West Virginia (3-0) vs. Oklahoma (3-0) 12:00 pm
Notes: West Virginia is 0-3 against Oklahoma since 2012 with the average margin of defeat of 7.3 points per game. This is the first Big 12 game for both teams. Oklahoma has outscored their opponents 73-21 in the second half of the team’s first three wins. Oklahoma’s three victories have come against teams with a combined record of 7-4 (Akron, Tennessee and Tulsa). West Virginia’s three wins have come against opponents with a combined record of 7-5 (Georgia Southern, Liberty and Maryland). Oklahoma is coming off of a bye for this game.
The Mountaineers have dominated their first three opponents outscoring them 130-23. The team is averaging 43.3 points per game and has looked in rhythm early on. The team is averaging 220 rushing yards per game and is airing out the football passing for 323 yards per game. Quarterback Skylar Howard has completed 69% of his passes for 916 yards with 9 touchdowns and one interception. Howard is a mobile dual threat quarterback that has rushed for 88 yards on the season and can see a bigger role in the running game this weekend in Norman. West Virginia will want to run the football on the road to dictate tempo and keep Oklahoma’s offense off of the field. The Mountaineers have a dynamic 1-2 punch in running backs Wendell Smallwood and Ruschel Schell. Smallwood is a home run hitter that can take it to the house every time he touches the rock and has rushed for 331 yards averaging 6.9 yards per carry with 4 touchdowns on the year. Schell is the tough “between the tackles” runner that can wear down defenses and force Oklahoma to play “eight in the box” on Saturday afternoon. Schell is averaging 4.2 yards per carry (146 yards) with 2 touchdowns. Wide receivers Shelton Gibson (12 rec. 329 yards 4 TD’s) will be counted on to take the top off of the Sooners secondary and give West Virginia big plays in the passing game. Teammate Javon Durante is another explosive receiver that can have a big day for the Mountaineers. Durante has 12 receptions for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns. A concern heading into this game in terms of game planning for Oklahoma is the offensive line. The unit has allowed 7 sacks through 3 games and will need to protect Howard in order for him to locate his receivers. West Virginia cannot afford to get into third and long situations against an athletic Sooners defensive front.
Defensively, the Mountaineers have shown signs of having a solid defense in 2015. While the competition has not been as comparable to Oklahoma, West Virginia has looked very sound and disciplined. The team struggled last year and had one of the worst turnover margins in the nation with -15 margin. More importantly, was that the team was -14 at home and struggled to get turnovers during critical junctures of big games. Through the first three games, the team is +9 in turnover margin and is allowing 7.7 points per game. The Mountaineers are allowing 153 rushing yards per game and the secondary has looked very good yielding 154 passing yards per game. Senior defensive back Karl Joseph is the leader of the group and has started off strong this year with 4 interceptions through the first three games. West Virginia will be tested by Oklahoma on the road and the Mountaineers must find a way to generate a pass rush in order to pressure Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield into quick to intermediate throws. That should be the game plan heading into this match up on the road. West Virginia has recorded 4 sacks and has committed 7.3 penalties per game.
The Sooners are averaging 41.3 points per game and have shown early on this year that they are dedicated to the pass. Oklahoma is averaging 182 rushing yards per game (down from 261 from last year) and are throwing for 371 passing yards per game (up from 203 last year). The main reason for the turnaround has been the play of quarterback Baker Mayfield. Mayfield, the Texas Tech transfer, has looked sharp completing 67.3% of his passes for 1,062 yards with 10 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Mayfield has shown the ability to lead his team back from a deficit in the road overtime victory in Knoxville over Tennessee 31-24. Running back Samje Perine is still capable of carrying the load and has rushed for 263 yards averaging 4.7 yards per carry with 2 touchdowns. Perine has not been utilized as much in the new offensive system led by offensive coordinator Lincoln Reilly, however, the Sooners are still built to run the football. Wide Receiver Sterling Shepard is the Sooners main big play threat in the passing attack. Shepard is an outstanding play maker that has caught 18 passes for 286 yards with 2 touchdowns. Oklahoma has utilized running back Joe Mixon in the passing game as well. On the year, Mixon has caught 11 passes for 176 yards with 2 touchdowns. Wide receivers Durron Neal and Dede Westbrook have provided depth as both players have combined for 24 receptions for 348 yards with 4 touchdowns. Keep in mind that bye weeks can be very beneficial for teams later in the year allowing teams to get back to health (injuries, etc.). However, sometimes a bye week in the early part of the season (first month) can have a negative impact on an offense that is in sync. The bye week can disrupt timing of an offense and teams that were gelling in the first part of the season can come out of a bye week as if it the first game of the year.
Defensively, Oklahoma has allowed 21.7 points per game and allowed 603 total yards of offense in the win against Tulsa two weeks ago. Oklahoma is giving up 147 yards per game on the ground to their opponents and 213 yards per game through the air. In order to slow down West Virginia in this game, the Sooners cannot give up the big play the way they did against Tulsa. Oklahoma must be able to force turnovers at home and is -4 in turnover margin. Last year, the team finished with a – 5 mark and must be disciplined and not commit foolish penalties. Through the first three games, Oklahoma has committed 8.7 penalties per game and will need a better effort this Saturday. Linebacker Dominique Alexander leads the team with 32 tackles and look for him to be a dominant force along with linebacker Erik Striker (16 tackles).
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Joseph Lisi a former ABC Sports college football researcher, is the owner of www.GOFORTHE2.COM. He is a member if the FWAA (Football Writers Association Of America),Maxwell Football Club and is currently the content editor at www.2FiveSports.com. He contributes regularly to www.Sid-Rosenberg.com and has been a featured guest every Tuesday night from 10:30-11:30pm EST on Yahoo Sports Radio With Ken Thomson(www.sportsxradio.com).
Joe has been featured on the FNTSY Sports Network and The Sid Rosenberg Sports Radio Show 640AM Sports (South Florida). You can follow him on Twitter: @Goforthe2.
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