority of the time this year, but Corey Smith has also been given opportunities throughout the year. Smith has the better average, punting 10 times for a 42.6 yard average, but Bitancurt’s 21 attempts for a 41.3 yard average, makes it clear that he is the starter. Expect Bitancurt to be the punter on Saturday.
Tress Way is averaging 42.7 yards a kick, which ranks fifth in the conference. One thing to note is that Way has seen many hostile environments over his four years, so the intimidating scene at Milan Puskar Stadium won’t be anything new to him. The only question is will the weather prove to be a problem in the punting game?
The Sooner kickoff coverage has been solid all year, but they’ll get their stiffest test of the year when they face West Virginia return man Tavon Austin. With a 30.3 yard average, Austin ranks first in the conference, and ninth in the country. This Mountaineer team is looking for anything to give them a spark, and Austin is more than capable of providing that spark in the return game. The Sooners need to be very careful when kicking to Austin.
Roy Finch continues to shine in the kick return game, and would actually be ranked third in the country with a 35.7 yard average if he had enough returns to qualify. Brennan Clay has turned in a solid season as well, ranking 18th in the country with a 27.8 yard average. Corey Smith is the West Virginia kickoff man, and only has ten touchbacks on 44 kicks. This means both Finch and Clay should have opportunities to make their mark in the return game.
Tavon Austin serves as the punt returner as well, and is averaging 8.8 yards per return. Austin is a very small, quick player that has drawn comparisons to Percy Harvin. Austin is very dangerous in the open field, and has already broken a 76-yard return for a touchdown earlier this year. It’s critical in this game that the Sooners contain Austin in both the punt and kick return game.
Though his opportunities have been neutralized lately, Justin Brown still ranks fifth in the nation with 16.2 yard average. We’ve seen how explosive he can be in the return game, but so have other coaches, which is a direct effect as to why teams are kicking away from him. If the Mountaineers are crazy enough to kick for him, look for Brown to make them pay.
The Sooners have the better special teams unit, but the key to this game might be the play of the Sooners defensive line. If the Sooners can get consistent pressure on Geno Smith and shutdown the running game, they’ll win handedly. However, if Geno Smith is able to stand in the pocket all night with a clean jersey, it could be a dogfight.
The Sooners will make enough big plays in this one to come away with a win. West Virginia will put up some points, but they won’t be able to slow down the Sooner offense.
Sooners win, and inch closer to a BCS bowl berth with a 45-41 win.