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WVU’s defense faces another tough challenge in Oklahoma

WVU senior safety Jarrod Harper (11) gets ready for a play against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday, October 29, 2016. (Photo Credit: Jeff Ruff, BGS)
WVU senior safety Jarrod Harper (11) gets ready for a play against the Oklahoma State Cowboys on Saturday, October 29, 2016.
(Photo Credit: Jeff Ruff, BGS)

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–It’s all on the line on Saturday night when No. 8 Oklahoma comes to town to take on No. 10 West Virginia University.

The Sooners are looking to lay claim to another Big 12 title while the Mountaineers are looking to prove they belong.

If WVU hopes to shut up the doubters and keep its championship hopes alive, the Mountaineers must stop the blistering Oklahoma offense.

WVU’s defense has been its saving grace at times, including last Saturday at Texas. The offense committed four turnovers but Tony Gibson’s “Dawgs” kept the Longhorns off the scoreboard on all four drives.

The Mountaineers’ defense forced three Texas turnovers, including redshirt senior cornerback Rasul Douglas’ sixth interception.

Can WVU get a repeat performance against the Sooners?

Oklahoma is one of the country’s premier teams with an explosive offense. In head coach Bob Stoops’ 17-year tenure, the Sooners have won nine Big 12 titles.

“They’re solid all the way around, they’ve got playmakers all over the field and you can’t concentrate on one thing, stopping the run or stopping the pass, because they do a really good job,” safeties coach Matt Caponi said. “Very, very good, athletic quarterback who is just as tough as they come and he makes plays and just makes things happen. He’s done a great job and obviously (redshirt senior wide receiver) (Dede) Westbrook has had a great year and they’ve got a two-headed monster in the backfield with (redshirt sophomore running back) (Joe) Mixon and (junior running back) (Samaje) Perine so it’s definitely our toughest challenge so far.”

636145646636911277-USATSI-9670917Baker Mayfield is back at the reigns of the Oklahoma offense and the junior quarterback is more effective than he was in 2015.

“He’s very confident, and he has a lot of weapons around him that help him,” Gibson said. “He’s a special kid, he’s a competitor, you can just tell by watching him on film how much he competes. His drive, distributes the ball well, takes care of it and doesn’t have a lot of turnovers. He’s a good player.”

Mayfield has completed 214-for-296 of his passes (career-high 72.0 percent) this season with 33 TDs and seven picks. He ranks first nationally in passing efficiency rating (195.2; the NCAA single- season record is 191.8) and yards per pass attempt, second in completion percentage, fifth in passing TDs and sixth in points responsible for per game (22.6).

The Austin, Texas native has dominated in Big 12 play this season. He leads the league in passing TDs, completion percentage and pass efficiency rating.

Mayfield has thrown for 345.6 yards per league contest and has also run for 127 yards and four scores during the stretch.

“You’re always concerned with a quarterback who will keep the play alive and who always has eyes down field,” Gibson said. “He can hurt you both ways, throwing it once he escapes the pocket, but he can also tuck it and run. Some guys can get away and they look to throw, he’s very good at doing both. It’s hard to tell, do you blitz him, do you make him throw the ball quick, do you sit back and drop eight in coverage and give him plenty of time? You just have to see how the game is going and what’s working for us.”

Mayfield’s favorite target is the speedy Westbrook and the two are a deadly combination.

“I haven’t seen a combo put up these kind of numbers in a long time here recently,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “Didn’t have the start that they wanted but over the last six games what they’ve done is really impressive, so that will be a challenge. He’s the best receiver we’ve went against, there’s no doubt.”

In 10 games, the 6-foot, 175-pound senior has 68 receptions for 1254 yards. His 14 touchdowns rank third in the nation.

“He’s a good player,” cornerbacks’ coach Blue Adams said. “He can change direction, good acceleration, good decell, good route runner, good speed. I think this will be a good test for us.”

Westbrook ranks 8th in Sooner’s history with 1,997 career receiving yards and 18 career TD receptions, and 15th with 114 career receptions.

Oklahoma finds a way to get the wide out open.

“They do a good job of moving him around so you don’t get a beat on him,” Adams said. “They do some different things when he’s in different spots. I think they do a phenomenal job with his keeping, moving him different places.”

The threat the Sooners’ offense possess doesn’t stop there.

The powerful running back Samaje Perine and redshirt sophomore Mixon wreak havoc on defenses.

Al-Rasheed Benton (3) celebrates the win over Kansas on Saturday, November 5, 2016. (Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS)
Al-Rasheed Benton (3) celebrates the win over Kansas on Saturday, November 5, 2016.
(Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS)

“One of the biggest things is their big playability,” senior linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton said. “That is one of the things people fail to realize about Oklahoma. They have some really good guys in the backfield. They have really good receivers who can break or run for 60 or Mayfield can throw it deep and the receivers can come down with it for 60. You want to limit those big plays and not allow them to gain that momentum on you. Keep the ball within your control and keep the game within your control.”

As a freshman against the Mountaineers, Perine ran for 242 yards and found the end zone four times.

The 5-foot-10, 235-pound junior suffered an injury on Oct. 15 against Kansas State and was sidelined until last week’s blowout win over Baylor. But he is still averaging 106.5 yards per Big 12 game and has six TDs in his four league outings.

Mixon is averaging 6.87 yards per carry, most in the 18-year Bob Stoops era among players with at least 100 attempts.

The 6-foot-1, 226-pound back leads the country with his 193.9 all-purpose yards per game this season. He is averaging a team-high 104.1 rushing yards per game, 46.7 receiving yards per contest, 25.9 yards per kickoff return and 6.2 yards per punt return.

Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon leaps over Baylor Bears cornerback Ryan Reid. (Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon leaps over Baylor Bears cornerback Ryan Reid.
(Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports

Mixon has scored 11 touchdowns in four different fashions this season.

WVU’s defense has done a good job stopping the run. They rank 51 in the nation on rush defense, surrendering 156 yards per game.

Last week against Texas, the Mountaineers held running back D’Onta Foreman to 167 yards, the majority of which came on two runs.

Against Texas Tech, WVU held the running attack to just 34 yards.

“You just got to be ready to play all four quarters,” Benton said. “When you have two guys that can run the ball, you don’t really worry about one getting tired toward the end of the game. And one thing about those guys is that run game is something they feed on. I know they are going to run the ball. You know they are going to run the ball its Oklahoma. That’s what they do. They run the ball right at you. You know when they have two decent running backs that game plan won’t change at all. So that’s something we’re going to prepare for.”

The Mountaineers’ defense surrenders 20.6 points per game this season and leads the Big 12 in scoring defense.

Saturday night will be the true test for Gibson and his “dawgs”.



Cover Photo Credit: Jeff Ruff, BGS

Shanna Rose
WVU Graduate with a bachelor's in journalism and multimedia journalist. Sports Fan and sports writer. Former WVU News reporter. Contact Shanna on Twitter @SMR1837
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