8:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Oklahoma -2.5, Over/Under: 84
Playoff implications are on the line tonight in Morgantown, as the Thirteenth-Ranked West Virginia Mountaineers play host to the Sixth-Ranked Oklahoma Sooners, as the latter looks to break through into the CFP Top-Four, with a spot in next weekend’s Big XII Championship Game on the line. For Oklahoma (10-1, 7-1 in Big XII), a win tonight will mean they will have a shot at a fourth consecutive league title, as they are currently riding a 5-Game Unbeaten Run. Lincoln Riley’s charges have been downright prolific this season, particularly since their narrowly meeting defeat in their annual midseason affair with bitter rival Texas, having scored no fewer than Forty-Eight Points in five straight outings. During that stretch they’ve averaged a staggering 638.2 Total Yards of Offense, while dropping 702 Yards on two occasions. When we last saw them, the Sooners found themselves in a 55-40 track meet with Kansas, a contest that went absolutely off the rails in the Fourth Quarter, with the two combatants accounting for a whopping Six Touchdowns. However, the outcome of the game itself was never really in doubt for the hosts, who despite holding onto a 21-17 lead early in the third frame, never led by fewer than eleven points the rest of the way. On the day, the home side totaled 568 Yards of Offense on Thirty-One First Downs, accumulating a ridiculous 296 Rushing yards in the process, with Red Shirt Freshman Tailback Kennedy Brooks (82 CAR, 811 YDS, 9.9 Y/C, 11 TD) trampling the Jayhawks for 171 Yards and a pair of scores on Twenty-Five Carries. Brooks has done a solid job of replacing the missing Rodney Anderson (11 CAR, 119 YDS, 10.8 Y/C, 3 TD), who suffered a severe knee injury early on in the campaign, leaving Riley in search of a new bell-cow out of the Backfield. Together with fellow ‘Back Trey Sermon (132 CAR, 851 YDS, 6.4 Y/C, 10 TD), Brooks has helped propel the Sooners to an impressive 260.9 Rushing Yards per Game on a mighty healthy 6.9 Yards per Rush. Unfortunately, the injury bug has also infected Sermon as well, with the Sophomore suffering a sprained ankle in the aforementioned victory over Kansas, leaving his status up in the air for tonight’s trip to Morgantown. With that said, it would be impossible to talk about Oklahoma’s Offense without mentioning Kyler Murray (70.3%, 3,310 YDS, 11.9 Y/A, 34 TD, 6 INT), who has proven that life after 2017 Heisman-winner Baker Mayfield is indeed good. The Texas A&M Transfer has been nothing short of electrifying, making plays with both his arm AND his legs, proving to be particularly deadly in the latter regard, rushing for 739 Yards and Ten Touchdowns on an explosive 7.1 Yards per Carry. Against the Jayhawks, he further augmented his own Heisman Resume’, completing 21-of-32 Passes for 272 Yards, a pair of Touchdowns and an Interception, while rushing for another Ninety-Nine Yards and Three Touchdowns on just Eight Carries. Needless to say, if Sermon isn’t at full strength or sidelined altogether, you can bet that Murray will once again factor heavily into the Rushing Attack, which has been potent throughout the term. What hasn’t been potent though, and what may ultimately end up keeping the Sooners out of the Big XII Championship Game (and by extension, the Playoff) is their Defense, which has been absolutely abysmal of late, yielding at least Forty Points in three consecutive games. Granted, the conference is littered with high-scoring outfits with most Saturdays turning into turning into shootouts this time of year, but that still doesn’t make their recent string of performance son this side of the football any more excusable. Though they managed to win all three outings, Oklahoma has been torched for an average of 44.3 Points on an embarrassing 545.7 Total Yards, including 640 Yards in a thrilling 48-47 victory over crosstown rival Oklahoma State two weeks ago. A win tonight would set up a rematch with Texas (provided they can best Kansas), who coincidentally dealt them their only loss of the campaign, a 45-48 affair back on October 6th, in which the Longhorns rolled up 501 Yards of Offense on the Sooners, with their Defense forcing three crucial Turnovers. Otherwise, these two teams could very well be meeting once again, this time on a neutral field to decide the conference.
Meanwhile, a spot in the College Football Playoff is all but lost to West Virginia (8-2, 6-2 in Big XII), but a realistic opportunity to secure their first Big XII Championship since entering the conference back in 2012 is definitely a possibility. However, the proverbial deck will be stacked against them, for as we detailed earlier, a tonight would guarantee the Mountaineers a trip to the Conference Championship Game, where they would meet either Texas, whom they shocked in a thrilling 42-41 affair back on November 3rd on Dana Holgorsen’s ballsy Two-Point Conversion, or even more arduous, defeating Oklahoma is successive weeks. Needless to say, it’s going to be quite the uphill battle for this team, particularly after last weekend’s disappointing 45-41 defeat at Stillwater to Oklahoma State, which all but shattered their Playoff Dreams. As we said before, these Big XII confrontations typically become high-scoring affairs, with this one being no different, though Holgorsen & Co. will be definitely look back at this one in a negative light after relinquishing a 41-31 lead 7:37 left in the Fourth Quarter. The Mountaineers totaled 553 Yards of Offense, but were gashed for 604 Yards by the Cowboys, who overcame a quartet of Turnovers to steal the victory late. West Virginia are led by a Heisman Quarterback of their own, Will Grier (67.2%, 3,325 YDS, 9.6 Y/A, 33 TD, 8 INT), who also arrived to campus via Transfer, spending the beginning of his collegiate career in Gainesville for the Florida Gators. Many in Morgantown believe that Grier holds the keys to finally defeating Oklahoma, which they’ve yet to do since joining the Big XII. Grier missed last year’s meeting in Norman due to an injured hand that he suffered in the previous contest against Texas, with the Sooners subsequently embarrassing them in a 59-31 beatdown. Keeping up with the 3-Time League Champions has certainly been an issue over the last few years, with the Mountaineers’ Defense getting shredded for 51.0 Points and losing by an average margin of 22.0 Points over the last four meetings. However, Grier has already proven his ability to rise to the occasion in big games this year, with that aforementioned victory over the Longhorns serving as his own Heisman moment; the Senior completed 28-of-42 Attempts for 346 Yards and Three Touchdowns, leading the visiting side on a dramatic Game-Winning Drive that culminated in a shocking 33-Yard Touchdown Pass with just sixteen seconds left to play, followed by a Two-Point Conversion that he rushed in himself to take seal the victory. Given Oklahoma’s recent struggles on Defense, look for this kid to test their porous Secondary often; West Virginia has averaged 340.0 Passing Yards per Game, with a host of Receivers getting into the action, led by Devin Sills V (53 REC, 765 YDS, 14.4 Y/R, 13 TD), who has hauled in a Touchdown in six consecutive outings, and fellow Wideout Gary Jennings (47 REC, 692 YDS, 14.7 Y/R, 11 TD). With that said, a major factor in these guys taking their shots downfield will ironically be their cohorts on Defense, who will ultimately decide how frequently they end up in possession of the football, for Holgorsen’s Run Defense must find a way to slow down the Sooners’ prolific Rushing Attack, which while being extremely explosive, is also capable of chewing up loads of clock. On the season, the Run Defense has been solid, relegating the opposition to a respectable 135.5 Yards per Game on 3.7 Yards per Carry, but there have been some instances in which they’ve been absolutely eviscerated, which was precisely the case in last weekend’s loss at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys gashed them 266 Yards on 6.2 Yards per Carry, which was the second time this season that they’ve allowed 200 or more yards on the ground, the other being against Iowa State.