NORMAN, Okla. — It’s defensive redemption time in Oklahoma. Less than 12 months ago, West Virginia hosted OU in what ended up as the worst performance defensively by a team donning the crimson and cream. The players remember what transpired that late November evening; they’re also ready to silence those same critics.
The OU defense will have to keep an eye out for West Virginia running back Charles Sims.
“We gave up almost 800 yards and Coach (Mike) Stoops said that was his most embarrassing games as a coach,” nickel Julian Wilson said. “We reflect how he coaches and that was a hard thing to swallow.”
Mike Stoops said Monday that he trust WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen's offense against William and Mary, calling it ‘very vanilla’ compared to what he expects to see this Saturday. But without the usual suspects from last year to trip OU up, the Sooners literally need to be ready for any guy and play that gets thrown at them.
“Last year we couldn’t control getting the ball outside and that stretched the defense more,” Stoops said. “But (WVU) has a lot more offense than they showed in that game (against William & Mary).”
No doubt, WVU is missing the explosive tandem of quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but against William & Mary last weekend, the Mountaineers spent a lot of time relying on Houston transfer Charles Sims. This running back will be the guy the Sooners need to watch out for, but there aren’t many proven playmakers beyond that for this Mountaineers team. Although Sims finished with a team-leading 120 yards and one score, the running game wasn’t as productive for a WVU offense that was used to having a powerful passer under center. And the Sooners can cripple the Mountaineer offense if they can find a way to stop the run game.
Much like the Sooners' introduction of Trevor Knight, new starter Paul Millard didn’t dazzle in his first outing as the starting quarterback. Although he completed his first eight passes, Millard finished with 237 yards passing and one score.
But Millard isn’t the only guy the Mountaineers have up their sleeve. Florida State transfer Clint Trickett took just six snaps last weekend, but the Sooners know that Trickett isn’t a spring chicken against Oklahoma. During the 2011 game, Trickett replaced the injured E.J. Manuel in the third quarter and ended up knotting the game up 13-all with a 56-yard touchdown toss.
It was obvious now why Trickett transferred after watching Jameis Winston shine in his first outing for the Seminoles, but both quarterbacks have the experience to not fold under pressure--a factor that could become important in Saturday’s game if the Sooners get their offense rolling quickly.
Defensively, WVU spouts a talented linebacker in Nick Kwiatkoski, who has experience at both the Will and Sam linebacker positions, that could give OU fits this game. Kwiatkoski finished with a career-high seven tackles last weekend to lead the team. But for a defense that finished 108th in the nation last season, the Mountaineers still have a lot of work to do in order to shut down opposing offenses.
The Mountaineers can make it another slugfest like last season's barnburner in Morgantown if the team can shut down OU's running game and force Knight to stay in the pocket and make the deep throws. Safety Darwin Cook already tabbed his first interception last week--a timely one that allowed WVU to run out the clock for the win---and OU already knows it has to stay focused in order to pull out this season's first conference victory.
"We know they're a faster, more physical team (than ULM)," running back Damien Williams said. "They're a scrappy group but that's what you gotta be to be in the Big 12. We just have to know that these guys are going to be different than the guys we played last week."