For many West Virginia fans Saturday’s loss against Oklahoma was heartbreaking and tough to watch as a fan.
Although the Mountaineers did lose the game, and although they blew a lead late against a good team — just like they have so many times in the past, Saturday night in Norman could be a building block moving forward in the Neal Brown era.
“We got to take the next step. That’s Oklahoma’s good football team and talented but we were good enough on that night,” Brown said. “We got to get over the hump and do that.”
Losing stinks, but losing by three points at a place only two opposing teams have won at since Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley took over is an easier pill to swallow. Yes, the results are not there, but looking at the way the Mountaineers played, especially on the defensive side of the ball, should bring excitement to fans of this team this season and beyond.
The two main things Saturday proved are West Virginia has an elite defense and the Mountaineers can compete for a Big 12 Championship this year.
Everyone knows the saying ‘defense wins championships,’ but winning championships with your defense is exactly what Brown and his staff are trying to do.
“As you look through this conference since we’ve joined in 2012, Oklahoma has been the team to beat. We tried out-scoring them and that doesn’t work. So when we got here and started putting the foundation on how we wanted to build this thing to give us an opportunity to win our league we felt like we had to play great defense,” Brown said.
Entering Saturday, over the past eight matchups Oklahoma and West Virginia have played, the Mountaineers had allowed on average 47.9 points. On Saturday, at home in front of a sellout crowd, the Sooners scored 16. Playing one good game on defense is one thing, but being able to prove a program’s identity is their defense is another.
After finishing with one of the most highly ranked defenses in the country last season, this year’s unit is picking up right where they left off. West Virginia’s defense currently ranks fourth in the country in red zone defense, and ranks 23rd in rushing defense, and 25th in scoring defense. This type of consistent defense is something West Virginia can continue to build upon and continue to grow, as the offense hopefully begins to come around.
The second thing Saturday proved was West Virginia is capable for playing in the Big 12 Championship game this season. West Virginia’s defense should keep West Virginia in every game this season. After traveling to face No. 21 Baylor next week, the Mountaineers will play Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas at home throughout the remainder of the season. The good news for West Virginia — if they can go 3-0 in those games, they will have a prime opportunity to be playing in Dallas in December.
Yes the offense has to get better, but if the defense plays similar to the way they did on Saturday night, fans will be excited about how many games the Mountaineers will have the opportunity to win.
Saturday did not go how many Mountaineer fans wanted, but it showed the rest of the Big 12 how close West Virginia is to being one of the top teams in the league, and also showed they are ready to compete for a Big 12 title this year.
Photo by Dale Sparks, All Pro Photography