West Virginia Football will meet its toughest test yet to close out the 2017 regular season with a visit to Norman against the fourth ranked team in the country, the Oklahoma Sooners. Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, they will be without star quarterback Will Grier after he suffered a gruesome broke middle finger on his throwing hand last weekend against Texas in Morgantown. West Virginia struggled to find the same consistency and trust under back up quarterback Chris Chugunov as they did with Grier. His lack of experience showed during the Mountaineers 28-14 loss to Texas. Grier is clearly the Mountaineers’ most valuable player, but head coach Dana Holgorsen must stress the “next man up” mentality to his team.
Oklahoma will be a very tough match-up for West Virginia, but this is not an impossible game to win. The Mountaineers must simply change their identity on the offensive side of the ball, going to the run game first to establish the passing game down the field. Running back Justin Crawford should be heavily relied on for this match-up with a combination between his speed and Kennedy McKoy‘s power running to punch the ball down the Sooners defense’s throat. This should be the game plan especially after Crawford’s 331 yard performance against Oklahoma during last season’s game. The Sooners defense is not all that great a unit, as they rank 64th in the country giving up 390 yards total a game. Expect Holgorsen to go to the run early in the game with Crawford. Crawford has been West Virginia’s leading rusher in all but one game this season, rushing for 963 yards and seven touchdowns while rushing for over 100 yards in seven games.
The Mountaineers must be able to come out early and control the tempo of the game with the run while being able to get on the board first. A lead would allow West Virginia to gain some much-needed confidence for a young and inexperienced quarterback. Chugunov gained some confidence as the game went on last week, as he threw for 189 yards and a late fourth quarter touchdown pass to Ka’Raun White. The experience of the very talented Mountaineers’ wide receiver corps should help Chugunov feel a little more comfortable this week as well. David Sills V leads the nation in touchdown catches with 18, White has 11 touchdowns as well, and Gary Jennings has already eclipsed the 1,000 yards receiving mark for 2017. These three players should cause the Sooners secondary all kinds of problems with their ability to get open and make big plays down the field. It will be on Chugunov to find them when they have the chance to make a big play.
Although, the Mountaineers must keep improving their weaknesses to stay competitive. The offensive line needs a much better performance than they had against Texas, where Chugunov was under pressure much of the day and lost a crucial fumble that turned into points for the Longhorns. West Virginia’s defense must continue to play better as they have the past few games as well. Linebackers David Long and Al-Rasheed Benton must contain the explosive Oklahoma backfield to control the line of scrimmage. West Virginia does get to benefit from Oklahoma star quarterback Baker Mayfield‘s antics last week that resulted in him being benched for the start of this Saturday’s game. The Mountaineers pass rush must be able to keep Mayfield in the pocket when he enters the game, as many know how deadly he is once he escapes the pass rush throwing the ball deep. The secondary must show up and play their best game of the season, as the Oklahoma wide receivers have torched nearly every defense they have played this season which includes all Big 12 teams and Ohio State. They will rely on defensive playmakers like safeties Kyzir White, Dravon Askew-Henry, and cornerback Kenny Robinson to possibly force some turnovers that could swing the momentum of the game. The best individual match-up of the day will be White defending Oklahoma’s tight end Mark Andrews, who is Mayfield’s favorite target on third downs and when he escapes the pocket. If the Mountaineers can find some consistency on offense, control the tempo with the run game, and force a couple turnovers then Holgosen should be able to find his squad in a great position to pull the upset of the year in the Big 12 over Oklahoma in Norman.